HOW TODAY’S SOCIAL NETWORKING TECHNOLOGIES ARE CONNECTING CHURCHES WITH THEIR MEMBERS
Though not always understood at first glance, social networking technologies such as Twitter, Blogosphere, TwitPic, Facebook, Oovoo, TokBox and others have introduced us to completely new ways to communicate.
For example, a “tweet,” as it is now referred to, is actually a virtual posted message on Twitter.com. Similar to a text message, a tweet can be posted using a variety of methods, including your cell phone, Facebook page, other websites or online tools.
The use of Twitter is quickly taking a strong hold on the Church as a popular and viable means of communication. With Twitter’s quick grip and the popularity of the other communication technologies, the question must be asked, “How are they impacting the church?”
The question is, how can blogs, tweets, posts, chats and other virtual, intellectual “toys” be used to build God’s Kingdom?
To many people, for example, the following probably looks like little more than nonsensical statements preceded by technoglyphics:
@TonyMorganLive: are u a ministry ldr? you nd 2 ck out the andy stanley ldrship podcast. espcially “trust vs. suspicion”
@GeoffSurratt: Praying 4 frnds in OKC. Be careful!
@jerryminer: We just put H2O system @ an unreached ppl village in AFRICA. Preached – 35 now blv in Jesus. H2O & a church plant in 1 day!
In actuality, these are examples of pastors, ministers and writers sharing God’s testimony. The “@” symbol in front of a name such as “Jerry Miner” indicates a Twitter ID. When Jerry sends a simple text to Twitter.com, it can immediately send his post to all of his other “tweeps,” as fellow twitterers are called, that are following him.
In an instant, thousands of individuals can immediately know via the Web, e-mail or cell phone that the Holy Spirit used Jerry’s non-profit organization to bring 35 people to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Similarly, author and Pastor Geoff Surratt of Charleston, S.C. was able to notify his 1,128 personal relationships across the country that a tornado had hit in Oklahoma City, Okla. and effectively lead by example towards a call for prayer.
Another example is Pastor Tony Morgan of Newspring Church in South Carolina who is encouraging the church to listen to the teaching of Pastor Andy Stanley from North Point Community Church in Atlanta. Tony has more than 3,300 people following his updates on Twitter.com.
These simple “tweets” are much more than a posted text message. They are connecting God’s church across geographical, denominational, and congregational boundaries. The Church is growing and taking shape and it’s using technology to make it happen.
But Twitter is only one part. Engaging your church in online community and outreach can be much more than a digital version of two tin cans and a tight string.
Blogs are the windows to the soul. People will share so much more about themselves in an online format than they will tell you face to face. Spending five minutes reading someone’s blog could tell you more about them than a one-hour lunch will.
Some churches are beginning to merge their Sunday service with technology by launching an online campus. The online campus or iCampus is providing a way to take church to the “unchurched” and keep people connected abroad. The fact is, that for whatever reason, many people simply will “not step foot in a church again.” The iCampus provides a safe and easy way for them to re-engage, connect with others and get spiritually fed; and they are coming by the thousands.
FlamingoRoad.org (Flamingo Road Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Flor.) has more than 6,000 members in weekly attendance according to Pastor Arturo De la Mora and Online Campus Pastor Brian Bass. CentralOnlineCampus.com (Central Christian Church in Las Vegas) reaches more than 2,000 people each Sunday online; and Jason Reynolds of GoChristFellowship.com (Christ Fellowship Church in West Palm Grove, Flor.) claims to engage more than 7,000 online members on Sundays.
One of the greatest steps in the adoption of technology, however, has been the ability for churches to create a branded, captive, safe and secure, social network.
Traditionally, a church’s website was “one-directional,” i.e. it presented information only. Now, church members can: create and manage blogs; pastors can engage directly with congregants in online forums; Bible study material can be uploaded and downloaded; and sermons can be downloaded and passed around the Web. In short, church can go on “all week long” with people engaging in relational and life-based activities over the Web.
While costs for these technologies can vary, solutions are available at different price points and often can be offset by replacing the existing costs of your Web hosting and maintenance, online calendaring systems, event registration, podcast hosting, etc. A robust community solution for your church should include those basic services and thereby replace those costs.
The key steps for successful adoption include:
1. Pulpit Promotion: The Pastor must actively encourage members to go to the Web community to connect with one another and get information.
2. Content is King: Put EVERYTHING online. A good solution should give you real-time access to change all content at all times without knowing how to program, including: sermon outlines, bible study materials, silly office videos, announcements from your missions teams while they’re still in the field, photos of staff members and volunteers, small group sign-ups, forum topics for people to discuss, promotional videos from Sunday’s service, etc. You need to keep the content fresh. The key, however, is that if the software does what it should do, no “one” person is responsible for the entire environment. Content uploading and management can be pushed to department and ministry heads, creative teams and even volunteers.
3. Commitment: Give it time. Changing people’s habits is not an easy task. It will take time for people to learn where to go for the information and to commit to using it. Repeat, repeat, repeat steps 1 and 2 and remain committed and it will take off.
Technology in the church can have a dramatic impact on changing the way the church is connected. It can provide the means by which the Holy Spirit can engage the full Body of Christ. However, it’s not about the cute names such as “tweets” and “oovoos”. It’s about intention and strategy.