Church launches own social network



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Church launches own social network

By John Michael De Marco | Feb. 25, 2010 {1143}

Many churches now have “fan pages” on Facebook and leaders who send out regular updates on Twitter, but Oakhurst United Methodist Church might be the first to sport its own bona fide social network.

The Seminole-based congregation launched “FlockSpace” in late 2009, the result of an evangelism-focused effort flowing out of the church’s strategic plan for reaching younger generations. Oakhurst’s official Web page (http://www.oakhurstumc.com) is fully integrated into the social media platform.

Each church member, as well as each Oakhurst ministry or group, has the ability to create a “page” similar in style to popular social media platforms, such as Facebook or MySpace. Participants can post photos and information about themselves and exchange comments and information and other content. Forty-two people had become FlockSpace members as of mid-January. The church’s attendance averages about 400 per week.

Scott Oliver, founder of pagesonly.com and Oakhurst’s church Web site creator and administrator, gave birth to the FlockSpace idea, said the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Tim Ehrlich.

“We’re trying to send a message to the younger generation that we consider this important, and send a message to everybody in the church that uses the Web site that this is going to be our primary form of communication,” Ehrlich said. “We’re starting off by promoting it within our church and church groups. I’ve been talking to all the leaders of all the various groups.”

FlockSpace’s group page for the children’s ministry will be the main communication forum for parents, allowing immediate feedback and interaction. The group page for youth will serve as a social network for its members and provide them with an evangelism tool for inviting friends.

“We had been trying to bring our Web site up to speed for a couple of years,” Ehrlich said. “The site was originally created back when everyone was first doing their Web sites. For the last two years we’ve been kind of renovating it. After Scott re-did the whole look of the Web site, he kept playing with it, thinking, ‘What else could I do to bring it more up to speed?’ He came up with the idea of having a social network and designed a preliminary draft of what it might look like. “

The pastor said it took only three weeks from the presentation of Oliver’s idea to its launch. During that time the church staff made decisions about who was going to supervise social communities and developed a user’s policy.

Based on research by Oakhurst and e-Review, no other U.S. congregation has created this type of social network. Several Web-based services are available to help provide social networking for churches, such as http://www.mychurch.org/. Ehrlich said Oliver would be willing to make himself available to other churches, for a small consulting fee, to help set up their own church-operated social networks.

Ehrlich says FlockSpace membership to date reflects the general church demographics, which presents individuals in their upper 40s to lower 50s. “There’s a millennial group, which only has a few folks. They’re starting to make some more plans,” he said. “My son just put an ad up for FlockSpace on Craig’s List.”

The only significant bump in the road for FlockSpace so far, Ehrlich added, is the lack of people familiar with social media. “I assumed a lot more people were involved in social media already, and that people would go, ‘Wow,’ ” Ehrlich said. “But so many people are not involved. That’s been the biggest surprise for me.”

The pastor plans to eventually place podcasts of the Sunday messages within FlockSpace, as well as Bible studies and discipleship studies. “We have a lot of snowbirds, folks who attend seasonally. This will really help them stay connected to the church for the months when they are not here,” Ehrlich said. “We have a number of shut-ins who actually go online; I’ve got a 100-year-old guy from my church that goes online.”

The general public can view FlockSpace by going to http://www.oakhurstumc.com, but many features are available only to its members. In addition, the site presents a policy statement that describes both prohibited and encouraged site behavior, and Ehrlich said there is a “one strike” policy toward inappropriate behavior on FlockSpace, although members can seek readmission. Information published on the Web site is expected to comply with the churches’ mission, vision and core values. Encouraged behavior includes, “Give voice to the voiceless; you are the communication arm of our church.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant based in Nashville, Tenn.




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