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Social media becoming integral part of churches

By: STEPHANIE EARLS
March 22, 2013
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In the beginning was the Word. And then the Word was tweeted.

When the Rev. Patrick Mead delivers a sermon to his congregation on Sunday mornings, it’s easy for him to tell which members of his flock are especially moved. They have their heads bowed — over a smart phone.

Mead, the senior pastor at Eastside Church of Christ, encourages the faithful to “tweet during the sermon” if the spirit moves them.

“At any given time, several adults will be tweeting or will be putting up a blurb on their Facebook page during worship because they want to share something that touched them,” Mead said. “If a phrase hits you that’s important or a song touches you, then put it out there. Somebody else needs to hear it.”

Can we get an amen? How about a “like” on Facebook?

From websites to blogs, podcasts and Twitter, church leaders are embracing social media as a way to spread the word of God, to share information and to woo new members. When Pope Francis was elected March 13, the news reached the faithful instantly, in much the same manner as the latest celebrity shenanigans or the in-law’s trip to Mazatlan — via Facebook, Tumblr and other social networking and information sites.

“Churches, like other organizations, are using a variety of Twitter and Facebook and those different social media tools to get their information out,” said Scott Lovaas, minister of community life at Broadmoor Community Church.

Broadmoor has a website and Facebook page and a weekly electronic newsletter that goes out to congregants by e-mail, said Lovaas, who has a PhD in media studies.

“The plus side is that people can get a quick read of what’s going on, but the downside is that there are fewer and fewer places left where people can get in-depth information, other than newspapers and books,” he said.

A national survey of more than 11,000 congregations by the non-denominational Faith Communities Today research project found that by 2010 two-thirds of congregations used both e-mail and websites, and more than 40-percent had a Facebook page. The numbers are undoubtedly higher today.

The Rev. Mead has two Facebook profiles — one public and one personal — both of which link to the church’s main Facebook page, which in turn links to a page devoted to the women’s ministry. His religious blog is accessed an average of 300 times a day by users worldwide, and Eastside’s sermons and Bible lessons are recorded and made available, for free, through iTunes.

“Many people who download these lessons are members of Churches of Christ all over the world,” Mead said. “Some of them are isolated, but some of them are just hungry for information. In that sense, social media helps (us) be strong and be part of a larger community even though we are scattered so far.”

A recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that more than 80 percent of U.S. Catholics under age 30 are active users of social media and nearly 62 percent (roughly 36.2 million people) have a Facebook profile. In January, the largest group of Franciscan Friars in the U.S. began accepting prayer requests by text.

As technology evolves, becoming more ubiquitous and necessary, more congregations seem willing to accept its new role in the context of regular worship, Mead said.

“People are getting used to consuming at home and on the move,” Mead said. “There is a hunger for spiritual information and yet people aren’t really sure they’re ready to walk into a building that has a name on the outside that’s a brand name they don’t subscribe to.”

This doesn’t mean that brick-and-mortar houses of worship are headed for obsolescence. In fact, Lovaas said, many younger people use the internet to search around and familiarize themselves with a church before deciding which to attend. The web allows them to window shop for a spiritual good fit, much in the way they’d seek out a new gym or a dentist.

“In the old days, people would come into town and ask you what church are you going to and you’d point them to a Methodist or Presbyterian or Catholic church,” Lovaas said. “Nowadays people don’t do that. People search the web to decide what church to go to, especially people under 50.”

Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364

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