Here are some examples from churches who are beginning to use and introduce social media into their communications. I asked people for honest examples, even where things weren’t going as planned or had been a failure.
I am grateful to those people and churches that responded.
St Mary’s, Buckden
We are just starting to embrace social media at St Mary’s, Buckden (Diocese of Ely). We’re a fairly traditional church, and we don’t use much technology in worship, (no screens, no powerpoint etc), but we do have a growing number of families who come to church either regularly or occasionally, and we also found that quite a lot of our older members use facebook to keep in touch with their own families, so are more social media savvy than one might think!
We are also strategically located close to the junction between the A1 and A14, and get a fair few visitors who are passing through, so our internet profile reflects the fact that we see ourselves as the A1 Church. We’re just beginning to work out ways of raising our profile both locally and nationally through social media, but so far we have (in addition to our very ‘standard’ church website) a blog (http://a1churchbuckden.wordpress.com) and a twitter account (@a1churchbuckden) and a facebook page (which is so new we don’t have enough ‘likers’ to warrant a small url, so at the moment it’s http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/St-Marys-Buckden/219099594787252).
I’m the vicar, and I’ve been using social media for much longer than the church has - what I haven’t managed to do yet is cash in on my own internet profile in order to raise the profile of the church. But hey, it’s a work in progress. In case anyone wants to know, I’m @reverendally on twitter, posterous, and wordpress.
What helped us most to get started? A very nice chap in the village who doesn’t come to church but is a professsional social networker and social media trainer and is passionate about using social media to build community, so he gave us an evening’s consutation for free! He’s a great bloke.
What is most challenging? the fact that many in the regular congregation (and indeed on the PCC) have internet access but aren’t willing to learn about new ways of using the internet (persuading some of them even to look at the church website is a tall order - the idea of the church’s internet presence being interactive is a whole step further than most people can get their heads round).
St Peter’s Church, Walworth, South London
We tweet as below and basically do the following:
a) we retweet a lot of local information, hoping to raise the profile of our local area and the parish church’s place within the community b) we advertise service times and describe them as explicitly as poss for non-church-goers c) we occasionally tweet bits of scripture or prayers to chime in with times like Christmas, Easter, valentine’s day that will be in the national consciousness d) we put out or RT calls for help, or lost objects, etc e) we comment on issues of local significance f) we sometimes ‘report’ news g) when local tragedies or events occur we tweet that we are praying for those involved h) we sometimes engage in individual conversations with one of the (few) members of St Peter’s who are on twitter i) we advertise or RT non-church events going on locally j) we tweet about what’s going on and share bits from life in church and (church) school, parish, etc.
Father Andrew Moughtin-Mumby Rector of St Peter’s, Walworth
St Marys Bramall Lane, Sheffield
In response to request on greenbelt blog, here’s what we’ve tried with social media:
We have a large proportion of young Africans in our church family who appear to use mobile phones as a primary means of communication.
Partly because of that we’ve got a twitter feed which is designed mostly to work without neccessarily needing web access as a means of reminding the congregation about rotas, jobs, and general church news.
We’ve published details of how to sign up via SMS in the church newsletter several times and it seems to work quite well. its really very easy to get people to “Send a text to 64466 with the contents ‘follow stmarysnews’” even if people don’t really get twitter. They can of course sign up online and get into twitter in a more sophisticated way, but they can use it usefully just by receiving SMS messages from the feed.
I’m a big fan of delicious. Our church website now looks pretty clunky (and I’m rewriting it in wordpress at the moment) http://www.stmarys-church.co.uk/church/ but one of the nice features is that the headline news is generated using embedded java connected to a particular delicious account (marysnews). So, for instance, each week when i upload the church newsletter, I bookmark it using builtin delicious tools (available for IE, firefox, chrome etc) giving it a specific tag (latest), give it a text comment, and that’s it - the ‘latest news’ on the website updates itself automatically. without having to modify any static html or anything. And of course anyone could use the RSS feed from this if they want (probably no-one does - pretty luddite congregation!).
3. google calendar
An obvious one, but the Vicar and the Curate can write to a google calendar I’ve shared, so its up to them to put the church services and events online. This becomes part of the church website, and again, can be followed by RSS, or email using google’s tools.
In our new wordpress version, this will autogenerate a feed showing ‘This week’s events’ on the website.
4. google documents
For the church jobs rota. Again, various people have write-access to a shared spreadsheet with the ‘master’ rota for church service jobs.
Its a job of work to get everyone to trust it and to use it as their primary data source, but we’re getting there. Again, this becomes an automatically-generated part of the church website http://tinyurl.com/stmrota many advantages to this - I (and others) can monitor changes easily and roll them back when mistakes have happened (they have!). Easily readible on mobile gadgets as well as computers.
A flickr group exists which is a useful repository of pictures relating to church events. Currently used often to generate a nice slideshow before and after the service.
Church website and newsletter editor
St Marys Bramall Lane
St James, Gerrards Cross with St James Fulmer
At St James, Gerrards Cross with St James Fulmer (www.saintjames.org.uk) we have had a website for a number of years. The latest version is WordPress based and has been our most successful to date in terms of several staff updating it, visitor numbers, and in Google ranking. However, in a recent survey of the congregation fewer people than we would have hoped said they visit it regularly. We do from time to time become aware of people who have visited our church, or signed up for our Alpha course purely as a result of finding the website.
We also use WordPress to drive our podcasting service. The number of listeners is also lower than we would like given the effort involved but they are quick to alert us if there is a delay in posting talks.
Our Facebook page has been our most successful venture into social media but this was somewhat accidental. The page quickly had a following even though initially created as a place-holder, so we started posting to it. It has a wide demographic coverage from teens to retired. We get good responses and occasional, usually positive, comments. Several staff update it, with only very rare duplication.
We have a Twitter feed (@stjamesnews) but this has a limited, and largely static following. We cross-post tweets and Facebook updates between the two platforms, and all new podcasts are advertised on Twitter, but we have seen little motivation within the staff team to tweet news, comment or photos on this feed. Several staff tweet individually but we have not come to a view yet on whether or how we should publicise these.
We have used blogs for special projects, e.g. when a group of people are travelling abroad, but the traffic rapidly diminishes as soon as the posting stops.
One area that has been successful is the use of MailChimp (mailchimp.com) to send out daily prayer emails each morning. These reflect the monthly printed prayer diary but give us the opportunity to update with more timely prayer requests, e.g. for East Africa famine and UK riots. We send out to approximately 160 members daily which is well within the monthly free quota. We are exploring the option of setting up weekly mailings using this technology for notices and announcements.
We have found it very important to print URLs on publicity and continually to remind people to look online for further information.