We are at the beginning of a connectional revolution that should be getting the attention of “the connectional church.” And considering the “demographic cliff” the church faces, it’s a revolution we ignore at our own peril.
In 2011, barely a third of U.S. adults owned smartphones. By 2012 the number was well over half. And among young adults, the percentages are higher and growing. In fact, it is increasingly difficult to buy a cellphone that is NOT connected to the Internet.
In 2012, 49 percent of U.S. senior citizens have a Facebook page. And the rate of new Facebook users continues to increase among all age groups.
For the first time this past year, Facebook reported more users accessing their service by smartphone than computer.
A 2012 study found that 63 percent of women and 73 percent of men ages 18-34 who own an Internet-connected “smartphone” say they don’t go an hour without checking their smartphones for messages. Even among the 55-plus crowd, 36 percent say they don’t go an hour without checking their phone (and that percentage goes up every year).
Among those surveyed, 54 percent said they check their phones while lying in bed — before they go to sleep, after they wake up, even in the middle of the night.
And yet, the following bah-humbug is still heard:
“I have no use for Facebook, it’s a waste of time,” said the pastor hoping to grow a church, attract young adults and stay connected with members.
“I don’t text-message my youth, it’s shallow,” said the youth pastor looking to grow his group and become part of students’ text-message obsessed lives.
Say what you will, but they are just practicing good old-fashioned connectionalism. They are checking their email, text messages and Facebook pages. And buried amid the cat memes, OMGs, photos and inane chit-chat, they are sharing their life events, sorrows, joys and the things they hope and pray for, and they are affirming each other.
This is the way God built us. We are designed to want to connect with each other, and smartphones help us do that to a degree. They help us during a busy day to feel connected with those we care about.
It’s a medium where literally cross the crowded ways of life.
In recent years, there’s been buzz about church websites. But let me suggest that the smartphone revolution should shift the discussion from a church’s Web “site” to a church’s Web “presence,” including a “smartphone” presence. The smartphone revolution is telling us that people like interaction, alerts, brevity and immediacy. The concept of a fixed web “site” that just sits there will become increasingly irrelevant.
Can we be too connected? Yes, all things in moderation. But rather than sneer at this medium, let’s recognize why we are embracing it, what it says about our needs, and how it can thus be used to bless the ties that bind.
Where to begin?
Keep your content brief, relevant and timely.
Encourage a two-way conversation.
Be an example of good practices (no cat memes, pastors!)
Subscribe to member Facebook pages and invite them to follow yours.
Send your message through multiple means, email, website, Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even the occasional postcard.
Integrate your communications by incorporating the church Facebook page into your church website with a piece of code.
Include all these points of contact in your written communications and emails.
Train members how to connect with the church and each other through these new methods. And don’t be surprised if some of your older members are already ahead of you.
NEIL MACQUEEN is a Presbyterian minister specializing in Christian education software and church technology issues.