|Photo by Christopher Harris|
As 30,000 youth and adults made their way to Detroit for the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering, many excitedly tweeted and posted on social media.
And to their surprise just about everyone who mentioned the gathering or used the Gathering hashtag #RiseUpELCA received a reply that the Gathering was looking forward to seeing them.
It was amazing and beyond successful. Social media was a seamless and integral part of the Gathering experience.
And it didn’t happen by accident. It happened because of a small group of dedicated and hardworking volunteers who love their church and understand the value of using social media in the church for outreach and community building.
Leading the social media team was Jacob Wayne Smith, owner of A Brave New, a company that helps small businesses and nonprofits tell their story and expand their reach.
“Hospitality is our number one goal. We know from Hebrews that strangers very well might be angels,” comments Smith.The team arrived on the Saturday before the event began. Monday through Wednesday it was their goal (which was very nearly achieved) to respond to every single “we are on our way” post.
“It’s a full-time job, but we think it’s so important to personally welcome folks to the journey.”
The social media response was so great they realized they needed more people on the job than they had planned for.
Pastor Todd Buegler, Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, Minnesota was there as the director of the Youth Ministry Network. He had not planned to work with social media but he happily jumped in and helped out.
|Our own Pam Moss’s hair donation was retweeted!|
“Social Media allows us to interact with participants and see how they are experiencing the Gathering,” notes Pastor Arnold.“It enables us to cast a far wider net that we could cast with our own resources to get pictures, videos, and great quotes. It makes the Gathering bigger and the distance between each of us smaller.”
Jesus comes to meet us where we are, incarnationally. The ELCA Youth Gathering Communications Media Team values social media as a means for interacting with Gathering Participants because it helps us live out the incarnational nature of our God, meeting our participants where they are.
It takes a strategy. The Gathering is on social media because it’s the only way we can connect with 28,000 participants and volunteers at scale. Why does your church have a Facebook page? If it’s just another place to publish your content, then there are better ways to do that.
We are told to preach the Gospel always which to me also means all ways. There is something your church should be doing on social media, but you have to commit to a strategy so you know why you are there. Is it for current members? Are you looking to reach out into the community? Are you ready to respond pastorally and prophetically?
I think social media can support many different strategies, but if you don’t have one you are a ship without a rudder on a very stormy sea.
In church, we often expect that our audience is our members (or potential members). At the Gathering, some of our most important interactions were with the community. The fact that we responded to people in the local community – and how we responded to them – shaped their experience of the Gathering, and by extension their experience of our church. The question for me is how our congregations are engaging their local communities?
Christopher Harris, a church communication consultant who runs Digital Ministry Solutions, a company that helps churches with their digital strategies was another team member. He made most of the memes that would pop up illustrating a thought from the speaker or a theme from the day.
Social media helps build community and share the Gospel message without regard for geography. As volunteers on the Gathering social media team, we sat in the middle of this interaction. We sought to enhance and extend the experience of attendees by further connecting them to the Gathering, help take the gathering beyond Detroit – to parents and congregations back home, and to interface with the community of Detroit. All the time we are connecting the body of Christ together.
I think you should just believe Joelle when she says you need to be on social media.