Monday, November 15, 2010

Ministry In The Age of Social Media

Article from Ministry Today

Welcome to ministry in the age of social media, where more and more pastors nationwide are awakening to the belief that social media is an effective way to reach not just their own flocks but those beyond their congregations as well.

"Did you miss Sunday service this morning?" reads a post—complete with video link—on the Facebook page of The Potter's House, the Dallas megachurch led by Bishop T.D. Jakes. "Come join us for the Sunday Service Rebroadcast, we have a word just for you." The page has more than 109,000 followers.

According to a recent Nielsen Co. study, Americans spend nearly a quarter of their time on social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter—a 43 percent increase over the year before. Churches are increasingly planting their flags in cyberspace, with profile pages teasing upcoming or past sermons, noting meetings and special events, culling for volunteers or posting a verse of the day.

Such strategies are espoused by even Pope Benedict XVI, whom digital news source Mashable dubbed "the social media pontiff" for urging priests to use new technologies to bring people to the church.

"If St. Paul were alive today, he would have a BlackBerry, a laptop and a blog," wrote Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas in the introduction to the blog he began writing last year for parishioners.

Social media's casual and interactive nature is especially well-suited to purposes such as establishing community and conducting outreach, especially in bigger congregations where one can be lost amid the crowd.

"The larger the church, the more important staying connected with people becomes," said Mike Buster, executive pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in the Dallas area, with a weekend attendance of more than 14,000 at two campuses. The church's Facebook page lets people check church activity schedules, preview Sunday services, see photos of sponsored events and submit prayer requests.

Facebook is now used by 47 percent of churches, according to unreleased survey results compiled by evangelical research firm LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn. And it's not just for those who already belong. When it comes to drawing those looking to join a religious community, an online presence is a near necessity.

"If people are going to consider your church, they're going to consider it first online," said Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research president. "They're going to wonder: 'What is it like? What's going on?' And if you don't tell them, they're not going to come."

While social media offer unprecedented outreach opportunities, there are some things it can't accomplish, such as simply visiting a member or churchgoer in the hospital. It also presents challenges for pastors—for instance, not letting his or her church lose sight of the mission and message while ensuring that the convenience of cyber-community doesn't substitute for the real thing.

"Church requires feet and faces, not just electrons and avatars," Stetzer said. "Social media can be the tool, but not the goal."

Evangelical blogger Kent Shaffer, author of Oklahoma City-based Church Relevance, agreed. "Church social media shouldn't be about broadcasting oneself and spamming the masses," he said via e-mail. Instead, used well, it can enhance a church's mission without distracting from it.

Prestonwood's Buster is aware of the dangers. "We will never allow social media to replace personal contact or the sharing of Christ through people," he said. "It will not replace our face-to-face evangelism."

In the meantime, churches are just keeping up with the times.

Source: The Dallas Morning News 11-14-10

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