Churches Reach Flock with Facebook
Just as customs of the devout have evolved, so have the ways in which church leaders reach them. These days, religious leaders are just as likely to have a church Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube channel, iTunes podcast and a blog, as they are to have a column in the monthly newsletter.
Millions of people are using social networking media already, church leaders seem to be reasoning, why not try to reach them where they’re spending all their time.
“I see it as a ministry option, not (just) a technical option,” said Sam Perry, Creative Arts Pastor at East Bayou Church in Lafayette. “It’s an opportunity to impact anyone, and a lot of people are doing it.”
According to Facebook, it has more than 500 million active users, with 50 percent of them logging on any given day. The average user has 130 friends. People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook.
“When we started it, it was seen as a way to say and hear things that were going on,” said Perry, who has been at East Bayou for four months. “It’s a way to put out information, a communications tool. Podcasts are up, and we’ve got photos of local events and mission events.
“We don’t use it as a chat device. Our technical director goes on there a few times a day to see that everything on there is appropriate. We have found success in that. In the future, we would love to stream on Facebook, stream from our site to the Facebook page. “We’re also looking at having a time set up for dialogue, to go back and forth. Even if it’s not a chat device, we could post back and forth. It takes manpower; this is a good way to encourage people to build a life in God, to inspire them to serve.”
Some figures indicate that people respond more quickly to Facebook than to emails, so letting others know that someone needs help, prayer or encouragement is a natural on Facebook. It is a way to reach out to others, and to prompt others to reach out in kind.
Also, church staff members who use Facebook keep their profile high in the community. “We know people are using it,” Perry said. “The younger they are, the more they use it. But it’s a tool to get the word out to both the old and the young. To me, it’s cross-generational. For me, it’s a now tool.”
Many churches have updated their approach using e-mails, mass texts to church members with key news, and using a phone tree cycle to reach members. Facebook appears to be the next logical step. “When you get all those going, you’re saturating with communication,” Perry said. “You’re totally connected across the board.”
There are other options with online ministries that go beyond church boundaries, and can even reach into countries that don’t allow missionaries. “People are using social media more and more, especially with mobile devices,” said Perry. “You’re seeing that every day, more and more. There are a ton of possibilities there. It’s incredible.”
Social-media use hasn’t won universal blessings from religious leaders, however: A New Jersey pastor recently called Facebook a marriage killer, a group of New York rabbis blogged about whether people should “fast from Facebook” during Passover, and the pope last year warned not to allow virtual connections to overshadow real ones. “You have to proceed with caution like anything else,” said Corey Baker, a pastor in Cape Coral, Fla. “It’s not Facebook that causes those issues; it’s people.”
That more spiritual authorities are embracing social media doesn’t surprise Professor Dell deChant, senior instructor and associate chair of religious studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Throughout history, religion has seized on new technology — from the spread of Martin Luther’s reform message in the 1500s using the printing press to being one of the first institutions to use radio and television, leading to a new form of preaching known as televangelism, he said. The digital age appears to be affecting religion in a different way.
“Social networking tends to have a democratizing influence. Everyone gets a say, and that’s not usually the way religion works,” deChant said. “Religions in general tend not to be democratic in an egalitarian sense, where everyone gets to share their views and opinions. So my hunch is that the editing and control features of these sites will be widely used.”
Rachel Revehl of The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press contributed to this report.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”
This article “Churches Reach Flock with Facebook” by Rachel Revehl was excerpted from: www.chrismamag.com web site. January 2011. It may be used for study & research purposes only.