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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.

Diane Butler Bass is a researcher and writer who looks at the realm of spirituality and religion.  Her work of late has partially focused of late on what constitutes and drives mainstream Christian congregations.  “ Christianity For The Rest of Us” is a fascinating book in which she examines the type of church that many of us experienced as we grew up and what currently makes for a thriving and vibrant worshipping community. 

In her research, which included both “numbers crunching” and a long series of in-depth ethnographic activities with members of different congregations, Bass identified ten elements usually present in these thriving congregations.    One of these elements is Testimony. 

Bass and her interviewees have a lot to say about this venerable and changing Christian tradition.  From the early church’s need for oral history to preserve and grow, to the Puritan practice of public statements about how God had already changed us to make us eligible for church membership and finally to the current practice of sharing our spiritual journey with others in varied places and situations, this is a well-written and interesting look at one of the components of being a Christian in a faith community that many of us are not all that comfortable with.

Testimony is on my mind today for two reasons:  1) because I am using the Bass book in an adult Christian education class right now and we just discussed this chapter, and  2)  because of what happened on facebook.com last week.

There among all the Mafia Wars, Farming, Bingo, pictures of the kids and someone’s summer vacation, and the seemingly endless polls about everything under the sun was this status update from a dear friend:

“No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.”

I have no idea where this post originated because I started to see it in other people’s posts almost immediately.  In true viral fashion, I immediately copied and pasted as my status because I was struck by the simple truthfulness of the statement.  Apparently I was not being very creative because this same message started to appear from many of my connections.  Since my connections include a range that includes childhood friends, college buddies, colleagues from every job I have ever had, members and staff from all my church homes, business partners, relatives from across town and the other side of the world, along with an eclectic collection of friends from various and sundry times of my life, this was significant.  Watching a statement take hold in so many varied minds was impressive to me.

But what really got my attention was what happened next.

Variations of this message from the “loyal opposition” began to appear.  Not really unexpected, since health care reform has been such a divisive and engaging topic all summer.  Our television and computer screens have been dominated by pictures of shouting groups from all sides of the argument and the charges and counter-charges of not letting the other side speak have flown.  Elected officials have been shouted down and good citizens ignored.  The whole affair has not been characterized as “civil discourse”.

So I braced myself for more of the same in this online venue.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by what started to happen.  As you might imagine, people started responding to each other. On Facebook, when you connect to someone you know, you also become witness to their interactions with other people that they know, but you do not.  You can see some of their online conversations with their friends.  Some people find this disconcerting.  I’m a little more of a voyeur, so I don’t mind, although I always remain mindful of the public nature of what we post.

So in some cases, people were reacting to what a “friend of a friend” stated as their public testimony of their position on health care.

 However, in my corner of the virtual world, the discussions were polite, respectful, and with a definite air of “We can disagree and still remain connected.”  I was pleasantly amazed by the general air of open communication that unfolded on my computer screen.  This was not what I have come to expect.

As I pondered all this, several questions came to me.  I’ll leave them with you . . .

Can social networking media provide new ways of enabling us to provide testimony to our beliefs and our faith?

Is it possible that establishing connections before having the “hard conversations” is a key to changing how we communicate when we disagree?

Can social networking media actually support healthy discussion as well as the more-publicized ranting and raging that often characterizes the public impression of how issues are treated in online forums?

 

John

Photo: StarMama (Creative Commons license)

Photo: StarMama (Creative Commons license)

I’m not known for being an optimist. In person, I can be a little sarcastic, ironic, and cynical — and the people who know me also know that’s part of who I am. They “get” me — at least I hope they do.

But in the realm of social media, I’m discovering, sarcasm sometimes doesn’t play as well. No one can see the arched eyebrow,or the quizzical look, or hear the inflection of irony in your voice. There’s no context – just your comment standing out there, all by its lonesome. Sometimes, it still works, but sometimes, it doesn’t.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to suddenly craft a whole new persona for Facebook and Twitter — one where your updates are nothing but “Chicken Soup” platitudes. As I wrote a couple of months ago, it’s important to be yourself on social media. But being yourself doesn’t mean typing the first remark or response that comes to mind.

One good bit of advice that I’ve seen floating around is to balance the negative or critical with at least 10 times more positive remarks, tweets, and updates. Social media can build up, support, encourage — but it can easily tear down, crush, and undermine. I don’t have any ready-made criteria for deciding to post something or not (if you do, please share it). Just stop, think — and if you change your mind, you can delete it.

Sometimes, just like in the ‘real world,’ an apology is in order too.

What do you think? How can we make social media a positive space? When is critique, irony, or negativity okay?

———-

rbw square Rebecca Bowman Woods is news and website editor of DisciplesWorld.
You can follow her on Twitter.

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.

John Lydon mosaic by Ed Chapman. Photo: dullhunk (Creative Commons license)

John Lydon mosaic by Ed Chapman. Photo: dullhunk (Creative Commons license)

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”   – Ecclesiastes 1:2b (NKJV)

Anyone who’s using social media and has tried to talk with someone who’s not using it about why you use it has undoubtedly encountered the perception that social media is an exercise in narcissistic navel-gazing. And yes, to a small extent, they’re right — Twitter and Facebook and Friendfeed and YouTube are populated by people sharing the minutae of their lives — sometimes in earnest, and sometimes, tongue-in-cheek.  [IMO that’s part of the beauty of it–check out this application that picks up all the Tweets with the words “love,” “hate” “think” “feel” and “believe” in them and then tell me you don’t agree].

What I often sense behind the “social media is vanity” objection is that the person objecting understands that the walls between one’s “public” and “private” image have been torn down. And rather than trying to reconstruct those barriers, people have decided to go out and play in this in-between space.

Yep, that’s a little frightening — more so if you’re a prominent leader in your local community, in business, in the church, or in some other sphere. There’s the “public” you, and the “private” you, and you’ve worked hard to cultivate your public image. You want people to respect you, and venturing into social media feels a bit too much like that recurring nightmare of standing in front of the crowd to deliver a big presentation or sermon, and suddenly realizing you forgot to get dressed that morning.

Social media experts are up on this, and they’re ready to help. Do a Google search on the words “build personal brand” and you’ll get lots of good links. While the idea of building a personal brand is not new, there are plenty of people with excellent (and free) advice on how to do this in the dawning age of the public/private sphere.

If I could choose one bit of advice, though, it would be this: Just be yourself. Don’t become paralyzed by the fear that you might accidentally reveal a political preference, or a detail or habit or like or dislike that will suddenly cause your carefully cultivated image to crumble. If you allow fear to be the litmus test for every Facebook status update, blog post, or Tweet, you’re doomed from the start. All you’ll be doing is building a “personal bland” — a vanilla version of yourself that stands out even more in the colorful realm of social media.

This doesn’t mean you should let it all hang out, of course. Use your best judgment, know that you’ll make mistakes, and learn from them. The fact that your athlete’s foot is acting up may be TMI, but people won’t be shocked if you tell them you hate folding laundry, or that you have a favorite TV show. Posting your favorite ice cream flavor might elicit some “me too’s” from the crowd, and (I promise) it won’t damage your credibility.

As long as it’s not vanilla.

By Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is an author and new church planter in Pueblo Colorado with his wife, Amy. His podcast can be found on iTunes, or by visiting his website at www.christianpiatt.com.

When I first heard of podcasting, I thought it was pretty cool. Immediately, I went online and set up free subscriptions for way more of my favorite shows than I can reasonably listen to, but as a junkie for free information, I couldn’t pass it up!

How great would it be, I thought, if I could do my own podcast? But surely it’s way too complicated and time-consuming to manage myself, right? I had received a book on podcasting a while back, but I was too intimidated to get started. For months, it remained no more than a good idea in the back of my mind.

Then, because of a series of curious circumstances, I ended up with a credit of a couple hundred bucks at my local music store, which is a dangerous thing. I wandered the aisles for a while and came across a cabinet of digital recorders. The price tags ranged from $200 to $350 bucks, and given my experience with digital recording gear, I assumed these were mediocre gadgets at best.

Turns out that digital recording technology has come a long way both in quality and affordability. Next thing you know, I’m on my way home with a little portable unit, complete with built-in microphones, cables and headphones. At home, I did a few test runs, speaking and playing into the recorder, amazed at the quality of this little machine that ran off of four AA batteries.

Maybe this podcast thing is not such a crazy idea after all.

I got online and found links to Audacity, a free audio mixing software program. Surely, I figured, this thing is lame. I mean, who can get anything decent out of some freeware? But the more reviews of it I read, the more convinced I became that it could at least handle my basic needs.

Next, I’d need a host site – somewhere to put my podcasts online so people could find and play them. Again, after some browsing, I found Podbean, one of many podcast “hosts” who offer free basic packages to get you started. Like others, they charge for premium services and extra memory storage, but I could get started and see if this podcasting thing was right for me without signing up for some pricey membership.

As a fan of National Public Radio, I had a fantasy of making my podcast sound like “This American Life,” so I’d need some sound clips to break up the narrative. I found more than I could use in three lifetimes at FreeLoops.com and The Freesound Project.

Outfitted with all the necessary gear, now I needed some interesting content. I started by narrating a few chapters from my newest book project, followed by a memoir-style account of my own faith journey and some spoken word clips. But what about ministry? Could I use podcasting to get the word out about our church on a local scale, or maybe nationally? That’s when I put together the “Big Fat Jesus Head” series I did with my wife.

I was getting some decent traffic from friends and people I told about my new project on Facebook, but I wondered if there was another way to get my work in front of people who liked podcasts, but who might not know who I was. That’s when I learned about Podcatchers, which are online services that serve as a clearinghouse and search tool for the thousands of podcasts out there.

In a few months, I’ve gone from this podcasting thing being an intriguing but daunting idea to having almost 600 hits on my first handful of episodes. Even better, when people search my name on search engines, the podcast is yet another thing that pops up. My literary agent was thrilled too, because that book project she was promoting for me found a foot in the door when a publisher showed interest in listening to the first few chapters online.

Next steps include recording Amy’s sermons, archiving personal stories from members of our church, concerts and interviews with other activists, artists and various people of interest. Aside from being a great tool for non-readers to get your message, there’s something deeply personal about hearing someone’s story or message in their own voice.

Now that I got it going, I have to wonder why it took me so long to come around. Turns out even we tech-heads have our hang-ups about new technology. But like anything else, it’s just a new tool at my disposal and, once I learned how to use it properly, became another avenue for personal expression, publicity and connection with people regardless of place or time.

Even better, it’s broadening our circle of people who hopefully will get some benefit from the ministries we’re doing here in Pueblo. If what Amy preached about Sunday can help someone in Nebraska a month from now, it just extends the life and scope of our ministry.

If you ask me, that’s technology at its best.

To sign up for Christian’s E-newsletter, “Faith Portals,” visit www.christianpiatt.com, or email him at cpiatt@christianpiatt.com.

Whoa.

I’ve been to a hatful of meetings, with both clergy, church folk, and social service professionals over the last month, where everyone else at the meeting willing to speak up about “social media” all said, as if they’d gotten the same script in the mail (that’d be “snail mail”), that “All this stuff like the Twitter, or Facebooker, or these (insert anguished tones and negative adjective) blogs are really contributing to the breakdown of community and culture. They get in the way of, and replace, real/true (your choice) human community.”

Further discussion reveals the obvious, which is that they don’t use these online tools, and only know what they’ve heard at the gym, the coffee shop, or in the NYTBR about social media. They often go on to say, in my unfair and tendentious paraphrase, “I learned how to use e-mail, for pity’s sake, and i’m trying to update the church/agency website at least four times a year, so i’m not techno-phobic or anything, but this new stuff is just too confusing.”

At a congregational board meeting where a fairly healthy, vital, mission-minded group of leaders were talking about newer, younger families and how to connect them, ideas were broached like a euchre night (in the words of the theologian Dave Barry, “I am not making this up”), or more potlucks.

Another council member (yes, the youth minister) and i, at a pause in the worried conversation, pointed out to the group that there were 51 members of a Facebook group of younger, newer families, specifically identified as “Fans of [Church Name Here]” where they were already planning activities and studies for Lent amongst themselves, so we should jump in gently and help that approach along.

Someone asked, fair enough, “What’s Facebook?” The youth minister and i tried to explain, to which a senior staff member who will remain nameless said “Oh, like that Twitter thing – what a strange sounding name! And what do they call messages on that?”

“Tweets,” i said, smiling grimly, as the expected laughter rolled around the table, and then the discussion went back to when a potluck might be held where young families would be invited to come share recipes with each other (see entry, Dave Barry).

The youth pastor quietly slid his laptop over in front of me at our end of the table — the Facebook group had just silently clicked up to 52 members. The potluck was scheduled for the weekend after Easter, “so there will be time to get it in the newsletter.”

Jeff Gill is a supply preacher, storyteller/freelance writer, and juvenile court mediator in central Ohio. His blog is at http://knapsack.blogspot.com, and his Twitter feed is at http://twitter.com/Knapsack.

Photo: Luc Legay (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Luc Legay (Creative Commons license)

When we began the Social Monday blog feature a few weeks ago, our goal was to feature Disciples involved with social media and social media marketing. Some offered thoughts on how social media’s distributed network model might give new insights on how to be the church in the 21st century. Others gave helpful how-tos for getting started in social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, and blogging.

We heard from author and podcaster Christian Piatt on Church 2.0: Spider vs. Starfish, parts 1, 2, and 3. Social Media pro and consultant Will Boyd, of Seattle, asked “Can Twitter Save Your Church’s Soul?” And John E. Smith, director of the Strategic Learning Group, discussed how social media makes unseen connections and networks tangible in his post, The Visible Web. And after introducing the feature (which debuted as Social Friday its first week and featured a brief overview of Twitter), I wrote about Pandora Internet Radio (have you tried it yet?) and the ”25 Things About Me” Facebook phenomenon (I know, you’re thinking, that was SO two months ago!)

We’ve decided to continue the feature, but here’s the catch. We want to hear from you. What are you questions, when it comes to social media? What have you tried, what’s working, what’s not? What lessons can you share with the rest of us?

You can post your questions and ideas in the Comments section at the bottom of this posting, or email them to news AT disciplesworld DOT com. Want to guest blog for us? Email a short proposal (3-4 sentences) on what you’d like to write about.

John E. Smith, guest blogger

John E. Smith, guest blogger

Much is being written these days about the power of the Internet and Web 2.0.  Social media has become the new “place to be” and you can hardly breathe without hearing about blogs, wikis, Twittering, podcasts, and other tools of the online trade. The idea of a company without a website now seems quaint.

The ability to function in an online environment is quickly becoming a baseline competency for everyone, rather than the realm of the lucky few. You can find almost anything or anybody online, if you know how. Will Boyd’s recent NewsMuse blog posting was an excellent overview of the uses of social networking media tools.

Who knew “Google” was a verb? Who knew I could “tweet”? Who knew I would someday want to?

It’s a wonderful, brave new world out there in cyberspace . . . so why am I nervous?

I may have figured it out. While watching President Obama’s inauguration, I was keeping an eye on the update comments made by people as they watched the broadcast on the Facebook website: Obama on the left side of the computer screen and a scrolling list of online remarks on the right side, coming from computers or cell phones as events unfolded in Washington. At the height of Obama’s speech, over 4,000 comments were being made every minute. They ranged from poetic to sublime to mundane to just silly, and everything (even Aretha’s hat) was fair game.

I was “boggled” by the amount of information I was receiving. It was both fascinating and disconcerting. This was a relatively new sensation for me, so I considered why this was happening. Finally, I got it: The Internet makes it all visible.

Thousands of people having their personal reactions to an event, and I got to see it all. There was too much going on too fast to take in and react to, other than the general sense of so much thought and communication occurring instantaneously. While I got a general idea that many people were happy, I lost most of the nuances and details that I would have “caught” if I were with a few friends watching on TV.

This is the online world. There are an untold number of discussions occurring right now, complete with comments, rebuttals fair and not, on almost any subject you can name. Google a topic like “leadership” and the sites, documents, blogs, and videos pile up like grains of sand on the beach. Much of this discussion and thinking was going on before, but we could not see it, like we do now. The Net makes it all visible.

We may have tended to think that what we experience in our personal “bubbles” is what is going on. We can no longer indulge that fantasy. Life is loud, multi-faceted, and way too complex for anybody to have a complete handle on.

Hence my question: Is this visibility of human interaction created by the online world positive or negative for us?

I’m no techie, just a person trying to “muddle through.” Questions like this are important to me as the world continues to change at an accelerating pace. So I asked a form of this question on LinkedIn, a business networking site, and received numerous responses from intelligent and thoughtful people from all over the globe.

One of my favorite came from Andrew Thorn, a leadership consultant and all-around Good Guy, who said:

“I could not help but think about God as I read this question. He has the ability to hear and see everything all at once. Did you see the movie Bruce Almighty? Bruce had a hard time dealing with life because he got to experience God’s omniscient capability …. Somehow God can see and hear everything and still be present. That is an amazing thought.”

Yes, Andrew . . . an amazing thought! As I move into a world my parents could not have imagined, it’s also a comforting thought. No matter how complex our lives get, no matter what new technology or challenges come to us, God is able to cut through the noise and distractions to hear each of us, no matter how many are praying, or whether we tweet, blog, talk or just think, our messages will get through . . . all of them.

Now I feel less nervous about tackling podcasting.

John E. Smith lives in Maryland Heights, Missouri and is a member of Webster Groves Christian Church. He welcomes invitations to connect on both LinkedIn and Facebook (free registration on both sites is required to connect). His blog is called A Matter of Strategy and you can follow his fledgling tweets as @JohnESmith on Twitter.

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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