Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Church Growth strategies: 'Be IT Savvy: Social Media!'

By now you'll probably be aware of Hauerwas' comment that:

'Church growth strategies are the death rattle of a church that has lost its way. 

But it doesn't make it any less necessary to add it to the top of the post to make the point and get us all thinking, does it? 

At a conference a couple of years back the keynote speaker (the Rt Revd Dino Saur) told the assembled masses how we needed to get back to basics and, 'Put down our mobile 'phones, computers and other technology. Doing this will grow the the Church!' Many of those around me vigorously nodded their agreement (in the hope that their names might be taken for tea and medals later perhaps?) whilst others merely rolled their eyes and tweeted, "You wouldn't believe what the wally on the stage just said!.

Some months later I was at another training event and the person at the front closed the whole thing by telling us that the only hope for the Church was for us to, "Get out there in the blogosphere and in the virtual company of people through social media and make Church virtual and effective!' This time everyone cheered (because we were all techies so would would, wouldn't we).

But, as ever, neither speaker was completely right or wrong because we live in a reality that is ('Hooray,' cried the Anglicans) a via media - and this middle path has us treading a fine line indeed!

But what we do need to always remember is this:

'Church is a communications sector business!'

Like looking in a mirror this image!

Having engaged in 'virtual church' I found it to be a place where people could attend virtual services and could raise their hands and shout 'Amen' and stuff from the safety of their keyboard. I could elect when to be 'doing church' and it was great fun.


God could have solved all the problems of the world in one swift reboot and yet He didn't!

No sirree! What He did was realise that the answer to life, the universe and everything required something extra-special. It needed His presence (what was already there anyway) to be made flesh; and this is the problem with 'virtual' Church, there's nothing of the incarnate in it (innit?)!

I have run a forum for a few years now (Cavedwellers) and what we had when it was going well was a bunch of people who communicated, prayed for each other and shared best practice and stuff like that. It was a community but I'd have to say that it wasn't Church. Well not until one of us had a need and others climbed into cars or boarded busses and arrived to pray and be there for whoever had a need - and this, I think, is where we have lost the plot a little. So let's consider IT and the ways it can enhance, and limit, our Christian witness and the Gospel we proclaim. I've included but a few areas and thoughts to get you started or keep you running:

Twitter Prayer
Last Sunday evening I sat in a church building and invited prayer needs for our prayer service and as I sat there praying, in came tweets and messages from people I knew and others I had never met before and, although not in the same place, we prayed together for needs confident that God hears and acts and joined by the omnipresence.

SMS Prayer
Our little church has a number of people who volunteer to be on what was once a traditional prayer chain: One of those great church things where prayer needs are passed from one person to another (originally by telephone) and situations are brought before the Lord as they arise. These days my 'phone vibrates and there, on the screen, are prayer needs for situations happening there and then! For those who don't do messaging there's still a telephone call but this is a great way of being a prayer active and engaged church (remember to make sure that those on the chain remember that all prayer needs received are confidential unless told otherwise).

Facebook (fb) and others (click on 'others' to see a list of social media sites
There are times when I realise that Facebook is the source of division and cruel (and wounding) comments but that said it is also a great place to share stuff around the church and wider community. Set up a 'page' or a 'group' for your church or project and then use it to publicise, invite and share information. 

A page effectively sings your church or project up to Facebook as if it were a person and there are many benefits to going down this route. A group is exactly what it sounds like: A group of people who are sharing information, stories and opinions on a common interest area (which in this case is church). Here's a page for St Editha's.

Social media is a great facility for church but a few gentle thoughts:

i. Don't appear 'needy': One of my colleagues posts some of the most desperate stuff on their church fb page as they try to invite people. 'Please come to my church event because no one ever does and I've worked so hard!' is not the way to present Church (or you).

ii. Be thoughtful and attractive: Something I've rarely ever accused of :-) But challenge people by all means but do it in a way that invites comment and makes people think, 'Wow! I'd like a go at that!'

iii. Little and often: But not too often! If you've ever sat on a train with the boring person who drones on and on throughout the whole journey you'll understand what posting too much is all about. Post relevant and interesting stuff and do it when it is right to post: many who try to use fb as a means of evangelism (or community connection) actually bore the pants off people because they keep posting loads of trite and ineffective dross. Timely, interesting and talk when you need to talk, not when you want to talk!

This is a great way of connecting using the visual stuff that our clever mobile devices can provide so easily. It's not something that is public like fb But it is a great way of sharing the ephemeral moments with those in your circle of friends - and that could even mean church I guess ;-) . I love this medium for the ability it gives me to share instants in time. Like all social media it has been used for ill as well as good and the need to post appropriately is especially there with the image - because words don't always sanitise a situation (so think what you are sharing before you share it).

This is an area I like because it shares images and can be a source of inspiration and encouragement (and it's fun: an important thing when communicating). It's a great way of sharing things (mine can be found HERE ) and looking at stuff that relates to the areas that interest you. It's a great way of sharing things, especially seasonal stuff (Lent, Advent, Christmas, etc.) and connecting with new people.

often overlooked but as they say: 'A picture is worth a thousand words!'

Not, as some might have it, the 'boring' social media network but something a little more affinity and prior relationship driven that brings others into relationship with you on professional, industry and more formal settings. Not the place to be advertising services and  stuff (use the more relaxed social media for that) but a place of connection and peer relationships - and that's important!

Web Presence
We will visit this some time soon: Tea is drunk, brain is surged onto the screen and time to go and be blessing people.

I hope that this has been of some assistance. Some of what is here will be useful and other bits probably pure pants (If only I knew which was which)!



Rector Robert said...

Goodness me! I hadn't realised how many social media places existed.

I'm giving it a try and have signed up for Facebook and will try and set up a page for our church too.

Thank you for the encouragement and the simple way you have explained it.


JonG said...

For the SMS prayer chain, might I suggest, for those who don't know it, WhatsApp. Texts and MMS type messages, either via your data network or, if available, wifi (free then). The big advantage is that it is very easy to set up a group and for others to join it, so as long as you can trust people not to misuse it and send every thought that goes through their head to everyone in the group, a quick way to message plenty of people at once. It does cost pence a year after a free year (69p, I think) and is on Android and IOS, and, I would imagine, Windows for phones.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Thanks for the comment Jon - I'm going to do a nuts and bolts bit on SMS and texting but forgot 'what's App' so a most welcome and timely reminder indeed.



Tim said...

A helpful blog with ideas for Digital and Social Media aimed at Churches: