‘I think the greatest potential of
social media is to connect an active
church with a hurting world’
Social media is a term for websites that provide a platform for users to meet and share information: videos on YouTube; thoughts and observations on a blog site; or a personal newswire of 140 characters on Twitter. Networking site Facebook has 400 million members and one in three people in the UK has an account. With statistics like these, the question should be whether churches can afford not to engage. But how do we decide which ones to use, and how do we get involved?
Where to focus your efforts must be determined by where the people you want to reach are connecting.Using
established channels where users already browse is fareasier than trying to herd people to church sites. Biggest is
best, and Facebook has the most users. Setting up groups,events and sending out invitations is free, quick and easy.
The downside is that with so much information your notice could get swamped. In addition, because it’s easy to become ‘friends’ with a large number of people, these connections can become devalued.
With a bit more effort you can establish an interactiveonline community. Blogs can stimulate discussion and interaction. The content has to be good, the audience has to want it and it has to be updated regularly. You can use music, video, podcasts and images to keep content varied. Remember that browsing is differentfrom reading; people jump from topic to topic. Work with people’s tendency to flit: provide links and be concise. Storytelling is key, but be prepared for stories to
be passed around, it’s how the web works. It’s interactive too so prepare for debate. Good stories and good debate
boost profile, but be aware that an increase in profile comes with an increase in scrutiny.
The web was designed for collaboration. It enables the sharing of ideas across disciplines. In this atmosphereideas thrive. Scott Overpeck, Chief Strategist at Intersection Creative Strategies, loves the way you can meet new people, ‘Pastors can connect with non-profit leaders, government officials and businesspeople. We learn public sentiment on nearly any subject and more importantly we can shape it.’ Encouraging collaboration empowers a community to create and not just consume. Website Mumsnet. com pools ‘knowledge, experience and support’ for parents. It has a million visitors a month and 20,000 discussion posts a day. Parents use the network to find and provide support during a time when many feel isolated. Horsesmouth.co.uk is a network for ‘informal mentoring’. Members offer their expertise or search for help with a problem. Need and solution are matched through the network. Iranian protestors used Twitter to broadcast updates and images through a governmentimposed media embargo revealing what was happening behind closed doors during the election. Social networks give people a voice. This empowerment resists authority and crosses geographical boundaries. Like any power tool, there’s a safety warning!
Back to the Real World.
This movement from superficial to meaningful relationships and into real world action is exciting. KXC, a new church community meeting in the Kings Cross area of London, is passionate about discovering and meeting the needs of the local community. They hope to use social networks as one way of achieving this. Ben Pollard, a KXC member, sees the popularity of social networks as evidence of a hunger for real relationship: ‘The internet and social media are powerful tools for connecting people and building relationships but they obviously risk becoming a substitute for the hard work of real community. I think the greatest potential of social media is to connect an active church with a hurting world.’
Laundry Love Projects
A group of churches and businesspeople in Santa Ana, California, responded to needs they discovered in their community by paying to clean the clothes of those struggling financially. As the machines washed,people spoke about the difficulties they were facing.The Laundromat became a haven for the vulnerable.
Scott Overpeck, partnering with Just4One.org and their Laundry Love initiative, was involved in the launch. 'Once we decided to put together the Laundry Love Project, I went home and bought the domain and put the site together. I was able to share a brief blurb and the URL with several high-profile personalities very rapidly. They then shared it with their networks. It was traditional word of mouth, but faster.’
The site gets 1,000 hits a month and Scott believes this is down to the fact that ‘people want to be a part of something great. The internet makes it so easy.’ But seeing is one thing, action is another. Scott’s solution is engaging people with the story, ‘We post as many stories - video, photo, written word, even statistics - as possible.’ News of the project spread. There are now dozens of Laundry Love Projects across the US and beyond. Scott’s advice if you’re trying to engage with networks is, ‘Start slow. Listen a lot.Be creative. Be a part of the community.’
So should the Vicar Twitter?
You have to decide whether social networks are the right mechanism for reaching youraudience. Undoubtedly they provide the church with new opportunities to engage people, but must be used in the right way to be effective. Also remember that not everyone is signed up, and often those who need to be included most, such as the elderly, are excluded. Social networking is a powerful addition to your communications toolbox, and shouldn’t be relied upon completely.
Darren Guthrie is a freelance writer and screenwriter. He is part of
a community of writers, film-makers and creatives called
the Free Range Project. He lives in Central London where
he attends KXC church in Kings Cross.
This material copyright New Wine magazine and used with permission’