Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Facebook, Twitter and the Church

I have just been caused to consider the appropriateness of the social media in day-to-day church life. In other words, whether it is right or proper for a parish or other church community to have for itself a Twitter account or a Facebook group. My thoughts were as follow (saves me re-typing, for among my many qualities, bone idleness rates highly):

In a Midlands diocese, it is now regarded as good practice for curates to Tweet. This and all other things like this speak of marketing, whatever that thing is that you are marketing. Spreading the Good News, perhaps! My own experience is that those who Tweet are only vulnerable from themselves and their own poorly built personal boundaries. I hold an account for my church which I confess I neglect through lack of time, but as fast instant marketing of events and services, nothing rivals it if you use hash tags effectively. With my personal account I have entered into helpful and reciprocal ‘relationships’ with locals, civic community etc. and I know for a fact that one person came to Midnight Mass as a result. ‘Twurch of England’ will then add you to their lists and the scope for spreading the word is limitless, as Christian tweeters often hook up to it fairly quickly. Bp. Alan Wilson  advocates it, and we have used it to good effect between us in the past. See a former post for an example of the good that Twitter can do, in the middle of the many perils! It is a common sense thing, in essence!
If it is alright for the Queen ...
Again, the same as above. There is little risk with this, and perhaps less even than typical parish websites as Facebook accounts are administered member-only access Groups. I believe a Facebook account exceeds a parish website for various reasons, partly because of the ability to more freely use imagery as it is restricted access, but also because access and privacy settings can be controlled. Another good marketing tool, especially if anyone in the community blogs – Twitter and Facebook bring more readers to my blog than any other source.
In general, what you are facing are the preconceived ideas of those who are fearful. I face them too, but they are issues I manage to work around easily enough. Most of our older generation do not understand the way that websites work, let alone 140 character exchanges! ... 
The age that we are in demands a higher level of communication if churches are to remain present in the flow of life as lived out electronically by the world at large. I have never had a bad experience Tweeting, blogging or anything else [as it relates to my church life] (though I have yet to enter into a Facebook group – we have a website that takes enough time at the moment)....

These are hastily drawn together thoughts, but address an issue that is perhaps gaining momentum in the present age. I'd value some comments, partly for the person who made the enquiry in the first place, but also for the edification of others perhaps later! 


  1. What is the objection? The downsides that I can see are the time that it takes and the ability to shoot yourself in the foot in 2 seconds flat (cf Pete Broadbent).

    The upsides...

    It communicates with a demographic not well represented in church and can also communicate with the local church.

    I have mostly given up contributing much, largely because of time, but in a different parish could well decide to start again.

  2. I am with you all the way - the more the better. I sense that this enquirer was being confronted by those who may equate this lark with witchcraft - those new fangled ways!

  3. Our Diocese put on a workshop at the annual Ministry Fair about using church websites, FB and Twitter last spring. It was packed, but concerns ranged from "I don't have time to do all this updating and posting and stuff - I'm busy enough already" to "but I don't think it's right to advertise that Mr and Mrs Green need prayers because they are going through a divorce" to "why do we want to reach people all over the country if they aren't going to come to our church?"

    Some of the problem stemmed from people not really knowing how to use FB/Twitter (or the internet, barely) and so the learning curve seemed insurmountable, others from not realizing that new media attract new kinds of people (everyone wants new members but they really want more numbers of the same as they already have), and others from a knee jerk reaction that somehow new media demands throwing out all rules about boundaries and appropriate topics for broadcast (did we used to note in the typewritten newsletter that Mr and Mrs Green are getting a divorce?!?).

    Even some of my more media-savvy colleagues imagine that we are talking about adding a block of time to an already busy day rather than incorporating those things into the day in small but regular amounts. I have my computer up all day when I am at my desk, with email and FB open, and I check them both frequently and post pretty regularly. Yes it can take up time, but huge volumes of info are passing back and forth, and I am always learning and interacting. I don't seem to be someone just sitting in the office disconnected - somebody is there and connected to others. Sometimes I learn about whose cat died, or who went to the doctor/hospital/got accepted into college. Sometimes I learn about the special services or events other parishes are putting on. And of course all the news of every type.

    I think the best way to help people is to show them physically. Find great sites/FB pages/tweets and exegete them - what are they doing, who are they reaching, how do you do this, and are there partners in my parish or elsewhere who can bring me up to speed, help me out somehow? One large parish I know has a parishioner who keeps the FB page updated - all the staff feed her the info, photos, etc and she does the actual uploading/posting. Then there's Tweetdeck that allows simultaneous FB/Twitter posting, etc. A personal tutorial is a must as well as an acknowledgement that this does take time but it is still ministry, just doing ministry in a slightly different way, and that using new media does not mean you are precluded from hospital or home visits or mailed out newsletters to those who aren't online.

    When I attend a parish event that I found out about via Facebook, I make sure to tell the clergy that information. That way they are getting some positive feedback.

  4. I run the Filey Parish Twitter account, and the Filey Parish Blog ,as well as my own ones and the ones the cat sends to our son who is his rightful master(dont laugh). I forget who I am sometimes, and everything seems to merge. The Parish Twitter account and Blog are vital , the day will come when they can be passed on to someone more mission shaped than this 60something know it all, so as a steward -I am just waiting for that day, and hoping in the meanwhile I dont put anything on any site that is less than loving. I regret having a go at bishops on twitter a few yrs ago as they seemed to have improved.



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