Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Should People Use Twitter in Church?

With the popularity of social media increasing by the day it's natural that churches would consider what kind of role these tools can play in ministering to their members and those outside the church walls. A lively discussion is going on now about whether pastors should encourage their congregation to use Twitter during their sermons.

Some feel that the sanctuary of a church is no place to be playing with cell phones during a worship service. Others, on the other hand, think that it is completely appropriate and relevant in ministering to the younger generation. One of the largest churches in the city where I live, Discovery Church in Orlando, has embraced this technology and the pastor encourages members to "tweet" during his messages.

Although not all churches are ready to make the jump to Twittering on Sundays, many are utilizing online social networking:
"In April, interactive marketing firm Sojo, Inc. surveyed 145 churches with memberships between 500 and 25,000 and found that 32 percent of them said they use Facebook, 16 percent are on MySpace and 10 percent are on Twitter, with many more chomping at the bit to sign up for the popular micro-blogging site."
I think most churches that have younger members with younger leadership are more likely to use these forms of communications since it's a more important part of their world. With faith communities comprised mostly of senior citizens it wouldn't make much sense for a pastor to emphasize using these tools much if it is going to alienate their flock.

But for many of the younger generation, the ability to share opinions and receive instant feedback is expected. For example, at our ministry's recent national Impact conference, we invited the conferees on the last night of the conference to share with others what kind of commitments they had made that week (e.g. share their faith more, read their Bible regularly, tutor a child, go a missions trip, etc.) The students were able to text message their commitments so that it would show on the big screen. It was a powerful display to see the various ways that God had spoken to those in attendance.

In a recent article by Diane Mapes on MSNBC.com this topic is examined in detail. Several church leaders comment on how they use social media to be effective in their outreach and care for their regular attenders. It is good to see that other Christian leaders are wrestling with how to communicate the unchanging message of the Gospel in the midst of rapidly changing times. Mapes quotes Kim Gregson, assistant professor of the television/radio department at Ithaca College:
"Everybody needs to reach the next generation, to give them a sense of belonging,” she says. "And online is where younger people live. It’s where they get their information, make their social connections, plan their weekends. You have to be there, you have to be in front of them. There’s a realization that if you don’t do these things, you’ll become forgotten."
Whether it is Twitter, Facebook, blogs or other forms of social media, churches that utilize these technologies wisely will continue to be attractive to young people. But they can't leave it there. For all the good that modern technology can do, it will never replace the importance of genuine, face-to-face, authentic community. Churches that learn how to work that balance will be those that effectively reach their communities in the years to come.


orangejack said...

You know I'm a huge advocate for social media and using the web well. I think churches should be embracing all available technologies that are relevant and help people connect with each other.

However, there are good ways and not so good ways to use technology. I think we always have to step back and look at the big picture. With a church, ministering and teaching are the priorities. So how can technology help do that?

Personally, I don't think the answer is found in chatting with others during a sermon or worship time simply because it's distracting to the one chatting and the one listening - no matter the technology (twitter or writing on the bulletin).

But technology does allow for further discussion and growth in ways that haven't been as convenient. Groups in the church can discuss the sermon with the pastor on-going on blogs, twitter, facebook, home groups, whatever. The technology makes it easier and more inclusive.

It's all about how the technology is used. And there is still a place for people being quiet and listening to a pastor and discussing it later no matter what form that discussion (or listening!) takes.

scottmcrocker said...

Good word, Rob.