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A funny thing happened to me on the way to church last Sunday. Our family was still in Northern Indiana visiting relatives, and we decided to go to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Elkhart rather than following our usual custom of going to one of the local Mennonite churches in Goshen. (By the way, there are a bunch of Mennonite churches in Goshen, Indiana.) One of the reasons we chose the UU fellowship over a Mennonite church was difference between the start times for the worship services. The Mennonites were starting at 9:30 a.m., while the UUs were starting a little later, 10:30 a.m. Since I was already online to check on the service times, I tapped out this tweet on my Twitter account:

Once at the church we hooked up with a familiar face (my former brother-in-law), and after the service I chatted with a couple of guys I had met last summer at Midwest Leadership School in Beloit, Wisconsin. I mentioned to one of them that I was impressed that the Elkhart Fellowship’s website had a video greeting from their minister, Amy DeBeck on the front page (you check it out here). One of the leadership school guys said, “You should talk to Terry, he’s the one who put it up.” Terry happened to be standing right next to us, and when I said hello and shook his hand, he said, “Yes, I recognize you from your tweet this morning!” I was a bit stunned. But it seems that in addition to making sure that the fellowship’s webpage has relevant video content up front, Terry is also responsible for their Twitter feed as well. And he also keeps tabs on who’s mentioning the UU Fellowship of Elkhart in their tweets, like me.

Now I must confess that up until that moment I really didn’t think of Twitter as an important tool for congregations. (I could see having a Facebook page, but Twitter seemed too ephemeral to be really useful). Boy, have I changed my mind. If Twitter can help give a congregation advanced notice of a visitor, that in itself would be worth using it as an outreach tool. But that’s just scratching the surface. I got online when we returned to my in-laws and Google searched “twitter for churches” and quickly found a lot of websites with information on how congregations can use Twitter. Here are some of the best suggestions I found (thanks to Mickey Mellen at twitip.com):

  • Showcase your staff: On your organization’s “staff” page, give clear links to those that are on Twitter.
  • Summarize your staff tweets: Create a new twitter account and have it follow all of your staff members (and no one else).
  • Show live chats from events: A simple hash tag can go a long way.
  • Find how who else related to your organization is on Twitter: If you have an e-mail database of your users/congregation, you can import that list to a new gmail account, then have Twitter search that account for active members.
  • Tweet from retreats, events or mission trips: A great way to keep the people at home informed is a Twitter account dedicated to that event.
  • Post weather-related news: If you have ongoing weather-sensitive events, such as outdoor sports, create an account dedicated to field conditions.
  • Post your blog entries: While the best Twitter interaction is personal, some users are losing interest in RSS feeds and just focusing on Twitter. Point your blog to a Twitter account as an alternative to RSS and e-mail subscriptions.
  • Always try new things: We created an account that uses sitetweet to post user activity (”user reading xx blog entry”, etc) to a dedicated twitter account.

Now Mellen admits that some of this can be overwhelming, but a congregation doesn’t need to do it all. There are certainly a few tips here that would work for most congregations. So if your congregation isn’t using Twitter, maybe it’s time to start. And if you already are, remember, “always try new things!”

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One of the things I love about visiting family in Northern Indiana (in addition to actually seeing relatives) is spending some time reading real magazines and newspapers at my in-laws’ house. They’ve got Harpers and Sojourners, the Elkhart Truth and the Goshen News, the Sunday New York Times and the Mennonite Weekly Review. They’ve even get AARP: The Magazine, which, truth be told, is a magazine I could be getting at home if I would join AARP. At any rate, I was looking through the current issue of AARP: The Magazine when this article caught me eye: “The Minnesota Miracle,” by Dan Buettner. It’s about the lovely town of Albert Lea, Minnesota and the changes they’ve made their to become a physically healthier community. What really interested me about the story was this side bar:

The Power 9
In 2000 a team of scientists and I began studying cultures where people live longest. The residents of these “Blue Zones” don’t diet or belong to health clubs, but they do share common healthy behaviors. We call them the Power 9:
1 Keep Moving
Find ways to move naturally, such as walking, gardening, using fewer labor-saving devices.
2 Find Purpose
And pursue it with passion.
3 Slow Down
Work less, rest, take vacations.
4 Stop Eating…
…when you’re 80 percent full.
5 Dine on Plants
Eat more veggies, and less meat and processed foods.
6 Drink Red Wine
Do it consistently but in moderation.
7 Join a group
Create a healthy social network.
8 Feed your soul
Engage in spiritual activities.
9 Love your tribe
Make family a high priority.
So here’s what struck me about this list. Five of the nine things listed here could be fulfilled by being part of a religious community. Find a purpose? Check. Slow down? Check. Join a group, feed your soul, and love your tribe? Check, check, and check. Of course the religious community would need to promote the right things, like sabbath time and healthy relationships. I guess a mostly vegetarian congregation that served red wine at potlucks would be just about perfect!

In addition to the Faith Formation 2020 report, there was another document that generated quite a bit of discussion at the recently completed Big Complex Meeting (BCM) of Congregational Life staff at the UUA headquarters in Boston. It’s the Vision Chart that the UUA leadership has been using to help guide their assessment of the current structure of the association with eye toward where we may be going in the future. On the left side of the chart is what we might call “business as usual,” our basic approach to getting things done for the last decade or so. On the right side is a vision of how things might be done differently. Of course, there are many things on the right side of the chart that we’ve been moving toward already. And there are plenty of things on the left side that we will need to continue doing (can the “gatekeeper” function ever totally disappear?  I doubt it…).  But in general this Vision Chart gives shape to some of the squishy concepts many of us have been trying to grasp in our work. I have to say, I’m all in favor of moving from the cool and standoffish to the warm and hospitable!

Last week I quoted a section from Lifelong Faith Associate’s Faith Formation 2020 report about the important role parents play in the faith formation (development) of children and youth. And that made me think about the importance of faith formation for all adults in our congregations. Once again, my colleague Sue Sinnamon from the Thomas Jefferson district has pointed out that the folks at Lifelong Faith have a resource already available on the subject. The current issue of their journal Lifelong Faith is dedicated to adult faith formation. Here’s some of what they have to say:

  1. Adult faith formation addresses the diverse life tasks and situations, spiritual and religious needs, and interests of adults in the church by offering a variety of content topics and learning activities out of which adults can develop their own personalized learning pathway.
  2. Adult faith formation recognizes that learning is a process of active inquiry with initiative residing in the adult learner and that adults are motivated to learn as they experience needs and interests that adult learning activities will satisfy.
  3. Adult faith formation views learning as a lifelong process that involves both formal and informal learning, intentional or unexpected.
  4. Adult faith formation utilizes a variety of learning models to address the diverse life tasks and situations, religious and spiritual needs, and interests of adults; and incorporates both face-to-face, interactive learning activities and virtual, online learning activities.

Imagine the kind of adult faith development opportunities we would have in our congregations if we spent as much time and energy on them as we do on our programming for children and youth. And, if it is true that “we’ll get what we are,” imagine the results of such an effort on the future of our movement.

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