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Social Media for Ministry Leaders
By: Gina Calvert

It's powerful, it's popular, but is it for you?

In Jesus’ day, “word of mouth” traveled at about the speed of the average donkey. When he sent his followers out in pairs, the Good News meandered down the path. That was fine— God works slowly—but you have to wonder if his mind skipped forward to the day when the Word would dominate one of the Internet’s fastest growing mediums. That is precisely what is happening on Twitter.

Twitter is a social media network that launched in 2006 and rapidly gained popularity. So far, it has over 500 million active users who generate over 340 million tweets a day. (A tweet is a 140-character text message.)

That’s the message an article in the New York Times relayed when it revealed the surprised reaction Twitter had to its own data.

It all started when an employee went looking for the answer to a burning question: why are some tweets more popular than others? He expected to find his answers among the high-ranking tweets of the “Glitteratzi”—celebrities, politicians and athletes. Instead, he found them among religious leaders, whose names he did not even know.

Even more startling, the number of responses such powerhouses as Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, the Dalai Lama, and Max Lucado evoke on Twitter come from half as many followers as celebrities with high-ranking responses!

Twitter has repeatedly seen that engagement with followers produces greater response than number of followers across all categories of tweeters. Having a large social platform means exerting an enormous amount of influence, but those whose followers actually engage, as the followers of religious leaders tend to do, are tapping into something phenomenal.

Ann Voscamp is not a high-profile megachurch pastor. She’s a mother of six who lives on a farm in Ontario. Her book One Thousand Gifts started a Twitter conversation, under the hashtag #1000gifts, that is still going long after its publication.

(For the unfamiliar, a hashtag is a way of organizing messages for Twitter search engines. Users prefix a message with a hash tag to enable others to discover relevant posts. Even the hashtag is a remarkable phenomenon, having sprung up organically by Twitter users.)

Because Twitter can be addictive and eat up more time than one intends, and because the idea of “building a platform (audience)” can feed the ego as much as it sows the seed, some religious leaders are wary. Some find it to be just more noise in the channel.

Yet when we look at the way Jesus operated, and the fact that he took his message to where the people were, it’s hard to deny that the explosive technology of Twitter holds massive potential for the Kingdom.

Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith, in their book The Dragonfly Effect, state that “... the power of social technology, when fully engaged, can be nothing short of revolutionary. Just this year, the Red Cross raised more than $40 million for Haiti relief through text message donations. The same technologies that enable us to “poke” our friends or “retweet” an interesting article are the ones that can connect and mobilize us to bring about change.”

In a day where the Internet and much of technology is used for evil, it’s refreshing not only to see the intentions of the originators of Twitter, but also the evolution of Twitter into a tool for good.

“People are basically good. If you give them a simple tool that helps them exhibit that behavior, they will prove it to you every day,” says Biz Stone, cofounder of Twitter.

The “good” is worldwide impactful. According to the New York Times article, Twitter played predominantly in the events of the Arab Spring, an uprising against oppression and Internet censorship in the Arab world. The Marines have contacted Twitter to discover how they could use the messaging system to save lives when every second counts.

Twitter is powerful because it is an “open, real-time information network...information leaps from person to person, from border to border, and change follows,” says Twitter’s Director of Social Innovation, Claire Diaz-Ortiz.

When the surprising effect of religious leaders on Twitter was discovered, Diaz-Ortiz was dispatched to delve into that segment of users. She found that the 140-character message limit is perfectly suited to Proverbs, and people are tweeting and consuming the Word at a phenomenal rate.

Getting Started
It’s not difficult to get set up with Twitter, but not everyone feels comfortable with tweeting. Diaz-Ortiz has written a book entitled Twitter for Good, in which she teaches effective use of the tool for implementing and growing support for a cause.

If you prefer a more hands-on education, she offers an online course in exchange for a $100 donation to Hope Runs, a non-profit organization that uses running to empower AIDS orphans in Kenya.

Michael Hyatt, one of the world’s most effective engagers across all forms of technology, provides a free, step-by- step guide (How to Become a Twitter Ninja) to getting set up with Twitter and leveraging it for influence in only 30 minutes a day.

For every pastor who has lamented the scarcity of time and opportunity to connect with congregants, Twitter provides that opportunity. There is a segment of people who will sign up to hear what you have to say. The 140-character format is “tailor-made for our fast-paced culture,” says author Ann Voscamp.

There is a short learning curve (and possibly a confidence chasm to cross) but the statistics show that the Return on Investment or, as we call it the Return on Ministry, can pay off exponentially when it comes to influencing for the Kingdom. Every time someone retweets (resends) your message, everyone in their social network receives it. The potential is staggering.

It’s free (for now) and simple, but that is not to say that Twitter is for everyone. Every person and every church must ultimately decide what kind of relationship they will have with technology.

Is developing a social media platform something you and your church are considering? If so, we want to provide you with information and resources to make the best decision for you and your church and to be successful, should you decide to enter the Twittersphere.

Gina Calvert is a writer for ACTIVE Network, which produces Fellowship One software for churches, www.activenetwork.com.

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