CT@Prayer: Houses of Worship Need To Go Digital

Amy Desmarais (right) and Tracy Simmons (left) discuss how churches can use the web effectively/Rebecca Newman - Creedible

Houses of worship and newspapers have the same problem – they can’t figure out how to reach millennials.

That’s because echo boomers are online, and many editors and clergy aren’t sure how to meet them there.

When I landed my first full-time journalism gig after college, I got thrown on the convergence committee. The paper had its first website and our job was to figure out how to use this mysterious new platform. I hated it. I thought my job as a writer was to use description and narrative to make people feel like they were a part of my story. Using the web to include sounds and images was cheating.

But here I am, umpteen years later, and I’m a self-proclaimed social media junkie. Hootsuitebit.ly, Foursquare and Facebook have become my new tools. My browser crashing would be worse than losing my notepad.

Houses of worship rely on you, the volunteer, to figure out how to use the web effectively. And some of you are hating it as much as I did at first.  Will status updates, tweets and blogs get new people in your doors? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, you have to start thinking differently, just like I had to. Although it’s nice to have more people in the pews, that’s not your goal as a church. Your goal is to proclaim the good news, right? And you do that by building a community; make that an e-community.

 

First, your church, synagogue or mosque  needs a website. No, Facebook cannot be your church website. Faceboook is only an extension of your site.  The site needs to be updated regularly, have a contact us page, service times, a mission statement, an about us section. And, of course, it needs a Facebook badge, and a Twitter badge if you have an account. Hopefully you’ve already conquered this.

Next, to advance in the digital age, you need to stop fearing social media and have some fun. LifeWay Research recently reported that 40 percent of churches aren’t using social media at all. Yet churches want to reach young adults, and 86 percent of 18-29 year olds are on Facebook.

“Social networking tools have become an integral part of most people’s daily lives and relationships,” said Curtis Simmons, vice president for marketing and community at Fellowship Technologies. “If churches desire to connect with their congregation and community in meaningful ways, then they need to establish a strategy for actively engaging in the social media conversation. Thousands of individuals are sharing support and encouragement through these tools. The church needs to be an active participant in these conversations and connections.”

Hopefully you agree that getting involved in social media is a no-brainer. But how do you do it? What do you post or tweet? How often?

This is where the “80-20″ rule comes in. Eighty percent of your social media content needs to be sharing news, ideas and prompting discussions. Only 20 percent should be promoting your place of worship. If your church’s Facebook status is always “Come visit us this Sunday,” or “Come hear our choir,” then millennials are going to get turned off.

Instead pose a question, like this, “What do you think of the court’s ruling regarding Westboro Baptist Church?,” or share an interesting link on your wall.  That’s how you build community. Think of coffee hour after worship. Think watercooler. You talk about current events, share prayer requests and discuss the sermon right?

The web provides many doors to your house of worship. Its homepage is a door. Facebook is a door. Twitter is a door. Flickr is a door. It doesn’t matter what door one opens to find your house of worship because they all lead to the same place.

Now don’t panic. There are free tools available to help you be in all these places without wearing yourself out. Hootsuite, Ping.fm and Seesmic are examples. Post your status or link there, and the site will magically send it out to all your social media pages. Cool huh?

Before you know it, you’ll have lots of Facebook fans and you’ll have an online community to be proud of, and all with just a few keyboard strokes and mouse clicks.

Tracy Simmons is editor of Creedible.com, which is an online magazine that covers religion news in Connecticut. Her column on CtWatchdog, CT@Prayer, covers the consumer aspect of religion in Connecticut, reporting on the good deeds being done at different houses of worship, where they are falling down, and she will be looking into complaints from members of congregations. Please contact her at tsimmons@creedible.com if you have story ideas.

 

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