Social media is an addictive, evolving and has become an invaluable way of life for millions of people. The Door explores how churches are using it to their advantage.
by Sarah Meyrick
To the uninitiated, social media can be bewildering. Even if you happily inhabit the online world to check the weather forecast, do your shopping or pay your bills, the step on to blogging or using Facebook or Twitter can be a big one.
There’s little doubt that social media offers exciting new possibilities to share the Gospel and to interact with people we might not otherwise connect with. We can communicate with people faster and more cheaply than ever before. And this is the crucial point: social media is more about the social than the media. It’s about conversation, not computers.
And this isn’t simply about connecting with younger people, important though that is: 2013 figures showed that almost 53 per cent of the UK population is registered on Facebook, for example. Many others use Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media tools. If you’re not one of them, you may be missing out.
It’s about conversation, not computers.
Nonetheless, social media can take us into new territory where we need to think differently. It is interactive, conversational and open-ended and, crucially, happens in a public space.
As Christians, the same principles that guide our offline conversations should apply to those that take place online. So, for example, interacting through social media does not change our understanding of confidentiality, responsibility and Christian witness.
From the case studies below you’ll see that many individuals and parishes are making imaginative use of social media and embracing the opportunities on offer. But a note of caution: social media is a tool, not an end in itself; it needs to be your servant, not your master.
To help your thinking, the communications team has come up with some social media guidelines, which cover legal considerations, and issues such as tone, security and safeguarding. You can find them online .
Sarah Meyrick is the Diocesan Director of Communications and Strategic Advisor to the Bishop of Oxford.
Keeping in touch from your living room
by Holly Campbell
SOCIAL media is proving to be a growing communication tool for the Parish Church of St Peter and St Pauls in Olney. A Facebook group has been set up by the church so that it can keep in touch with its community. The open group — anyone who has a Facebook account can join — enables members to post their own comments regarding local church events and upload photographs for others to view. It is particularly useful for older people.
Notifications are received by the rest of the members to let them know that there is a new post. This way of communicating has proved to be a lot quicker and more effective than the old method of email, used before the Facebook group was created. It was this instant interaction that attracted the church to keep the group updated.
The Revd Thelma Shacklady, a retired Priest and regular contributor to the Facebook group, said that she uses it to comment on how well events held by the church are received. This is echoed through comments and pictures of a collection of group members enjoying attending events such as the Harvest Hog Roast held on the 28th of September.
Speaking on the usefulness of the Facebook group, Thelma Shacklady also said “I recently bought a tablet”- a mobile computer device that allows users to connect to the internet wirelessly. She added that this helped her to keep up to date with the group from her bed or first thing in the morning rather than being restricted to using a desktop computer.
Thelma, 75, said: “If you are living on your own it is a way of having a conversation. It provides company and a way of being part of a group even when you are sitting on your own in your own living room. It is a way of keeping in touch and finding out what is going on, whatever age you are really.”
Let’s Face (Book) it, it’s the future
by Jo Duckles
“COME to our 4pm Harvest service this Sunday — delicious cakes served with tea afterwards and a big tractor to climb on.” That was the latest status update on the Facebook Page of St Peter and St Paul’s Parish Church in Buckingham when the Door was going to press.
And while he’s not sure whether the Facebook page is attracting people to church services, the Revd Will Pearson Gee, Rector, says it is attracting those who would not normally come to church to their various events.
“It’s an absolutey key part of our publicity strategy. For anything we do we produce fliers with QR codes on them and we’ll also make sure that we starte generating lots of tweets and Facebook posts as well.
Will updated the site as soon as he got back from his holiday this summer. The website has a modern feel and was newly instigated by Will when he started in Buckingham in 2010.
“The first thing I did was to get a new website. I insisted on having a site that woudn’t rely on one person to update it. We got a staff member who is good with technical stuff and got our Facebook feed added on. Some people don’t use email any more, they do everything on Facebook. You can’t afford not to have a Facebook page.”
Will admits that someone has to keep an eye on the church Facebook page, ready to remove any unsavoury posts. He is one of the administrators for both the Church Twitter and Facebook accounts and uses Hootsuite, one of a number of helpful dashboards that allows you to update both social media sites at once.
“It’s amazing how many people come to us because of the website. Okay, I am probably talking about Christians now, but lots of people moving into the area will listen to sermons online and judge which church they are going to go to by the website. That doesn’t necessarily reflect what is happening in the church building, but people will look at the site and realise that this isn’t Dibley, but it’s modern and happening.”
He said he would encourage church leaders to be open to social media, and to pray for someone to come along who can handle the more technical side of things.
FOR the Revd Richard Hancock, Facebook is a place where he can create the persona of an eccentric English clergyman, an exaggerated version of himself.
And while it can be great fun showing off the more elaborate and fun sides of his life, the Vicar of Shrivenham and Ashbury also finds the site to be a powerful tool for ministry. It enables students from the Defence Academy, where he is Chaplain, to message him privately with questions or concerns.
Richard, who uses the photograph to the right as one of his profile pictures, says it is especially helpful because his Benefice website is currently unable to be updated. The last posts on there are four years old.
He says: “We have a Facebook group for the churches too but I use it on a personal level. If someone sends me a request, family, friends and parishioners, I accept it.” However, Richard has a few wise, golden rules he sticks to. “I never get into gossip or tittle tattle. If someone puts something like that on my site I will remove it or I simply won’t get involved. “I don’t tend to use Facebook for making large, political statements about issues to do with the ordination of women to the episcopacy.
“People will contact me on Facebook about pastoral issues and I’m an honorary chaplain at the Defence Academy so that works very well. People there will contact me because they are worried about something and they feel quite comfortable using Facebook to send me a private message.
“On one level it appeals to my vanity,” he says. “Some clergy like to have a divide between their ministerial role and their personal life but I live in a village where everyone knows everyone and we have to be honest.”
Richard even posted pictures of himself, his wife Kate and his sons on holiday.
“It demonstrates that you are a normal human being,” he says. “I put up a Bible quote every day. On a Saint’s Day I put information up about the Saint, if there’s a national tragedy I’ll put up a prayer, if people ask me to pray for them I will light a candle and post a photo of the candle.”
Richard realises that social media is not for everyone. “It’s like pub ministry. Some people are pub people and are comfortable walking in, grabbing a pint and chatting to people. If you are not comfortable in a pub then it’s probably not good for you to get involved in that ministry because people will pick up that you are uncomfortable.
“Clergy who don’t use social media are often worried about intrusion of privacy or people making negative comments. I have to watch my Facebook page very closely.” Richard has a setting that lets him review any posts on his page, before they become public and delete them on the odd occasion this is necessary.
“People might post a rude joke or a clip from YouTube and it might be funny, but it might not be wise to put it up there,” says Richard. “You have to be comfortable and sensible with it really.” www.facebook.com/richard.hancock
What are you Twittering on about?
by Jo Duckles
The verb for communicating on Twitter is actually ‘tweet’ and although at first glance the site might look overwhelming, it can be a great tool for connecting with others and keeping up to date on what’s going on in the world. When it was set up it was christened: ‘a blog for people who don’t have time to blog.’
The Revd Claire Alcock, a part-time priest in the Langtree team, finds the microblogging site both an evangelistic tool and a way of connecting with other ministers. The Revd Pam Smith, who runs the ichurch.org, an internet based church, first tried Twitter just to try it and found herself networking with all sorts of people on all sorts of subjects, from television to politics.
Claire, who has been a curate for three years, uses Twitter to connect with other ministers and also blogs as a way of continuing the reflective process she started when she began ordination training at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. “I’m in a rural village in a multi parish benefice and have limited contact with other ministers, which can sometimes be rather limiting for an extrovert!” Claire who is married with three children, works two days a week as a House for Duty curate on top of her Sunday church duties and studying for an MA in ministry. She finds the immediacy of Twitter when asking other clergy what they do in certain situations invaluable, and also uses it as a place to advertise her Blog, which serves two purposes – to reflect on ministry and to reach people who might not otherwise have contact with the church. She also follows links to blogs or sites like the Huffington Post for a fix of daily news.
Claire had found lively debates on subjects like whether confirmation is a sacrament and whether clergy stick to the hours they are supposed to work. “I had over 100 replies about clergy work within an hour. Some say they are overwhelmed, working more than 70 hours a week and only one said they stop at 39.
“People, who if they came to church would probably feel left out, comment on the blog. People are interested in a blog about life, even if it is unashamedly religious. I try to make it about a real, ordained person in the real world. It’s a way for people to access the Christian faith who may not otherwise be able to.”
Pam, who Tweets on everything from television including the Great British Bake-Off to politics, has met plenty of clergy from other dioceses tweeting on politics and has found that by using the # symbol she can be visible to people who are not following her. “When you get a certain number of followers people start following you because you sound interesting,” says Pam, who advises uploading a photograph of yourself, or an avatar, rather than leaving the egg symbol that suggests you do not use Twitter very often.
“Use your Twitter biography to say something about yourself. Look at what others have written and say something interesting about yourself. You create a Christian presence online and be aware that even if people don’t know what your name is, if they know you are a Christian they will be surprised if you post something not in line with what they think are Christian principles.
“There are all sorts of campaigns to engage with, including Christian ones, such as the Christmas Starts With Christ that you can re-Tweet to help raise awareness. When Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch people were tweeting ‘Pray for Muamba’. You find out a lot about what people think about Christianity because you are on there.”
Pam’s advice to anyone bemused by the sheer volume of information on Twitter is simply to not feel you have to follow every single thing. “If anyone mentions you, you will see that on your newsfeed. Also, change your password frequently. Accounts do get hacked and it’s a nuisance and it’s not a bad idea to just keep changing your password.”
Follow Claire on Twitter: @parttimepriest Read her blog at: parttimepriest.blogspot.com Pam’s twitter handle is @revpamsmith and I-Church.org is @ichurch.org. Also don’t forget to follow @OxfordDiocese and @joducks.
How are you using social media? The Door would like to feature more stories on how churches and Christians in this Diocese are using cyberspace. Please send your examples to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01865 208227.