October: Church and social media

October: Church and social media

Facebook and other social media tools have changed the way people communicate, work, fall in love, follow sports and do religion.

In theUS, Pew research has found that 65% of adult internet users say they use a social networking site like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn.

This is not another area where religion is playing catch up; it is already in the lead.

The Bible Facebook page, run by the United Bible Societies in Reading, England, has eight million fans.

A North Carolina doctor drew on the words of Jesus and posted them four or five times a day to create the most highly engaged audience on Facebook in the world, Jesus Daily, far surpassing marketing efforts by celebrities and sports teams.

“Friending” a church online may not be the same as worshiping at one. Pope Benedict has warned Roman Catholics that “virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.”

But the Rev. Kenneth Lillard, author of Social Media and Ministry: Sharing the Gospel in the Digital Age, has said Facebook and other social media tools represented the best chance for religious leaders to expand their congregations since the printing press helped Martin Luther usher in the Protestant Reformation.

The World Association for Christian Communication last month called on people of faith to make their voices heard for peace, saying, “Social media have been much praised for the potential they have to bring social and political activists in to the public square.

“They are a means of raising the voices of ordinary people, since governments know very well that when genuine communication is suppressed, the capacity for peace-building, for inclusive and equitable sharing of knowledge and experience, and for democratic participation in political and social decision-making is lost.”

Here’s what happens if you apply social media marketing language to the Church:

Listening, learning and adapting is where the real value of social media will show its true colours. Listening leads to a more informed ministry. Engagement unlocks empathy and innovation. But it is action and adaptation that leads to relevance.

Churches must realise that within each conversation lies a clue to establishing connection with community.

Church members — and those beyond church walls — want to be heard. You can’t create a social ministry if the church is not designed to be community-centric from the outside-in and the inside-out.

More importantly, social media becomes a platform for faith and for our welfare activities, advocacy and outreach. From worship to evangelism to community service to Bible study, churches can expand the role they play in social networking to make the acts of following and sharing an investment in more meaningful relationships.

Social media is the beginning of a new era of ministry, community engagement, and relevance.

As the marketing article I just “adapted” concludes: #AdaptOrDie.

Stephen Webb

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