Columbia Theological Seminary has invited congregational leaders to participate in a social networking workshop at its Decatur campus. Organizers describe the seminar, “Social Networking Media in Congregations: Possibilities and Practicalities,” as a three-day course to help participants explore and learn how to use the emerging world of online social networking in their ministries more effectively.
When the Internet Age emerged, having a Web presence was the ultimate goal for viable organization. But today, just having a Web site is not enough. Many now equate Web sites to old-fashion billboards that post information—static and largely lifeless. Online interaction is the new goal of site owners and establishing a vibrant online community is the ultimate achievement.
Some religious groups are ahead of the curve, illustrating the possibilities. We Can Find 10,000,000 Christians on Facebook, a Facebook group of mostly young Christians, began its online community in November 2008. Within one week, it had more than 300 members, and by April 2010, the membership exploded to 2.4 million—not quite 10 million yet but well on its way.
Its founders describe the group’s purpose as a call for Christians to take a stand and be counted. “Our goal is 10 million. It is a big goal, but I believe it can be done!” states Carri, a core member.
But social networking is not only a tool to build cyberspace communities. It’s also a tool to enhance the life of traditional congregations. New Web sites, such as MyChurch.org, are making it easier for congregations to meet online, between Sundays. The site reports that it currently hosts more than 37,000 congregations nationwide, which includes a number of DeKalb churches.
MyChurch.org and similar networking sites provide the means for existing congregation members to interact, such as posting prayer requests, encouraging each other and even sharing pictures. Congregation leaders could distribute announcements, lead discussions on religious questions and post sermon videos to members unable to attend services.
Many of the demands of contemporary life—such as balancing career and family life—prohibit many congregation members from participating fully in their religious community. Social networking tools, such as Twitter, could help members to stay connected with each other.
However, not everyone sees the virtues of social networking. Many critics in the faith community question the authenticity of cyberspace communities, blaming social networking for eroding society’s ability to develop the meaningful interpersonal relationships that one could build in a traditional congregation. Nevertheless, online social networking has emerged as a tool that others say religious leaders should not ignore.
Columbia’s president, Steve Hayner, and Georgia Institute of Technology doctoral candidate, Susan Wyche, are the scheduled keynote speakers at the three-day event, which begins on July 26. It includes workshops for beginners and for others more familiar with the various forms of social networking media.
Panel discussions with pastors and other church leaders experienced in using social media effectively will provide opportunities to learn from those who are putting these tools to work in support of churches’ pastoral care, mission/outreach, education, staying in touch, inviting, welcoming, event planning, decision-making and community building.
For more information, contact Linda Morningstar, associate director of Lifelong Learning at (404) 687-4636.