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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