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Beyond Coffee Hour…The Social Media Gathering

by Dave Palmer

     Imagine being in a community where thousands of people, among them your fellow church members, gather daily, sharing their lives openly and happily introducing you to their friends, friends who now are able to engage directly with you.  Even better, you always know who is available and ready to talk.

     Now imagine deciding not to go there because…because there are “too many people”…because you don’t quite “get” their communication patterns…because it’s TOO EASY to connect with them and, well, wouldn’t it be better if they just came to the church’s coffee hour?

     That last is a sentiment I’ve heard over and over again, from the members of myriad churches, when the subject of social media comes up.  “FacebookTwitter YouTubeYelpFlickr?  I can’t keep up with them, much less figure out what they could possibly do for our church!”

     And yet, consider this:  when we look at where people hear about churches, the Internet is rapidly becoming their primary source of information.   Social media is also providing opportunities and avenues for ministry that were only dreamed of a decade ago.  Ministers utilizing social media and encountering people where they are, even if that’s not a physical place, are able to stay in touch with far more parishioners.   Members can share one another’s burdens, join together in celebration and document the very personality of their communities through these channels.

     While it’s not inaccurate to say that social media is pervasive amongst those 40 and under, it’s also worth noting that the fastest growing audience on Facebook is women over 55.  This is not a fad that is going away any time soon.

     How a church uses social media, which tools it elects to employ and how it would be best positioned to engage through these tools varies from congregation to congregation.  So, what things are important to keep in mind when using social media?  Here are a few key components:

  1. It’s social.  It’s not a set of statements, talking points and static communication. It’s an ongoing set of interactions that reflect personalities, passions and whole-life concerns.  Organizations not invested in the relationships won’t see much happen, just as in in-person relationships.
  2. You don’t control it. You participate in it.  This is a sticking point for organizations used to “controlling the message.”  The key is realizing that by encouraging and esteeming participation you will learn far more about how you are communicating your messages than through newsletters and pulpit-based announcements.  And, as an added benefit, you get to be involved along the way!
  3. It is not one-way communication. Again, this challenges traditional media in that the intended audience for your messages will respond, often in real-time. Questions and conversations are great ways to foster participation and learn a lot about those participating.
  4. It begins with a position of transparency and trust.  Can this be messy?  Sure. But be honest – what congregational or diaconate meeting isn’t?  And because of the format, communities tend to balance themselves out when conflict occurs.  The alternative – hidden conflict – has a far greater margin for error.
  5. Content Is King. By regularly updating your pages with content – video, photos, links to articles, mp3s, etc, you have something that can start, add to and embellish conversations – and your community can share that content with their friends as an example of the church’s personality.

     There are other things to keep in mind, to be sure, but space is limited – sort of like Twitter.  But that’s a topic for a different day.
     In the meantime – seek out some key people who understand and participate in social media, and dive into the conversations.  That community gathering is happening right now and would love to have you involved!

visit United Church of Christ La Mesa

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