Churches using Facebook, Twitter to expand reach, relevance

He tweets so he can pray for someone at a moment’s notice or communicate the goings on in the church whether it be meetings or church projects.

“It definitely adds a sense of the moment-to-moment happenings for us,” said Wilson, pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville.

Many of his friends use Twitter, the microblogging social media phenomenon that’s gaining popularity among churches. “I thought it would be a good way to keep up with them and see what God is doing in their lives and in their churches.”

The use of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, is proving to be a technology trend that churches can rely on to help them interact with and keep their members informed.

“The reality is Twitter allows people to see a more personal side of a pastor,” said Anthony Coppedge, author of the e-book “Twitter for Churches.” “It creates accessibility and humanizing of a leader.”

The good news is you only need a cell phone to receive tweets. “You don’t have to be on Twitter (itself) to follow someone on it,” said Coppedge.

Nick Charalambous, web campus pastor at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., agrees that it’s beneficial to be communicating through social media. More than 100 staff and church members are using Twitter regularly as a way to reach out and follow what’s going on at the church that has 10,000 attendees.

“So many things can be done in social media for the advancement of the Kingdom,” he said.

Trinity Church in Manhattan took it to the next level and tweeted the Passion Play for three hours on Good Friday.

“Friday morning we had 125 followers and by noon we had over 2,000,” said Linda Hanick, Trinity’s vice president of communications and marketing.

A script was written ahead of time using Twitter’s 140-character limit per post and was easily adapted to tell the story of Jesus.

“People became involved and tweeted. Our intention was to give people an opportunity to be reminded of the journey of Christ wherever they were,” Hanick said.

And because of its success the church began making its Sunday worship services available via Twitter Sunday, Apr. 19 and the responses have been positive.

The service includes truncated language from the Book of Common Prayer, the Bible and the sermon. The church continues to see more interest in Twitter and currently has more than 350 followers.

“We want to use the technology that the young generation is using,” said Hanick. “Our goal is to really tell the Gospel and the good news in as many ways as we can.”

So should all churches and pastors begin tweeting?

Not necessarily said Wilson. “It’s for anybody, but it’s not for everybody at the same time. I heard someone once say that Twitter is the Facebook for adults.”

Facebook, another social media phenomenon, allows individuals, churches, companies and others to post a page full of information about themselves and update friends or fans with status updates.

The Facebook group “One Body of Christ Experiment (all Christians of Facebook)” began in 2008 and already has close to 1 million members.

“Our following has grown quickly,” said group administrator Rakiesha Chase. “It’s becoming a safer place. We have found there are definitely strong people who have taken the lead (with the group.) Atheists have started to look at it differently.”

She realizes that there are a lot of things on the Internet that aren’t for Christians, so when they do find Christian sites or groups, they network.

Chase said it’s very important for churches to join Facebook to network with others and post their information. There is even an e-book available called “Facebook for Pastors.”

“When churches realize they can do this, it’s a good free resource,” Chase said. “It definitely draws younger people to your church.”

Trinity Church signed up for a Facebook page last year to promote church events.

“The jury is out on how effective (Facebook and Twitter) are, but it’s best for churches to get into it,” Hanick said. However, she adds, the church wants people to be in relationships. Social media is an enhancement not a substitution.

With all of this technology available, each church has to decide who they are trying to reach, how to reach them and what are the goals when they are reached, said Cynthia Ware of thedigitalsanctuary.org.

“There is a lot of noise online that isn’t helpful,” she said. “If the church is trying to promote on Facebook or Twitter, but don’t know how to use it, they have to go back to look at their goals.”

She said goal setting is one of the most important things for a church to look out for when using social media. “If you don’t have a goal, you have no idea if you’ve been successful in what God wants you to do.”

NewSpring Church’s goal is to be an aggressive evangelistic church, said Charalambous.

As the church continued to grow, a web campus seemed like a logical next step. The church’s web campus has been up and running for about three months.

“It’s a less intimidating environment,” he said. “If you’re experiencing it from the comfort of your own home, you’re in control of it.”

As the web pastor, he and his team can chat with those watching the service and make announcements. “The web allows us to reach exponentially more people. There are many places in the world where there is a bare minimum of Christian witnesses.

“If it’s done right, it can be a powerful way of wrapping around them,” he said. Each week an average of five to seven countries are represented with 400 to 500 people logging on to see the service.

Even older churches are reaching out further than just those around them.

Founded in 1697, Trinity has come a long way and really began focusing on new technology in 2003 with webcasting. Now services are viewed by more than 4,000 web visitors each week.

“We have a long-standing commitment to using communication and technology,” said Hanick.

But for most people, these virtual churches don’t replace the “real” face-to-face church and it is unlikely they ever will, said Tony Whittaker of Internet Evangelism Day.

“It seems to be an add-on,” he said. “It may be the case that for a small percentage of people who cannot cope with face-to-face church, for whatever reason, or may have a disability or health issues, some sort of online grouping such as this may be a lifeline.

Seattle-based Mars Hill Church has several campuses and live streaming video online, but is using the latter only for special events. It also does not plan to have a web campus at this time.

“Biblically speaking Paul used anything he could (to get the word out), but we definitely want to be careful,” said Justin Eby, Mars Hill’s video engineer. “We have such a big push for community. We’d rather people show up where they can get plugged in.”

 

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