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Social Media And The Church
By: Tony Ferraro

MySpace, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Twubs: The face of social media seems to be changing at a faster pace than the Internet as a whole. How can your church keep up? And, should your church keep up?

Churches have begun an intentional, broad use of Twitter.com as a means of communicating with members throughout the week. Some are posting daily "prayer tweets." Others are simply sending out reminders of activities taking place.

Twitter has even made its way directly into the sanctuary. At churches throughout the country, congregants are actively posting quotes from their pastor and photos of their service to their Twitter.com and Twitpic.com accounts. Some churches are posting these feeds to their websites using a widget provided by Twubs.com, which empowers a church's social media feed from Twitter.com and other places to be aggregated using the hashtag, i.e. #ChurchName. Posts from congregants are then aggregated together and can be displayed along with any photos or other links provided by the users. 

Will this technology change the church? And, if so, how?

Social media technologies are bringing the "church" closer together. The impact will have major effects on churches around the world.

First, as churches use social media to connect their people, congregations are building better relationships with each other. The net effect is that people are living life together all week long, as waiting until Sunday to talk to other people at church is becoming a thing of the past. This demand for more relationship is resulting in a stronger sense of community in the local church. 

An additional benefit is that with people engaging more regularly throughout the week, it will be more difficult for them to "fade away" from the Sunday relationships that they have built and their commitment to the church. As social media continues to enable this "church family" experience, church relationships are becoming their first line of relational support. Congregants are finding themselves more aware of one another and caring about others' daily lives.

Second, social media is helping to connect churches to their outreach teams. Using blogs, mission teams are able to write about what God is doing in their work, while they are still on their mission trip. They can post photos and prayer requests from wherever they happen to be in the world. Not everyone in the church is called to go to Africa or the Middle East; however, there are people in the church that are called to pray for those who are or be a support to the families of missionaries. Using social media tools, the people "back home" can know exactly how they can best support the team and also become who they have been called to be in the "Body of Christ."

A third and major impact that social media is having on the church is as a unifier of the Body of Christ. Congregational and denominational barriers are thinning. Using sites like Twitter, Twubs, and Facebook, people are becoming more aware of what congregants in other churches and denominations are doing. A user on Twitter may follow hundreds of people.  

For example, Carlos Whittaker, a worship pastor at Buckpoint Church in Atlanta, maintains more than 7,000 followers on Twitter.com. He also maintains his personal blog, www.RagamuffinSoul.com. Worship pastors across the United States turn to Whittaker for advice on implementing media strategies at their church. Whittaker, whose Twitter ID is @loswhit, opens up his life online to lead others through authenticity. He shares his highs and personal struggles through his blog and Twitter account. Even good times and bad times with his family are openly chronicled online. His wife, Heather, @whittakerwoman, often shares her side, as well. 

By way of their example and willingness to pursue open authenticity, pastors and congregants across the country are learning to be "real" in their daily lives with their own congregations, and it is having a positive impact on their churches.

Another great example is that of Mark Horvath, Twitter ID @HardlyNormal. Horvath operates a blog titled www.InvisiblePeople.tv. His vision is to "get the church to be aware of the homeless problem in America." In his words, "The church needs to do something about it." 

Horvath, once a gainfully employed marketing director for a church, found himself homeless after a series of layoffs. After becoming a member of the Dream Center in Los Angeles, he began a ministry targeted at helping to create awareness about homelessness in America. His blog chronicles his journeys as he goes into some of America's homeless population centers. He photographs the "real people" that live there and tells their stories. His heart's passion is to help.  So, often, he provides rides to shelters, clinics, and family for the street's destitute.

Via his blog, Horvath is embarking on a nationwide bus tour to expose America's homeless. People from churches all over America are contributing varying kinds of support, from money to food to lodging. The Body of Christ is reaching out to him to encourage him, provide support for his vision, and invite him to speak, regardless of denominational ties.

Finally, Charles Lee has effectively used social media to engage the church in conversations for change.  Lee, Twitter ID @CharlesTLee, developed "The Idea Camp," www.theideacamp.com. His vision for The Idea Camp was to connect people across denominational and congregational boundaries for the purpose of creating a marketplace of ideation. In the spring of 2009, he launched his first camp in Irvine, California, in conjunction with New Song Community Church. 

Using social media, Lee brought together more than 500 Christians in an "unconference" format. With speakers ranging from Erwin McManus to Mel McGowan and breakout sessions that included topics like social justice and pursuing authenticity, The Idea Camp germinated conversations for change. The conference also picked a top idea for change and helped to provide startup funding.  Additionally, for those who could not participate, the video sessions of the Idea Camp have been downloaded more than 6,000 times. Lee is now planning additional camps across America and will also be working with local churches to do the same at their church.

Social media is clearly changing the way church happens. It is providing a means for pastors to extend their ministries and work beyond their physical church boundaries to reach the unreachable and unify congregations and the Body of Christ. 

The remaining question should not be, "Should our church use social media?" but rather, "How should we use social media and how quickly can we get started?"

Tony Ferraro is a lay minister with Riverside, California-based Sandals Church and president and 360Hubs and Twubs.com Inc. Visit Tony's church leadership and social media blog at www.tonyferraro.com or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tferraro.

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