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generationsI get a lot of questions about how churches can use social media.  Almost 100% of the time, the person basically wants to be taught a new technique that will help them use a tool like Facebook to attract new people to their church.  Generally, I bristle a bit at the idea that social media’s usefulness for churches is all about attraction.  Thus, I tend to not give out many how-to’s.  Instead, I try to focus on getting churches to re-engage with their story and help them use things like social media to tell that story.  However, I have a simple idea that I want to share in hopes that some church will give it a try and let me know how it goes.

If your church is like most churches, you probably have a significant number of people that barely use email and will most likely never use anything like Facebook.  Does that mean that those folks have no role in social media for your church?  I don’t think so.  They will just need a little help.  “Where will that help come from,” you ask?  I’d be willing to bet that your church is also very likely to have a social-media-engaged population that is right under your nose.  Maybe it is the youth group or some young adults?  Whoever it is, I’m certain their are at least a few people in your congregation that are using things like Facebook.  Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to get those folks together.

I’m certainly not suggesting that the youth group teach the elders how to blog or set up a Facebook profile.  That will go nowhere quick.  However, what if, on a couple of Sundays, a time was set up for story-sharing and faith-listening.  What if the young people were given an assignment to ask some of the older folks in the congregation about meaningful moments in their faith life?  Those youth or young adults would then be responsible for sharing what they learned on the church’s Facebook page or blog.  The older folks could, in return, listen to the faith stories of the younger folks and provide their reflections of what they learned to someone who could post them to the social media space as well.  With just a Sunday or two’s worth of work, enough stories could be gathered that the church could post one a week for a few months.

Sure, this idea is not completely fleshed out, but maybe that’s okay?  What I like about it is that it encourages different generations to really listen and engage with each other’s faith stories.  I also love the fact that, by sharing them on sites like Facebook or the church’s website, it invites the world to participate in that “faith listening”.  To me there is no more powerful way to introduce your church to the world than through the stories of your faith.  How much better is it when you can also more deeply introduce yourselves to each other?

Could your church do something like this?  What ideas does this post give you about ways to engage multiple generations through social media?  Am I way off?


will_squareWill Boyd is owner of 3 Story Church, a church web and social media firm that is focused on helping churches tell their stories. 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 that 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.

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fbchurchAs many of you may know, I had the great privilege of presenting at the Church 2.0 resource group at the 2009 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  It was a great time, and I hope those that were able to attend got something out of it.  I do realize however, that there were some folks that attended who left a bit disappointed.  While I spent my time discussing how the changes happening in social media are changing the church, some people simply wanted to know how to use Facebook.  Unfortunately, in a setting like the General Assembly resource groups where everyone has a different experience level and different needs, those types of how-to discussions are nearly impossible to have.  On the other hand, the how-to’s of social media tools are certainly important.

Just yesterday, my wife brought home a back issue of The Christian Century which had a great article that begins to bridge the gap between our discussion at the General Assembly of how social media is changing church and how churches can use tools like Facebook.  In “The church on Facebook“, Lenora Rand does a great job at showing how, rather than being an advertising tool designed to draw new people into the church building, these social media tools are allowing churches to live their mission in new ways.  I won’t recap Rand’s article here, though I do suggest reading it.  What I will do is provide 3 simple ways (not techniques or strategies) for how churches might think about “being church” on social media tools like Facebook.

1. Evangelism

A church’s Facebook page can be a great evangelism tool.  Quite simply, everything that happens at the church should also be posted on the church’s Facebook page.  However, just like evangelism doesn’t end with the minister, Facebook evangelism doesn’t end with the church’s Facebook page.

fbshare2Every Facebook page, group, and event has a button that allows that information to be shared.  Those members of your church who are already using Facebook already have lots of friends that aren’t members of your church.  By simply getting church members to use that share button to share the events and happenings of the church with their friends, Facebook truly becomes social media.  As I discussed in the Chruch 2.0 resource group at General Assembly, it is the sharing that makes these websites social.  Having a Facebook page is good for a church.  Having a Facebook page where the church members share the information and content with their friends is evangelism.

2. Outreach

In any communication, listening is usually way more important than speaking.  I think the same thing can be said of church outreach.  If we as churches want to be relevant, we need to become better listeners.  Social media tools like Facebook can be great hearing aids for our churches.  When your church begins to use Facebook, concentrate more on what you as a church can learn about people, both inside of and outside of your church, than on how to attract people to come to your church.  Ask questions and listen to the answers.  As Rand’s article illustrates, find out who your church can be praying for.  You might be surprised how much more powerful it is to engage people in community rather than broadcast information AT them.

Of course, just like with evangelism, while this kind of outreach can be done through your church’s Facebook page, it is often best done through the members of your church who are already on Facebook.  A church with a Facebook page can be engaging.  A church whose members are actively engaging others is a church that is truly reaching out — whether on Facebook or not.

3. Worship

If you think that worship can only happen between 11:00 am and Noon in your church sanctuary, then Facebook and social media may not be roads your church is ready to go down.  However, if you are willing to get creative, social media tools like Facebook can provide great opportunities for your church to “be church” in radically new ways.

What if your church held an online Bible study by creating a Facebook group?  Church members could invite their friends to participate whenever it was convenient.  Some folks might not ever walk into a church building simply because they are invited, but they might just be willing to stop by a Facebook group when they have a minute and check out what their friend has been telling them about.

Consider providing short devotionals on your church’s Facebook page.  How cool would it be if different members of your church posted a short weekly or daily devotional to Facebook based on that upcoming Sunday’s lectionary text?

Be creative and try new things.  You never know what might be the thing that will provide a space for worship to someone inside or outside of your church.  After all, isn’t that what church is all about?

I completely understand the desire we all have to find a simple tool that will make the job of attracting people to our churches easier.  However, social media is not that tool….and that really shouldn’t be our goal.  The real work is not getting more bodies into our pews on Sunday morning.  The real work is connecting with God and God’s children in real and meaningful ways, and  that work of forming relationships with each other and with God is no different or easier than it has ever been.  Social media tools like Facebook don’t do the work for us, but they do give us new spaces in which to do our work.   They give us new spaces to “be church.”


will_squareWill Boyd is owner of 3 Story Church, a church web and social media firm that is focused on helping churches tell their stories. 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 that 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.

Last week, I spoke very briefly about the Church 2.0 resource group that I will be a part of at General Assembly.  And, I promised that this week I would have more information for you on what to expect in that group.  Since, I don’t like to disappoint, I thought I would hit the highlights of what my presentation is going to be about in a few short paragraphs.  So, here goes.
Church 2.0(-) 4.0 — The End of Church As We Know It
Throughout the church, there is a wide variety of experience, comfort level, acceptance of, and use of social media.  Some of us dove head first into the unknown waters years ago, some are just now getting their feet wet, and some won’t go anywhere near the pool.  While our levels of use and knowledge may differ greatly, what seems to be unifying theme about social media and the church is the desire to understand, not only how to use these tools, but why these tools are important.  In the Church 2.0 resource group, I want to explore more than just how your church might use Facebook or Twitter.  Instead, I want to look at how these new technologies are changing the church in hopes that our understanding will help us to use the tools more effectively.
What is “2.0”
The “2.0” label is something that is thrown around a lot lately.  It has come to mean, for some, anything that is new.  However, at its core, it means the second generation of something.  In terms of the internet, Web 1.0 was the first generation of the internet while Web 2.0 is the second generation.  Where as Web 1.0 was characterized by static, stand-alone websites that provided one way information, Web 2.0 is characterized by user-generated content, real-time discussion and sharing, and other social features.  Social Media is at the heart of Web 2.0.
Why “Church 3.0”?
So how does this social media stuff relate to church?  On the surface, it is obvious that these new social tools such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., provide churches with new opportunities to reach people.  However, under the surface, at the core of what is happening, the church is actually <strong>being changed</strong> by these technologies.
To understand what is going on and where we are, historically, in relation to this change, we need to look at the way that technology has changed the church in the past.  If we adopt the 1.0 and 2.0 naming convention when we talk about church and technology, we would most certainly have to call the pre-Reformation church “Church 1.0.”  Without getting too bogged down in church history, this period was a lot like the early internet.  While people had been sharing information before the internet, Web 1.0 gave them an efficient structure through which to receive information.  Didn’t the pre-Reformation church do a similar thing?  The church didn’t invent Christianity.  What Church 1.0 did was provide an efficient structure for people to receive their religion.  This all changed with a little technological innovation called the printing press.
The printing press ushered in what normally we would refer to as the Reformation but, for the sake of this discussion, should call “Church 2.0.”

Last week, I spoke very briefly about the Church 2.0 resource group that I will be a part of at General Assembly.  And, I promised that this week I would have more information for you on what to expect in that group.  Since, I don’t like to disappoint, I thought I would hit the highlights of what my presentation is going to be about in a few short paragraphs.  So, here goes.

Church 2.0 3.0 4.0 — The End of Church As We Know It

Throughout the church, there is a wide variety of experience, comfort level, acceptance of, and use of social media.  Some of us dove head first into the unknown waters years ago, some are just now getting their feet wet, and some won’t go anywhere near the pool.  While our levels of use and knowledge may differ greatly, what seems to be a unifying theme about social media and the church is the desire to understand, not only how to use these tools, but why these tools are important.  In the Church 2.0 resource group, I want to explore more than just how your church might use Facebook or Twitter.  Instead, I want to look at how these new technologies are changing the church in hopes that our understanding will help us to use the tools more effectively.

What is “2.0”

The “2.0” label is something that is thrown around a lot lately.  It has come to mean, for some, anything that is new.  However, at its core, it means the second generation of something.  In terms of the internet, Web 1.0 was the first generation of the internet while Web 2.0 is the second generation.  Where as Web 1.0 was characterized by static, stand-alone websites that provided one way information, Web 2.0 is characterized by user-generated content, real-time discussion and sharing, and other social features.  Social Media is at the heart of Web 2.0.  When you think of blogs, social networks, podcasts, etc., you are thinking of Web 2.0.  Web 2.0, quite simply put, describes the technological shift away from institutional control over the channels of communication toward the democratization of those channels.

Why “Church 4.0”?

So how does this social media stuff relate to church?  On the surface, it is obvious that these new social tools such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., provide churches with new opportunities to reach people.  However, under the surface, at the core of what is happening, the church is actually being changed by these technologies.

To understand what is going on and where we are, historically, in relation to this change, we need to look at the way that technology has changed the church in the past.  If we adopt the 1.0 and 2.0 naming convention when we talk about church and technology, we would most certainly have to call the pre-Reformation church “Church 1.0.”  Without getting too bogged down in church history, this period was a lot like the early internet.  While people had been sharing information before the internet, Web 1.0 gave them an efficient structure through which to receive information.  Didn’t the pre-Reformation church do a similar thing?  The church didn’t invent Christianity.  What Church 1.0 did was provide an efficient structure for people to receive their religion.  This all changed with a little technological innovation called the printing press.

printing_pressThe printing press ushered in what normally we would refer to as the Reformation but, for the sake of this discussion, should call “Church 2.0.”   This second generation of church gave people  a more direct way of participating in their own faith.  Through this technological advance, anyone who could learn to read could own and read the Bible for themselves.  While, certainly, the Bible had already been in church, the increased access to the Bible that the printing press offered fundamentally changed how people interacted with and what they expected from church.  To put it in perspective, the invention of the printing press was to the church as  the advent of blogs was to the internet.

es_in_elwood_1_eThe printing press wasn’t the only technological invention that fundamentally changed the church as we know it.  While the shift from Church 1.0 to Church 2.0 changed the way people engaged their faith, the invention that brought about Church 3.0 gave the people a tool that, for better or worse, gave them the power to “selectively congregate.”  That invention was the automobile.  As car culture rose to dominance in America and everyone moved to the suburbs, suddenly, church goers were no longer tied down geographically to a church.  If the neighborhood church wasn’t suitable to them, they could then load up the family and drive 15 or 20 miles to a church that was more to their liking.  It’s not hard to understand how this changed church.  Suddenly, churches found themselves competing for members with other churches that weren’t even in their town much less their neighborhood.  This new car culture church also meant the introduction of concepts like “church shopping” to the faith life.  While many have decried the negative effects these changes have had, it is hard to argue that car culture put more power into the hands of the people when it came to church.  I guess we could say that the rise of car culture was to church as the rise of social networks was to the internet.  Both technologies allowed people to be more selective about with who and where they congregated.

So, Church 3.0…that’s where we are at, right?  Yes.  And no.  It is true that car culture still dominates our church.  For example, to my knowledge, there is only one or two families in my church that still live in the same neighborhood as the church.  Some of the members of my church drive as much as 25 miles every Sunday.   When it comes the the internet, you could make a similar case that Web 2.0 is still going strong, as well.  However, there are technological changes that are, right now, pulling Web 2.0 technologies into the world of Web 3.0.

I believe that this Web 3.0 will be fundamental in bringing about Church 4.0.  It is hard to argue that Web 2.0 has already had an effect on church.  More and more, churches are creating Facebook pages and encouraging their members to “Tweet” about the services.  These things must be having an effect, otherwise, why else would you be reading this right now?  With the rise of GPS enabled smart-phones and location-based social web applications, Web 3.0 technology is finally beginning to shift back toward bringing people together.  The idea that the people on the internet are squirreled away alone in some dark room behind a computer screen all day and night is becoming farther and farther from the truth.  We are among you.  More and more, we are you.

When I think about how these technologies that are already being used to deepen people’s engagement with their faith — things like social networks, Facebook groups, and Twitter — will combine with location-based information, I can’t help but think that this will shift the church from Church 3.0 to Church 4.0.  So,what, exactly, will Church 4.0 look like?  I don’t know.  I think it will, like the social media that is driving it, be less about structure and programming and more about user-generated content.  I also think it will have a greater emphasis on geography and community rather than statements of faith and style.

What do you think?  Will Church 4.0 have the same effect on the institutional church as Web 2.0 has had on the newspaper industry?  Will churches be able to give up control and allow themselves to be reshaped by these truly social technologies?

If you are at the General Assembly, please come to the Church 2.0 resource group.  There we will be able to dialogue about what changes the church is facing in the present and the future.  We will also discuss how these changes might inform a church that is looking to get more involved with social media.  We will also have a bit of fun as well.

will_squareWill Boyd is owner of  3 Story Church, a church web and social media firm that is focused on helping churches tell their stories.    He has worked with Sojourners Magazine, the Disciples of Christ Historical SocietyGoddard College, the Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt, and others. Will also recently  finished a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard College that 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.


Church 2.0Whoa…General Assembly is just around the corner!  I know everyone is excited to see old friends and colleagues that they haven’t seen in some time.  And, as usual, there a ton of great resource groups and learning opportunities to be had.  I hope I’ll get to see and meet a lot of you at the Church 2.0 resource group that I’m leading along with Wanda Bryant Willis and Rebecca Woods.  I’m really excited to have the opportunity to discuss what is happening in the world of social media and churches and why it is important.

I need your help, though.  Maybe it’s because General Assembly is less than two weeks away and I’m still working on my part of the presentation, or maybe it’s because the true spirit of church 2.0 is one of collaboration and engagement, but I’m asking you what you want to learn about in the Church 2.0 resource group?  What puzzles you about this new social media thing?  What churches do you know of that are using social media well?  Why do you think these communications trends are so important to the church?  Are they just fads?

Leave some comments below and let me know what your take on social media and churches is.  Remember, no matter what anyone tells you, there are no experts in this subject.  That is one of the beautiful things about it…we are all learning together.  Next Monday, I’ll be back here to talk a bit more about what to expect in the Church 2.0 resource group.  Until then, I look forward to hearing what you have to say and learning about what you want to get out of the resource group.

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 SocietyGoddard College, the Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt, and others. Will also recently  finished a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard College that 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.

Crowd WaitingI have to admit that I get really frustrated when I hear people who’ve never so much as sent a text message passionately attack social media…especially when it comes to social media and churches.  I’ve heard things like “you just can’t have church when people are using that Twitter…it’s distracting.”  I’ve also heard people say things like “the Facebook and the MySpace  keep people from actually meeting other people in real life, and I don’t want that in my church.”   My favorite complaint about social media that I’ve heard involves the mysterious and dark group of anti-social miscreants simply labeled “the bloggers”.  It seems that there is a great deal of fear around “the bloggers” and what evils they are capable of.  

Of course, I can’t really expect everyone to understand what is happening in the world of social media.  And, I can understand why some would see these new tools as threatening or frightening.  After all, these new channels of sharing and communicating reach more people faster than anyone could have ever imagined even a decade ago.  But still, I often end up wondering what it is that these people are really afraid of?  What is the worst that could happen?

When I really try to see things from the point of view of those who don’t like the idea of social media invading the church, I can certainly see some potential problems that such lawless communications could pose.  First of all, when church members start using things like Twitter or Facebook to talk about church, how do we make sure that everyone understands that they aren’t speaking FOR the church?  After all, as much as we love crazy Bill, we certainly don’t want crazy Bill introducing the church to people via 140 characters of insanity, now do we?  Next, what if someone starts saying bad things about us on these sites?  How do we respond and whose job is it to do so?  The list could go on.  

However, when I continue to think about the possible threats that social media poses to churches, one in particular keeps coming to mind.  Now, unlike the others, this threat is not about what is or isn’t said on certain websites or whether or not information is accurate.  Instead, the threat I’m thinking of is the threat of success.  Sounds insane, right?  How can success be a threat?

When a church, or often times more accurately, some well-intentioned church members, set out to take advantage of things like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc., it is often with the intention of attracting new people to the church.  There is certainly nothing wrong with spreading the word about your church, especially in a way that is conversational and meaningful to both parties — as social media can often do.  However, what most churches don’t ask themselves when they start using something like Facebook or Twitter is “what will we do if we are successful?”  

Is your church ready for a sudden influx of new, younger people?  Now, I’m not talking about whether or not you printed enough bulletins, because that is a good problem that can easily be fixed.  Even if you’ve done all the things you can think of to make sure your church is ready for more people, your church may not be ready for different people.  When new people come to our churches, they bring to our churches all of their experiences, gifts, and perspectives.  When we begin to attract people who are substantially different from ourselves, if we as churches aren’t willing to be changed by those people, they won’t stay long.  No matter how cool your Facebook profile is or how well you use your blog, if the experience those new folks have when they get to your church is way different than the experience they had with your social media efforts, they will be quickly disillusioned.   

Believe it or not, it is relatively easy to attract people to church.  Social media is doing a great job at making attraction even easier.  However, the real work of making disciples hasn’t changed.  The real work lies in the way we build relationships with those new people who walk through our doors.  The most important thing for a church to consider when they talk about social media is not which tool to use or how they will handle the responsibilities, but are they really ready for new, different people to show up and are they ready for what those new people mean for the life of the church?

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 became the Social Media Coordinator for BEHRINGER, an international pro audio manufacturer, and 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.

With all of the news coverage of churches using things like Twitter and Facebook of late, I’ve gotten the opportunity to talk to a lot of the members of my church about social media and the way our church is using it.  What I’ve come to realize is that, for most people, their is a lot of misunderstanding about what social media really is.  That is why I wanted to write this post.  This post is not a how-to guide for churches that want to use social media.  Nor is it meant to be an argument for why churches must or must not use a particular service, website, or strategy, though it may seem that way at times.  What this post is meant to do is provide a basic background for what social media, at its core, is.  I realize that it is not an exhaustive list, but I think it is a good start.

1. Social Media Is Not About The Technology

socialmediaTo most people, the rate at which new technologies keep popping up and changing is staggering.  It seems hard, if not impossible, to keep up with the latest gadget or social network.  So, it’s understandable that when people start talking about how important a particular piece of technology is, some people become immediately skeptical.  After all, in the world of technology, what is here today is often gone this afternoon.  Knowing this, why should any church bother using something like Facebook when it might be out of style in 6 months?

That is a very good question.  As someone who makes his living with these new social media tools, I am very aware of how fast they change.  I am also aware, however, of how with each change, the one thing that makes these new tools important stays the same — relationships.  Relationships are the life blood of social media.  Whether you are talking about MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc., the one thing they have in common is that people use them to connect with each other.  

I’ve heard people argue “how can these relationships be real if they are on the computer?”  I realize that it is hard for a lot of us to get past the idea that what people do while they are online isn’t real life.  For a lot of folks, “real life” only happens in person.  Social media, however, is breaking down those distinctions between what is “real” and what is “virtual”.  It is quite common for relationships that begin on a social media site like Twitter, to quickly become a weekly coffee date or a group that meets at a local restaurant once a month.  Facebook is being used by people to keep up with friends from the past that they knew before there was an internet.  Now, those people are able to watch their friends’ children grow up from across the country.  To these people, the connections being made are anything but “virtual.”  Whether or not you participate in social media, it is important to realize that people are using these social media tools to share their lives with each other, and that is very real.

For churches, being able to connect with people and form relationships is also their life blood.  After all, church is nothing more than an offline social network.  Churches connect us with God and with each other.  The relationships that are formed in church, much like the relationships formed via social media, do not stop at the church door.  They penetrate every aspect of our lives.  Social media is not about the technology…it’s about the relationships.  This is why the church is in such a good position to use social media.  Churches understand how to form relationships.  It’s just what they do.

2. Social Media Is Not About Church Marketing

billboard1Imagine you’re driving along the highway and you see a giant billboard advertising a church.  The billboard has a nice image of a smiling family and a warm friendly message inviting you to a Sunday morning service.  From this billboard, what do you know about the church?  Are you forming a relationship with the church by looking at the smiling family that may or may not even be members of that church?  This is the difference between churches using social media and church marketing.  

Marketing is about providing an image that invites the person seeing that image to tell themselves a positive story about the company/product/church.  In other words, the point of that billboard you saw was to get you to say to yourself, “Those people look happy.  I want to be happy.  I’ll go to that church.”  Marketing is, no doubt, a powerful tool.  It is also easy to see how some people feel a bit strange about churches that employ marketing techniques.

Social media, on the other hand, is not about getting someone to tell themselves a story.  Instead, it is about living your own story within a community.  Think of it as the difference between a church having a billboard and a church that attends community meetings for their neighborhood.  Unlike the billboard, the church that attends community meetings meets people, talks with them, and enters their lives.  While the billboard allows a church to project a certain image, social media allows a church to tell its story to the world by simply being itself.  More importantly, social media allows a church to begin forming relationships with people.   

3. Social Media Is About Relevance

How did you find the church you now belong to?  Is it the church you grew up in?  Did you ask friends about what the different churches in town were like?  Odds are, if you didn’t grow up in the church you now attend, that you did some “church visiting.”  You probably “tried on” two or three or four churches before you found one that felt like home.  Even then, you most likely didn’t join that church right away.  Instead, you kept coming back to that church until you had formed enough of a relationship with that faith community to feel like that is where you needed to be.  It worked pretty well, right?  Unfortunately for churches today, the days of people seeking out churches are all but over.  These days, it seems like the church has to go to the people. 

Imagine if a single neighborhood in your church’s community grew by almost 20% overnight.  Wouldn’t your church want to reach them?  Of course it would.  Knowing that we no longer live in a time when the first thing that people do when they move to a community is find a church, your church would want to reach out to those new neighbors.  The church might decide to host a barbecue for the neighborhood or hold a movie night or…you get the picture.  No matter what the church decided to do, the goal would be for the people of that growing neighborhood to have a chance to get to know the church — to begin forming that oh so important relationship.  In order for those relationships to form, the church has to first be accessible. 

When you realize that the growing area in your community — all communities in fact — is “online”, social media becomes more and more important for your church.  No doubt, you are aware of how important and ubiquitous the internet has become.  I’m also sure that you have, at least, become increasingly more aware of the growing trends toward social media.  According to leading internet research group Forrester, social media usage has increased from 56% of internet users to 75% in only one year.  This is a significant number of people that are connecting with each other online.  Even more significant is the fact that it is still growing. Just as the church that hosted the barbecue or the movie night was making itself accessible to its new neighbors, social media helps make a church accessible to that increasing number of people who are part of the social media community.  

You might say, “My church has a website.  What else do we have to do?”  While websites are great and absolutely necessary, there is nothing inherently social about the typical church website.  Websites tend to be about sharing information.  Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., are less about sharing information and more about conversation and connection.  It is the social nature of these tools that holds their power and importance.  Unlike a standard website that might provide worship times, a map to the church, and a list of values and beliefs, social media allows a church to become a living, breathing member of a new community.  People aren’t just posting random thoughts and silly pictures with these new social media tools.  Instead, they are sharing their lives with each other and making real connections and relationships that translate from “online” to “real life”.  

When churches choose to become residents of these new communities, they become more and more available for people to get to know them.  One might look at this “being available” as being accessible.  It is hard to argue that churches shouldn’t be as accessible as they possibly can be.  In fact, it was just that argument over accessibility that allowed for the move away from Latin as the only language we could use in church.  When we talk about relevance, some may think that churches are using social media to try to seem cool and hip.  However, it is my belief that one of the main factors of a church being relevant is accessibility.  If a church has no way to enter the building via wheelchair, then that church is not relevant to anyone in a wheelchair.  In a similar way, social media can help a church become more relevant, not by making the church into something it is not, but by making the church more accessible to more people.

Conclusion

Should every church have a Twitter account and a Facebook page?  Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that what is happening in the world of social media — the connections and the relationships — can be written off as “not real”.  Whether or not you or your church ever uses social media, you should understand that, beyond all else, social media is nothing more than a place where people are gathering to share their lives with each other.  I for one, can think of no better place for a church to be than where people are gathering. 

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.

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.

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