Social Media, Communication, and Ministry

Social media is a hot topic now in ministry communication circles. As Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of media have grown more and more people use them to communicate every day.

Many of the young people I know in there teens and twenties use Facebook rather than email as their main source of communication. I believe my daughter looks at email as “old people mail” and confesses to only checking her email account occasionally not even having her smart phone set up to check her inbox.

As communication is changing the church is all over the place in its use of social media. Some churches are jumping right in with Facebook pages and invitations to worship and events. Some churches are using twitter regularly to communicate. And there is certainly no shortage of pastors who have blogs where sermons are shared, theology is discussed, and current denominational changes are speculated on.

In the early days of internet communications the first church related system I was involved in was Ecunet. Ecunet started out with what looks like now to be nearly stone age technology. But the strength of Ecunet was the diversity of people who created “meetings” and had conversations from a multi-church and ecumenical perspective.

But over time new forms of communication came on the scene first with listservs, the yahoo groups and Google groups, and now Social Media.

The upcoming Iowa Annual Conference website is advertising that reports about conference will be sent out via twitter using the #IAUMC11 hash tag to help people follow the events of each day.

Last year I attended my very first Annual Conference. I was sitting in the visitor section so I followed twitter discussions about legislation from several posters around the room. It was one of the first times I really realized just how powerful twitter could be as an instantaneous collaboration tool.

But with the diversity of social media options what seems to have gotten lost for me in the shuffle is the sense of community I found in Ecunet. Ecunet has attempted to morph over the years from its first rudimentary communication platforms and now is found on Google groups. But with the traffic of the net already moving towards the instant communication platforms of Facebook and twitter discussion groups in a stand alone network don’t stand out. If a community like Ecunet is to prosper it is going to have to move into the social media world taking even greater risks to reach a wider audience.

It is true that Social Media as and new communication forms have been criticized a great deal. I see a lot of articles about how to unplug. I see critique (primarily from those who are Boomers or older) of text messaging as a means of communication claiming that people “just don’t talk anymore.” And then I see the bemused faces of young adults who are part of the plugged in culture who see the signs of a generation gap in these criticisms or just the usual fear of that which is new and different.

But while there are a few truths in these negative comments, I see young people actually talking more to each other, with more people, in a larger geographical and social framework than I would have ever dreamed possible.

The world is getting smaller and smaller as we all are on the verge of being able to communicate with people from across the entire world. The church can choose to ignore these changes or we can choose to use these opportunities for communication as one of the many tools in our repertoire to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.

A lot of people are pessimistic about the future. I believe that is one of the reasons people like Harold Camping with his dooms day predictions gets so much press. But the truth be told, Christians should be excited about the future. We should be the first to move in new directions and with new technology rather than the last. Why? Because we worship a God who is about creation, change, transformation, and grace. We do not serve a static entity embracing the past. No, we know a God who works today and in the future that we might be made perfect in Christ’s love.

So even as the Methodist circuit riders used the best means spreading the gospel that was available in their time. We need to strike out into the new landscape that technology has placed before us.

(You can find me on Facebook and on twitter @timbonney)

Social networking as outreach

This is an interesting set of links on Social Networking and the church. A lot of young people use Facebook messages and text more than email. We can’t ignore how younger people are communicating if we want to reach out. Facebook and Twitter are free. So the only cost is time. But, any form of outreach takes time.

Tim Bonney

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Social networking as outreach: ”

Harriff Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, Ala., already had an active Web presence before this summer. But the pace has picked up considerably since June 1, when the church hired a digital ministries coordinator. Brendan Harriff, a 22-year-old graduate of Asbury College, is responsible for regular updates on the church’s website and its social networking accounts.

‘We get on Facebook and Twitter dozens of times a day,’ Mr. Harriff tells Marty Roney of the Montgomery Advertiser. ‘… It allows us to get the word out about Frazer in ways that are less conventional. That’s especially important in a city like Montgomery that has such a large military community. When all the new military families get transferred here, many are looking for a church home. Facebook and Twitter are ideal for that kind of outreach.’

Mr. Roney’s article also includes comments on this growing ministry field from Mark Chaves, a professor at Duke Divinity School, and a good tip from Baptist minister John Johnston to never forget the irreplaceable impact of face-to-face contact within a congregation: ‘During difficult times and during joyous times, things like a smile, the touch of hand, just having someone to speak with, carries so much power.’

For more on the topic, visit my own story from last year.

(Via United Methodist Reporter Blog.)