twitter-birdThe world is aflitter over Twitter. The micro-blog service seems to be popping up everywhere in our culture lately. From television news coverage of the Presidential debates to the first reports and images of the crash of U.S. Airways flight 1549, Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets have been getting a lot of attention and press. All of this attention, in my opinion, is absolutely warranted. These new social technologies are allowing people to connect with each other and share information in ways that we could have never imagined 20 years ago, and this has major implications for churches. 

When people are connecting, no matter what over, there is always opportunity. Corporations, our government, non-profits, and churches are all logging in to the social media world to try and tap into this wealth of warm bodies to win over as new customers, donors, and even parishoners. Personally, I have used Twitter to contact customer service about my cable television service, blogs to obtain information about everything from news to products to candidates, and my favorite podcast helps me decide which new gadget is my next “must have.” My own church, University Christian Church in Seattle, uses Twitter, podcasting, and blogs. Even Disciples World is using Twitter.  With all of the new possibilities new communications tools like Twitter have to offer, social media is the answer to our churches evangelism and outreach prayers, right? Not exactly.

While these tools are certainly wonderful, they are not magic pills to reach a new generation of people.  Setting up a Twitter account or Facebook page for your church will not automatically make your church attractive to the 20 something crowd.  Contrary to what we may wish, there is no tool or program that will make people want to come to our churches.  What makes people want to be a part of our church communities is the same today as it was 2,000 years ago — storytelling.  When we are able to tell our story (i.e. God’s story) to the world both honestly and relevantly, we tap into the same power that drew and continues to draw so many to Jesus.  It is from the telling of our story (who we are, why we are here, what we are like, etc.), not the technology itself, that tools like Twitter derive their power for churches.

So, how do churches go about telling their story using these new tools?  

First, churches need to become good listeners.  These new social media tools are all about conversation.  As we all know, the key to being a good conversationalist is being a good listener.  These new tools are not like radio or television where the goal is to broadcast a slick message to as many people as possible.  Instead, these tools focus on two-way communication.  Often times, these conversations are messy, silly, hard…anything but slick and easy.  They are, however, quite often meaningful.  Communicating like this outside of the church walls can be a new experience for churches, but it is not impossible.  If a church wants to begin using something like Twitter, the best thing for them to do is to start by seeing what other people and organizations are talking about and how they are talking about them.

Second, churches need to be willing to play.  Jesus told us that we must become as little children.  Social media offers churches a great opportunity to do just that.  When a church enters the world of social media, it will make mistakes.  It will do and say things that seem silly at times.  That is okay.  In order to be a good teller of its story, a church needs to be willing to speak like a human and not like an organization…and humans look a bit silly from time to time.  So go out and make mistakes…it is the best way to learn.

Finally, churches need to be honest as they tell their stories.  A church that tries to be something it is not will not enjoy much success in the world of social media.  If people sense you are not being honest, they will stop listening to you.  You don’t have to be flashy or cool to be relevant and engaging.  Your church’s power to attract people doesn’t lie in cleverly crafted marketing copy or cool graphics.  Instead, it lies in the power of God.  Trust that.

Social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, podcasting, or blogs are nothing to be afraid of for churches.  While the technologies may seem new and strange, they can be learned.  The heart and soul of these tools, though, is nothing new to churches.  Churches have been telling their stories for a long time now.  If your church chooses to use some of these new tools (and I hope you do), use them bravely and honestly.  Have fun with them.  And, above all, tell your story well!

Will BoydWill Boyd is a social media and new media producer and consultant.  His company, Will Boyd Media Solutions, specializes in helping faith groups and non-profits navigate the world of social media, podcasting, and technology to tell their stories to the world.  He has worked with Sojourners Magazine, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Goddard College, the Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt, and others.  Will also recently finished a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard College focused on the role of new media and social technologies in the world of sustainable marketing.  Will lives in Seattle with his wife, a Disciples pastor.