Monday, February 1, 2010

Social Media and The Church

Have you ever tweeted in church? Have you ever texted in church? Some of you may have at inappropriate times, but at Mt. Bethel UMC in Marietta, GA that is exactly what you are encouraged to do. Yes in some churches, communication has come a long way from your "grandma's church". Most churches only use front lawn, letter changing signs, or weekly bulletins printed on unexciting white paper. But there are many churches that have opened their doors and embraced social media.
Bandwagon or Reason?
I was quite sceptical when the social media aspect was brought up within my own congregation at Mt. Bethel UMC. I wanted to make sure that we, as a body of believers, were using social media for the right reason and not just to be "cool." I soon found that the idea of adding social media to the service was a great idea. During the sermon the congregation is encouraged to text or tweet comments or questions they would like the pastor to address. The congregation response has been overwhelming. When asked why the response has been so overwhelming, Pastor Jody Ray responded, "in such a big corporate worship service it is hard to have an open forum, and being able to speak up through text messages or tweeting give people an opportunity to express concerns and ask questions that they may not normally be able to voice." The only negative to adding the media aspect Ray says, is the amount of texts they get on a Sunday morning verses the amount of time they have to answer. They only have time to answer a few questions so not everyone gets heard, but all in all this has been a very effective tool for ministry.

The ROI for a Church
In the business world social media is uses to elevate the ROI, Return on Investment, this is also true for a church. Instead of looking at the ROI in quantitative terms the church looks at it in qualitative terms. Most churches ask the question, "is the social media in question going to help the quality of church ministry?" "Is the use of a particular media going to further the cause of
Kingdom work?" In most cases, the answer is a resounding YES! Social Media in the church not only enhances communication, it allows for a connection that many people in a mega-church like Mt. Bethel UMC with 10,000 members, may not have had. It also is a way to place a "call to action." A Christian's number one concern is to live for Christ and also to disciple, and social media helps accomplish both by using many different outlets:
1. Podcast of sermons
2. Daily Bible study Tweets and blog postings
3. Posting to Facebook, You Tube, and iTunes worship songs and videos
4. Allowing your members to stay connected to ministry staff through e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, and Linkedin.

I am sure there are many other ways social media can be used in the Church. I am not sure if all the possibilities have been tapped into as of yet, but I believe to stay connected and relevant, churches must make use of social media.


  1. When I read your post, my first thought was that this was an unusual application for social media technology. And I must admit that when I think of organized religion's relationship with technology, it has been my lifelong impression that the two have not always mixed well. But once I considered the idea, it occurred to me that the adoption of new social media technology by the church is actually an age-old pattern.

    When the new technology of the printing-press became available, the church was first in line. When radio and then television came on the scene, organized religion was there to take advantage of those media. When satellites and cable became available, one of the first dedicated networks was religious in nature.

    Religion is social in nature, and a quick look around the web indicates that these social interactions are moving online. Several church leaders are following your pastor's example, as can be seen at this link:

    It will be interesting to see where we go next.

  2. Tweeting in Church is a great example of social media's practical application in nearly every setting. Like Raymond, my initial impression of using applications like Twitter in settings like Church had me thinking, "Wow. How unusual!" But he's right, the Church has historically been first in line when technology assists the spread of a message. My initial reaction unveils a disconcerting truth: people have preconceived notions of what social media is, and further more, how it's used. We seem to place self-imposed regulations on kosher ways to use media (no pun intended!).

    In Michel Kent's essay Critical Analysis of Blogging in Public Relations, he says "most organizations have not figured out how to use their websites well except to sell things." Mt. Bethel UMC seems to be the exception, utilizing media to assist in building community, catechismal education, and to mobilize community groups. Next step: tithing through twitter.

    Another example of a Christian entity using social media is Jon Acuff's blog, Stuff Christians Like ( Acuff, an Atlanta based copy writer, started his site in 2008 by posing the question "Does the stuff we like ever get in the way of the God we love?" The blog that evolved was a satire of "Stuff White People Like" and became one of the most widely read blogs in the world. Acuff suddenly landed a book deal, speaking engagements, and ad sales from his social media empire.

  3. This is pretty interesting stuff. I'm always thumping my kids if they try to text in church, so I guess now they could tell me they are texting the pastor and not their friends.

    I'm not sure what I think about this use of social media in church. I see the point that people could send questions, etc., but I also think that there are probably a lot of people in there now who are simply not paying attention and appear to be communicating with the church when, in fact, they are doing nothing of the sort. Not sure I would go for it.

  4. I am never surprised by how quickly some churches embrace new technology. It's not necessarily a bad thing, and as your example has shown, it can actually be quite productive. However, there are some churches whose use of social media have left me quite skeptical. I read about a church where the members convene right here in Georgia to worship with their pastor and fellow members from other states. I have also heard of churches that are completely online. But, since the point of all churches is to "spread the word," why not?

  5. Rebecca the thought of you thumping your kids in church cracked me up.

  6. I am skeptical as well. If I saw my son whip out his cell phone in church, I'd thump him too, Rebecca!

    I have to wonder whether the technology created the need in this case. Did the congregation submit questions/comments to the pastor before the text method? If not, why not? Surely collecting some hand-written notes would have been as effective. I can envision many uses for social media for fellowship and stewardship (I love the tithing through twitter idea!), but I would have to see this one in action.

  7. Ray -- I just wish I could thump like my Mama's a lost art...

  8. Over the last ten years, I have done quite a bit of freelance marketing work (both print and Web) for several churches around Cobb County.

    Just 10 years ago, it was a challenge for any church to grapple with Web sites. Not only did they take time to design, but the real work was in keeping them updated! Long before easy-to-implement content management systems, churches usually had to rely on one of two methods to get info updated:

    1.A church secretary, who usually lacked the skills to update Web pages
    2.A technology wizard within the congregation, who was working on a volunteer basis and got burnt out quickly leaving the site with outdated information

    Simply put, church Web sites have notoriously been communication nightmares.

    The rise of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have been absolute boons to churches for several reasons. Churches – on any level – are community building enterprises. They congregate people together as a whole for worship and Wednesday night dinners; they split them up into smaller groups that cater to individual needs and ages. Facebook works much the same way. Users can equally have a boatload of friends that can be split up into manageable groups. Within the last four months, Twitter has enabled similar functionality in lists.

    Of course, the power in this for a church is the ability for any internal group to go on Facebook and create a group – it not only takes the church community experience outside the building (adds value), but it also allows for church staff to EASILY COMMUNICATE within these groups.

    I think of my own church experience in 1995. If my music minister wanted to communicate with the band, he would have to track all of us down on the phone. Today, he could easily create a Facebook group where he could not only communicate via text, buy use the space as a repository for music, calendaring, feedback, the list could go on....

    Even above this however, the REAL lure of Facebook and Twitter to churches is that it is FREE! I've heard many a good idea get shot down because of financial requirements. Facebook and Twitter throw that out the window. In so many ways, they are far more powerful to smaller businesses because it really levels the playing field. There's nothing that the church of 25 that meets in the elementary school can't do on Twitter that Saddleback and its thousands strong can't. It's 140 characters; that's it.

    Oh, did I also mention that there's millions of people also trolling around Twitter and Facebook? Here's a very simple equation:

    Millions of People + FREE = Marketing Boon

    I would question churches if they DIDN'T try to enter the social media space. In 2010, that's just bad business.


  9. I follow a handful of church pastors on Twitter and it is very interesting to see how they use it. Surprisingly, it's not what you'd expect. It's less on the preachy side, but more about sharing ideas with other pastors; encouraging people (those in and out of church), occasional comments on news items and links to other Internet items.

    If interested, you might want to take a look at the Twitter feeds of two local pastors:

    Mike Linch, Northstar Church:
    Ike Reighard, Piedmont Church:

    Lastly, my mother came home from Piedmont Church this past weekend; she said that the service had been set up to resemble a “talk show” set. Ike had a Mac computer by the pulpit and encouraged the congregation to ask questions via SMS and Twitter. Much like the UMC example, this is using social media to create a new kind of church dialogue.

    Strategically, this does more than just allow congregation members to ask questions, but rather has more to do with brand building – it helps the church to seem more progressive and relevant in the rapid changing modern world. In the church's mind, if it helps attract people who would otherwise be turned off from the perceived “staidness” of church, it is not only a win for the church, but a win for the lost soul.

    If anyone is interested, Piedmont Church will be continuing this very interesting format for the next four weeks.