Social Media and the Church
Is the message getting through? How can the church leverage new means of communication to get out the word?
Justin Wise: We all know that social media is still in its infancy. We’re not entirely sure what to do with it or how to best leverage these new communication platforms. But we do know they’re changing the way an entire generation communicates. How are social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube affecting church communication?
DJ Chuang: By and large, the church has not seen social media as a legitimate means of communication. You do see some churches using it effectively, especially church planters. Shaun King at Courageous Church is crazy with social media. I’ve heard a couple messages of him speaking as well, so he just incorporates a multichannel communication across the board and is very active in doing that. All the way out here in California, I can still get a sense of what is happening in his church life in Atlanta. So that is effective communication. Another example: Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church up in Seattle, blogs every day. He’s made that a part of his rhythm, and I think that shapes his community outside of just the Sunday sermon. People get a holistic perspective of who he is, and then he tells the stories of the people of that community. He uses social media and I would imagine he uses it in other ways. Some churches have Internet campuses, but even there the tendency is to use it as a broadcast medium rather than a conversational one. I think sometimes that notion is scary to churches because social media gives everyone a platform, and the church is still rather concerned about authority. What if Wikileaks met the evangelical church? Why are we so paranoid about communicating when we’re children of the light?
Justin Wise: Can you imagine the response you would get? You would have a near riot. David Housholder, the brother of our senior pastor, says we don’t have anything to be paranoid about if we are living in the light. If we’re living as God calls us to live, then what do we have to be afraid of?
Vince Marotte: That starts the whole discussion on user-generated content and how we handle the comments on our Facebook page, Internet campuses, blogs and the conversations we have on Twitter. How do we be open with those comments and be OK with dissenting ideas and letting the community handle it? For example, during a chat on the Internet campus, if someone has an issue, I try not to jump in and instead let the community handle it themselves. Nine times out of 10, they do a fantastic job. I’m a firm believer that conversation is conversation and how we handle user-generated comments says a lot about our church.
Dawn Nicole Baldwin: I think Vince is right. A lot of times, churches are confused on how much they should sterilize posted comments. For example, Facebook student ministries will create their own Facebook pages, which might draw comments that may not be “approved” by a church because they’re using language and they’re afraid of them representing the church. But that kind of transparency is actually authentic and if a church sterilizes it too much, then it becomes artificial. You also need to keep in mind which platform is appropriate for which audience and then tailor it to the right fit. If you’re tying to reach unchurched teens through your Facebook page, then that content and user-generated content is going to be different than what you have on your Web home page. But transparency is key. And negative comments do not mean the end of the church. A church is people. Sometimes a lot of churches forget that.
Dawn Marie Bryant: When the church is trying to control what is or isn’t communicated, the church comes across as the “The Man.” That’s why people hate the church. If we’re really talking about the church being a body of believers, going back to what Vince said, it does takes care of itself.
Chuang: We need to get to the place where 50 percent of the churches in this country allow social media to be a means of communication. Realistically, it might not happen for another decade, but I think it needs to happen in the next fiuve to seven years. My son is 13 now. In five years, he’ll be in high school and then college and the way he communicates is through text messages. We got him a cell phone when he was in the 6th grade and saw our relationship with him extend because as we communicated with him through text, a whole other side of him came out. So when communication flows, it will change the relationship and change a community. In five years, churches that don’t really embrace and allow social media to flow as part of their social community are going to lose the [younger] generation. It’s over.
Tell us what you’re thinking. (Post comments below.)
How are you embracing or exploring social media?
How are you interacting with others on social media networks?
Have you set up Google alerts (Google.com/alerts) for your church and senior pastor?
Have you typed your church’s name into Search.Twitter.com to see what people are saying?
If your church is on Twitter, are you attentive and responsive to the people who are trying to talk with you?
Are you adopting new communication channels to reach the next generation?
But first, who are these people?
Justin Wise: A blogger and communicator with a pastor’s heart, Wise serves on staff as digital director at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, Iowa, and is the director of projects and development for the Center for Church Communication. Wise enjoys helping churches, individuals, businesses and organizations learn how to build technology and new media into their structural strategy. He blogs at BeDeviant.com.
DJ Chuang: As a consultant to dozens of churches, Chuang is a web strategist, currently working as network developer with Worship Leader magazine. He has also recently worked with Leadership Network (as Leadership Community Director for Multi-Site Churches and next generation Asian-American churches) and with L2 Foundation, developing leadership and legacy for Asian Americans. Chuang has blogged at DJChuang.com for the last 12 years.
Dawn Nicole Baldwin: As founder and lead strategist of AspireOne–a strategic branding firm with a passion for helping churches reach people more effectivel–Dawn Nicole Baldwin is one of the leading experts on branding and marketing for ministries. She blogs at DawnNicoleBaldwin.typepad.com.
Vince Marotte: A communication designer and the internet pastor at Gateway Church in Austin, Texas, Marotte spends most of his time crafting content for the internet and pastoring a global network of Christ followers via the Gateway Church Internet Campus. His new book, Context and Voice, releases this spring. Marotte blogs at Nikao.ws and other outposts.
Dawn Marie Bryant: Passionate about helping people figure out what to say and how to say it, Bryant serves as a lay pastor at Bloom in St. Paul, Minn., which has a specific mission of reaching people who have been hurt by or have become disenfranchised with the church. She is a 14-year corporate public relations veteran and consults independently for her own business, Simplicity Communications and Consulting. She blogs at ChasingAfterMe.com.
The March/April 2011 issue of Outreach features an indepth article on communication tactics for small and large churches. Find out more about this issue »
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