Practical use of Twitter growing among church congregations

Even if you’re not on it regularly, you’ve heard of Twitter. Plenty of churches have, too, and like many other individuals and institutions, they’re trying to figure out the most effective way to be able to use the microblogging Web site. Three churches shared with Everyday Christian how they use the site to reach their members, attract seekers and how it fits into their overall social networking strategy. NewSpring Church Anderson, S.C. With three campuses spanning eastern South Carolina, NewSpring Church needs the Internet to stay in touch with all its members. The site features links to detailed pages for each campus, including a Web-based ministry. Joshua Blankenship is the design director for New Spring and handles the church’s overall design branding and Web strategy. Blankenship sees Twitter as a moving part in the church’s Web presence. “Twitter’s effectiveness probably depends on the circle you travel in,” Blankenship said. “We benefit from it in that a large portion of our staff uses Twitter on their own and it seeps into culture. “If we solely relied on it to bring people into NewSpring, we would be making a mistake. It is a great platform but it is limited in its use. It’s not a catch-all to meet the community needs of the church by any means.” NewSpring has about 3,400 Twitter followers. Its principal use is a vehicle for announcements and for communication during large church events. “Twitter for us is, on a daily basis, just usually for news and events communication,” Blankenship said. “It was an appropriate platform for a conference we had in March where you could see what people were saying in reacting to what was going on. “It has a lot of value in the moment, not so much for longer term.” And that’s where Facebook helps in the gap. “I think it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish,” Blankenship said. “We focus mainly on Facebook more than Twitter to drive the news and events. We use Facebook to share video clips and hopefully help connect people on the Web with our physical campuses.” Life Church Indianapolis Scott Himes is already a big believer in harnessing the power of the Internet for marketing Life Church. The associate pastor said over 80 percent of the church’s marketing, promotion and communication is done online through Facebook and Google ads. They also offer video and audio podcasting and use broadcast sites such as blip.tv to push their content to a wider audience. “We get about 300 people on an ordinary Sunday, and about 60 percent of that is in the 18- to 35-year-old range,” Himes explained. “Besides personal invitations, we’ve had feedback that the Web site is an attraction. There’s no doubt the online presence makes a difference.” Life Church has been using Twitter for about three months. It has about 200 followers. “We are just starting to figure out how best use Twitter,” Himes said. “I know a lot of people really appreciate the personal interaction we have on our church account with announcements and news updates about what is going on at church. “I have a personal Twitter account, and it has been a good way to interact with more people. We have a couple of volunteers at church who use Twitter and use is quite a bit talk about what is going on here. “Those people’s use of Twitter on their own has been a lot more effective building relationships. We have had a small handful of people check us out based on their interaction on Twitter.” Twitter has paid larger dividends thus far for Life Church to share resources and ideas with other churches. “It is really useful to connect to other pastors and churches,” Himes said. “Sharing resources, links to say to one another, ‘Hey there’s this event going on over here,’ has been greatest value so far.” City Community Church Indianapolis How to best use Twitter isn’t the only thing that is new to Erik Cooper. On March 1, he and colleague Nathan LaGrange launched City Community Church. The church doesn’t have its own dedicated building. It meets in the auditorium of the city’s new library in the heart of an urban atmosphere. “Nathan and I worked together for 10 years in music ministry and when we decided to plant a church do it together,” Cooper explained. “When we talk about our site and any kind of a model, we really are still trying to figure out what that is. Using social media and having a Web presence and how to leverage it best is what we’re working on. I wouldn’t say it’s a massive strategy, but it is a good way to keep in dialog with people and use technology to stay in dialogue for more than 60 minutes a week.” The auditorium has 300 seats and the church has drawn between 125 and 175 people on a Sunday, ranging from seekers to lifelong Christians from a wide variety of denominations. “I would say part of what we want to be the DNA of the church is to interact with the city,” he said. “We are building great relationships through our small groups and experimental groups to build the church. … For example, if you meet at the Central Library and working with the homeless isn’t part of what you’re doing, you’re not in the right place. “We really want to see how we can share with others who may not be Christians that there is something bigger than yourself with Kingdom perspective and potential.” Twitter is part of developing that perspective. City Community has about 1,200 followers. “One of the things we like to do with Twitter is for announcements and teases for services. It helps us interact with people about what they need help with in prayer and in their lives.” Cooper doesn’t want, nor expect, Twitter to be the complete means to an end. “I think it’s really important that churches and pastors who use Twitter and Facebook enter the dialog completely and don’t just see it as an advertising tool.,” he said. “I think people are put off by tweets that are only about events and attempts to draw people to their thing. When pastors genuinely add value to the online community, I think they do themselves and their church well. “Social media is about interaction: thoughts, ideas, humor, etc. It’s not a place to promote your stuff, although when you are genuinely in the dialog, occasional promotion is well received, at least that’s what I’ve found. There has to be real substance behind its use or people sniff it out quickly.” Links: NewSpring Church on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/newspring Life Church Indianapolis on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/lifechurchindy City Community Church on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/citycommunity

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