Getting Connected

This event on 17th July 2014 looked at ways of engaging effectively with young adults using social media. Read on to see some of the items we covered – both about why churches need to think about using social media and also some practical advice on how to get started with Twitter and Facebook.

Social media – what is it?

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Social media is the social interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks using methods such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest (a visual way of sharing interests and projects), Instagram (means of  photos/videos), Snapchat (used for sending photos which only last on receiver’s device for 1-10secs and are then deleted), WhatsApp (messaging and photo sharing), etc. People can move on from one service to another – many churches are now using Twitter and Facebook but these may no longer be the services used most often by younger people!

Social media – why do churches need to engage?

People of all ages use social media, but it is particularly important with young adults and those born since 1982 (referred to by sociologists as Generation Y) who are often called ‘digital natives’.  Technology has always been a part of life and computers, emailing, texting, social networking and the internet are taken for granted. Inevitably, this shapes people’s worldview as the world you know is no longer just those places you physically exist in.  The world has shrunk and knowledge flows around the world instantaneously.  Multitasking is natural and ‘digital natives’ can cope with what a lot of older people would see as distraction  – watching a film, talking with friends on Facebook, checking messages all at the same time and concentrating effectively on all.

How should we view the use of social media in church?

mobile-phone-in-hand-1438233-3-mWhile we might decide that our church will have a Facebook presence or tweet news items, how comfortable are we about people using social media while in the building? When we have visitors to our churches – what announcement should be made about mobile phones – turn off, turn to silent?  What is the first assumption we make when we see people with their phones in their hands during services – that they are playing Candy Crush or texting friends about meeting up later or following the Bible reading using an App on their phone?

If we are to engage effectively with young adults, these are issues we need to think about.  In his Grove Booklet ‘Engaging Gen Y’ James Lawrence writes: ‘One of the commonest tensions between the generations is the use of technology.  Gen Y like to stay connected all the time – they are the networked generation.  Using their smartphone to post of Facebook during the meeting is normal.  Asking friends about an item that is being discussed to find out further information just seems sensible; why wait until after the meeting?  Responding to text messages while in conversation with someone else is simply a good use of time through multi-tasking.  Preparing a sermon, being on Facebook and posting a Tweet is how they have always approached work.  Meanwhile Boomers (born 1946 – 1963) are appalled at the rudeness of the intern who texts while they talk.  Gen Xers (born 1964 – 1981) think they have not got the full attention of the worship leader who is on Facebook during the meeting.  Those who are from the Traditionalists generation (born pre 1945) cannot believe what a large amount of time the youth worker seems to spend on posting inane details of their personal life on Twitter.  And everyone is frustrated with someone because they are not behaving as they think they ought.’

He goes on to suggest that churches need to talk about these issues so that together they can see the strengths and weaknesses of social media and come to an understanding, and even agree a code of conduct together.

As with any aspect of life, it is important that the church doesn’t just seize onto the ‘latest thing’ just because everyone else is doing so and it is right that we should reflect theologically on the use of social media. As a follow up to the ‘Get Connected’ event, I will be posting up some further thoughts on this which you can read here: The Church, social media and Young Adults

How safe is it?

Manchester Diocese has produced  “Social media guidelines for clergy and lay ministers” which include sensible advice for anyone using social media.  Advice includes:

  • Don’t rush to make a post but ask yourself first ‘would I want my mum to read this?, ‘Would I want God to read this?’
  • Remember that although you can delete a post you wish you hadn’t written, someone may have seen it or republished it before you do this
  • Your posts will often be perceived by others as representing the church, so make sure you clearly flag up items that are your own personal opinions
  • Use privacy settings wisely and be careful of the personal details you share.  You remain in complete control about what can be seen about you and what you say as well as being able to delete comments made about your posts that you don’t wish anyone else to see.
  • Be careful about confidentiality and also take time to think about any stories you are posting – are they yours to tell?
  • If you wouldn’t say something in public or write it in the public domain, don’t say it online.
  • Remember that there are other forms of communication which may sometimes be more appropriate.
  • There are particularly Safeguarding issues and the Diocesan document ‘Safeguarding Children’ includes an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Safety policy on pages 39-41

Also, do make sure that when you use images, you have checked that you are free to do so.  Some images (included those in “Google images”) may be copyrighted and by using them you could be breaking the  law.  There are plenty of places to get images from – some of these are free, but some charge a small fee. Some useful sites are listed in the Resources section below.

Using Twitter:   

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This is a way of sharing mini updates (including pictures, websites, etc) – tweets – with your followers.   These are up to 140 characters long.  When you sign up to Twitter you select the people you want to follow.  The latest tweets from those you are following will then appear on the homepage of Twitter so you can see all that they are saying.  It is free to join.

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Example of Twitter home page

You could use Twitter to publicise events, share news/resources, provide links to church website, post prayer requests, give words of encouragement/Bible verses, link to other websites, retweet other tweets that catch your attention (‘retweeting’ is forwarding someone else tweets to your followers).  Some examples of tweets are shown below.

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However, to use Twitter effectively, do remember that if you don’t actually have anything to say you don’t need to tweet!

More information on how to start using Twitter can be found at Getting started with Twitter

Using Facebook:

facebookFacebook can be used to build community by posting information, reminders, prayer requests, pictures, post up newsletters, etc.  More information on how to start using Facebook can be found at Getting started with Facebook

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Example of Facebook page

These are some examples of how churches have used Facebook:

More help?

If you need any help in getting started, do contact me (Jo Farnworth) and I would be happy to meet with you.  Ann Mummery, Communications Office for the Diocese of Manchester (0161 828 1470, comms@manchester.anglican.org), is also available for support and advice.

Resources:

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