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Churches ramp up use of social media

Churches ramp up use of social media

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Churches ramp up use of social media

By John Michael De Marco | Nov. 5, 2009 {1101}

Twitter. Facebook. My Space. LinkedIn.

To the social media savvy individual, these terms have become common, free tools for both personal interactions and business networking. In the Florida Conference, churches and laypeople are embracing them and seeing Kingdom-growing possibilities.

Twitter ( and Facebook (, in particular, are gradually moving into mainstream use, based on a recent sampling of Florida Conference pastors and laity.

Twitter is a “micro-blog” service that allows users to send updates with a 144-character maximum length “tweet” to those “followers” who have chosen to receive the updates. Facebook is a more comprehensive platform enabling users to create a profile replete with pictures, personal and career information, links to key interests, and connections to hundreds of other “friends” and their own Facebook pages. Twitter and Facebook work hand-in-hand when Twitter users send “tweets” to update their Facebook page “status.”

Mike Ellis is passionate about the possibilities social media possesses to connect seekers with opportunities for Christian community and growth. Ellis attends First United Methodist Church in Port Orange. His Twitter username is “@MarketerMikeE.”

Ellis shared several examples of his tweets with e-Review. One involved a Wiccan practitioner whose children were interested in attending the Port Orange church. Another was a series of tweets between Ellis and a woman who had visited the church on three occasions.

“It’s been surprising to me to see how few churches are on Twitter,” Ellis said. And of those that are, he says, many use the service ineffectively, in his opinion.

Ellis cautioned churches and pastors not to use Twitter as a “broadcast medium or a bullhorn.” “When a church or pastor is on Twitter, it should be a conversation,” he said.

The Rev. David Broadbent, pastor at Canal Point United Methodist Church, uses Facebook, but says he’s not certain it has had a huge impact on the church.

“My younger members are on Facebook but don’t use it to communicate with me,” he said. “I think people will sometimes use their PDAs in church to check mail and, who knows, possibly checking Facebook or Twitter.”

Although not everyone agrees about the extent of social media’s effectiveness, more and more churches are giving it a try.

Making new connections, strengthening old ones

The Rev. Dan Prine, pastor at Edgewater United Methodist Church in Port Charlotte, said Facebook has become a good tool to help his church get people connected. One Edgewater “group” has 136 members, and Prine and the church staff use it to send periodic updates and reminders.

“We did a series a while back about some of life’s tough questions, and I posted a discussion thread after each week so our folks could continue in the conversation,” Prine said. “It has helped to create new relationships and strengthen old ones.

“I’ve heard people meet up in our lobby and say, ‘Hey! You’re one of my Facebook friends!’ as they meet them for the first time face-to-face. People also ask for prayer, and they encourage one another in ways that I don’t think they would without using Facebook as a communications tool.”

Orange Park United Methodist Church near Jacksonville also has a Facebook group, and although there has been limited participation from members discussing the topics the Rev. Will Clark has posted, he says other benefits have emerged.

“A bonus benefit for the group is that people are using the ‘group members’ box/list to connect (or ‘friend’) other church members,” said Clark, who serves as associate pastor and minister of evangelism at the church. “There have also been a couple of occasions when I have engaged in, for lack of a better term, counseling via a chat window or a Facebook e-mail chain. I know a couple of the encounters I am thinking of would not have happened without the connection of Facebook.”

Clark preaches about once a month, and a week or so prior to his sermon he posts a teaser or request for people’s opinions concerning the upcoming text. Clark emphasizes he does not do this to solicit advice or poll people, but finds it generates more response to status updates. “I believe it may provide a spark of interest in a new way or generate curiosity,” he added.

Although Key West United Methodist Church just started using Facebook, the Rev. Ruben Velasco says it’s already been helpful.

“We have found that it is an effective way to stay connected with our congregation,” he said. “We try not to inundate them with information, but use it as another means to pass along information and post pictures of events.” 

Velasco says he does sometimes use it to gather information for sermons. Sermon titles are posted on Facebook toward the end of the week, and members are encouraged to give feedback. 

“So far it has proven to be a real good way to connect with church members, and we also get a lot of requests from members that have moved, but want to stay connected,” Velasco said.

Reaching youth

Denvil Farley, youth director at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, recently created a Facebook “fan page” for his church’s youth group. A fan page is geared toward promoting a specific business, celebrity, entity or movement. Those who link to the page are “fans” rather than “friends.”

“It has been helpful in getting a message out to youth and parents that are active on Facebook,” Farley said. “In combined use with Facebook I sent out e-vites for a youth/parent dinner using, and I had the most parents show up for a meeting in the three and a half years I’ve been at the church.”

Latest Statistics

• More than 300 million active users

• 50 percent of active users log on to Facebook in any given day

• Fastest growing demographic is those 35 years old and older

• Average user has 130 friends on the site

• More than 8 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day worldwide

• More than 10 million users become fans of “pages” each day

Source: Facebook

Farley said he checks his Facebook daily. “It has helped me and volunteers in the youth ministry at my church become more aware of the lives of our youth as we see their pages and comments,” he said. “I do have some parents of youth that can only be reached through Facebook. With our young adult group we’ve been able to build a stronger connection and support one another through encouraging messages and planning events on it.”

Creating dialogue

At First United Methodist Church in Lake Wales, two staff members are using Twitter, says member Margaret Love. “The youth director uses Twitter to maintain relationships with the youth. … Staff members use Facebook as a way of communicating with individuals and groups, as well as posting upcoming events, practices times, changes in schedules, etc.,” she said.

Facebook groups have also been set up, Love said, to share photos and comments. “We are using it as a way to establish dialogue about church events,” she said.

Love cautioned that using social media can “fracture relationships if not used properly.” “We are helping members (with the use of social media) on an individual basis if they require assistance,” she said. “We are planning on offering a Wednesday night class for those who want to learn how to utilize Facebook and Twitter.”
Fostering community

Member Angie Tabin says several groups at First United Methodist Church in Titusville actively use Facebook, including the church’s preschool and “Seekers Young Adult Sunday School Class.”

“(Facebook) is a fantastic way for members to not only be social with one another, but also offer prayer requests and to keep up with each other’s progress during the week,” Tabin said. “If someone is having a rough day, everyone can see and offer words of encouragement and prayer. We can share in one another’s accomplishments and joys, as well as sorrows and losses.”

Since the Seeker’s class has been using Facebook, Tabin says the bond between members is much closer. “Everyone seems to feel a closer relationship to one another because they know more about each other’s everyday (lives),” she said.

Tabin says posting information about events and photos has also increased the church’s visibility. “Many ‘friends of friends’ are able to see our postings, and their interest is piqued as to what our church is doing and offering, thus increasing our attendance, specifically in the young adult group,” she said. 

Another benefit has been the ability to keep track of former students of the church’s 40-year-old preschool, Tabin said. “We have alumni on our Facebook page who have posted pictures from their classes,” she said. “An alumni event is also in the works, and word can easily and quickly be spread via the preschool’s Facebook page. Most of the parents are tuned in and can be reminded of events, as well as see pictures of events that they may have missed due to work commitments.” 

One challenge, Tabin noted, is that the people who regularly use Facebook outnumber those who don’t.

“The group is ever growing, but the most active participants seem to be the younger folks,” she said. “Every person in the young adult class has a Facebook page, but with other groups another medium must be used, such as bulletins, phone calls, etc., to relay messages, as well.”

Overall, Tabin says Facebook is a benefit to the church ministry, describing it as an “outstanding ministry tool for many facets of the church and its congregation’s relationships.”

“We just need to get more members on it,” she said.

Helping pastors connect

The Rev. Steven Riddle would agree with that. As a full-time local pastor serving Floral City United Methodist Church in the North Central District, Riddle is hoping associate clergy members and local pastors will be part of a Facebook group called UMC Florida Conference Fellowship of Associate Members & Local Pastors.

“We have lacked a place where we can discuss things as a collective group of associate members and local pastors,” he said. “Furthermore, many pastors are not even aware that there is a national fellowship (for this group) that is very active in the Methodist denomination.”

Riddle says the group page includes a listing of officers for the national fellowship, updates on what’s happening within the conference for associate members and local pastors, and links to Course of Study schools, The National Fellowship and other sites.

“I will be updating the site regularly, and anyone who logs on to the page can post thoughts and ideas,” he said. 

To access the group, clergy must first have a Facebook account. Then, they can do a search and join. Those who have questions may contact Riddle at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, 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.