This how-to guide helps you get started.
Is your church ready to connect to the net generation?
As Presbyterian congregations seek to reach and invite people in their 20s and younger, we must understand who they are. This generation, often referred to as “the net generation,” views technology as common as sliced bread and lives in a world with interactive community-building web 2.0 tools like blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. For this generation, the standard church Web site may appear more like a digital brochure with limited one-way conversation. Sources on Internet technology describe Web 2.0 or social media as the “next generation of web-based services that allow interactive community that connects people in two-way conversations.” Interestingly, these shifts in technology are impacting the way people communicate and even the way younger adults may find a church home.
Web 2.0 tools create virtual communities. These media offer places where people can build relationships, find friends, and connect with people networks that reflect common interests. The Internet has become the hangout for many Americans, especially those in their 20s and younger. This fascinating group sees text messaging, instant messaging, downloading on iPods, blogging, and writing on Facebook walls as a natural way of life. For some in this group, a religious church facility may not be where they choose to go right away. Instead, discovering a pastor’s blog or Bible study podcasts may be a more likely first step to explore a ministry and experience the Gospel.
Being authentic and able to express feelings characterize many in this generation. Writing on blogs, sharing photos and videos, and telling minute-by-minute updates seem so natural to them. A recent conversation with Brandon, a Presbyterian graduate student in his 20s, who maintains an active Twitter, Facebook, and blog, reveals this insight: “I twit, because I’m away from home and I need a place to express my randomness. I don’t get a chance to write in my LiveJournal daily so my twitter account allows me to talk about my day, and my feelings.” Twitter, a micro-blogging service, allows instant updates from one person’s world to their colleagues and friends. The common question on Twitter is simply, “What are you doing?”
What its all about
Relationship, relationship, relationship is the buzzword for use with web 2.0. It is all about building relationships.
So how can pastors, youth groups, and ministries build relationships using social media? In short, be open to start somewhere. Be intentional in creating virtual communities beyond the walls of your church. Seek coaching from some of the young persons in your congregation or community on ways to integrate social media and connect. Ministries that do this well have opened new dialogue with existing members and built more relevant ways to link outsiders to experience the Gospel and explore ministry where they are.
Today a growing number of congregations, denomination leaders, and other Protestant churches are paving the way to build community on the Internet. A recent study by Barna Research Group (www.barna.org) indicates one out of four Protestant churches now have a presence on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Presbyterians are on these sites too. A recent look at Facebook reveals more than 500 group sites including the word “Presbyterian.” If your presbytery or church is one of these groups, you may be wondering how you can use these tools to connect with the lost, bring hope, and share the Gospel.
The Message has not changed but the way people are building relationships is in constant movement. Connecting by sharing ministry photos, events, and videos in settings that are comfortable and real to the net generation creates a more relevant way to reach out and invite. Here are a few practical ways to get started.
1. Set up your church or youth group as a group page on a popular social networking site like Facebook. Upload photos of the ministry. Share relevant information about upcoming events, ministry fairs, and community events. To get started, invite friends and members you know to join your group. As people join, encourage the network to invite others. Post discussion topics to keep people engaged.
2. Blog (Weblogs). Establish a pastor’s blog that allows members as well as outsiders opportunity to be inspired, get spiritual food, or simply express personal feelings in an environment that can be anonymous and less intimidating. A pastor’s blog can be a great way to explore sermon topics at the same time people are able to hear and see the pastor in a very authentic venue. Today 13% of Protestant churches are blogging according to Barna Research Group (www.barna.org). This statistic is likely to grow as pastors and ministry leaders become more comfortable sharing insights and sharing engaging topics that give outsiders a peek at who they are.
3. Establish Your Ministry’s Social Network. Utilize social network services like Ning.com to set up a custom network for your congregation. This medium can allow members and the outside community to connect on common hobbies, careers, or other interests. Building a virtual community that is uniquely for your congregation requires some understanding of these sites and ways to regularly update them.
4. Create sermon or Bible study podcasts. Upload an audio file that is downloadable from the computer or iPod and allows people to hear a message and connect with your ministry even if they are not yet ready to visit your church. Ministries that offer podcasts from their Web site are able to reach beyond the walls, share the gospel, and allow members and friends to utilize the podcasts as evangelism tools.
5. Upload a video clip to YouTube or other video sharing mediums. Consider sharing video clips that help to give people a peek of what it is like to praise and worship at your church.
6. Get ready to take the plunge. If social media terminology sounds like a foreign language, ask a young person in your circle of friends or family to show you what this looks like. Explore the options and then move in ways that are relevant, comfortable, and allows God to use even technology to reach more people and share the Gospel.
Lynette Hawkins is a Presbyterian elder and founder of Awesome Insight, a strategic communications resource of Beyond Marketing Group, Inc. She blogs at http://blog.awesomeinsight.com. Join her friends network on www.facebook.com or sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter at www.awesomeinsight.com. Her e-mail is [email protected].