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find, use, summarize, evaluate, create, communicate, information, digital technology, social media

My recent webinar on Digital/Spiritual Literacy is now archived and ready to go. Here’s some blurbage about it:

Digital media and web technologies have already changed the way many congregations do church, leading some observers to ask: “At what cost?” In this webinar we will examine the potential for these new media and technologies to diminish or strengthen human relationships, with special attention given to ways congregations can use digital media and web technologies to nurture individual spiritual growth and facilitate interpersonal relationships.

You can find all of the resources I referred to during the webinar here: http://bit.ly/r4kuED.

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Tomorrow night I’ll be doing an encore presentation of a webinar called Digital/Spiritual Literacy. (There’s still some room left, by the way. Click heresocial media, congregations, twitter, learning, education, membership if you’re interested.) As part of the preparation of the webinar I’ve scoured theweb looking for resources. Thing is, just when I think I’ve found the just the right online articles and blog posts to make my point, something new comes along. That’s pretty much the way the web is working these days—the amount of new content is appearing so fast that it’s almost impossible to keep up. Actually, make that just plain impossible. But that’s okay. The great thing about the web is that if you plug into the right network (the network that’s right for you, that is) you have the opportunity to learn and grow with others who share you interests.

So that’s what the post I’m sharing with you today is about: learning and growing together. It’s by Elizabeth Evans Hagan, senior pastor at Washington Plaza Baptist Church in Reston, Va. Pastor Hagan, who blogs at Preacher on the Plaza, offered a terrific opinion piece on the Associated Baptist Press website called “What Twitter can teach the church.” It’s a quick summary of her experience with Twitter, from skeptic to believer. What I like most about the post are her thoughts on what congregations can learn from Twitter. She says, “Beyond its effectiveness for outreach, I think the church has a lot to learn from Twitter as a newly minted word in our vocabulary.”

  • First, say what we need to say and stop. The days of long typed memos addressed with a stamp on a letter in the mail are over.
  • Second, if we want to reach more people with our churches, then we must “follow” people outside our normal social circles.
  • Third, it’s a necessity to stay connected to those on our membership rolls. Relationships, like Twitter followers, take time and effort to keep going.

I like the idea of Twitter offering important lessons for congregations to learn. And congregations should be all about learning. As Hagan says in the closing words of her piece: “the church, like any good means of technology, is never something to be mastered to use perfectly all at once but rather to grow into as we learn and practice it together.”

Here’s an archived version of my most recent webinar on how congregations can use web technologies and digital media to optimize their online presence. I shared a lot of good resources, which are available here via a great service from bit.ly which bundles multiple links under a single, shortened URL. Check it out!

Optimizing Your Congregation's Web Presence Resource Links

Last week, the Rev. Justin Schroeder, who serves as senior minister at the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, posted a two-part interview with me on his new blog, The Well (as in “We drink from wells we did not dig”). If you’re interested, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. In the interview, which was mostly about digital ministry and social media, Justin asked, “Do you have suggestions/best practices for religious liberals just starting to use Twitter, or wanting to start a blog?” It’s a big question, so I punted the answer over here to Phil’s Little Blog on the Prairie. To keep things manageable, I’m limiting this response to the first part of the question—suggestions for using Twitter. I’ll do a post on blogging sometime in the near future. So, getting started with Twitter…

If you’ve never used Twitter in your life, it may seem a bit mysterious. Fortunately there are some good introductions to this microblogging service. One of my favorites is Twitter 101: How should I get started using Twitter? from the Twitter Help Center.  It’ll answer all of your basic questions. And if you’re unsure about the difference between  a “#” and a “@” or a “DM” and an “RT,” it contains a link to their really useful Twitter Glossary.

That basic introduction will help anyone get started with Twitter. But Justin’s question was specifically about religious liberals using Twitter. As Katie Couric once observed, “no one gives a rat’s @$$ that I had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch.” Which I take to mean, “Why even bother to tweet unless you’ve got something interesting to say.” So, how does a religious liberal approach using Twitter meaningfully? Here are a couple of resources I like: @TinyBuddha‘s Ten Mindful Ways to Use Social Media and @FredericBrussat‘s 25 Reasons Why Twitter Is Spiritual.

For some advice from a Unitarian Universalist on how to make Twitter a form of ministry, check out @revnaomi‘s 10 Ways to Practice Ministry with Twitter from her excellent Patheos Experts page. And for a more general look at how Twitter can be used in ministry, here are some highlights from an @sharefaith post (their site seems to be down at the moment, so I’m copying these from a text-only cached version):

  1. To provide encouraging quotes.
  2. To link to edifying articles.
  3. To quote Scripture verses.
  4. To announce Sunday’s sermon topic.
  5. To share prayer requests.
  6. To learn from others.
  7. To listen to others.
  8. To open up doors of discipleship and edification.
  9. To be real.
  10. To be salt and light.

While some of the language here may be a little off-putting for religious liberals, the basic ideas still hold. The author does emphasize that Twitter may not be for everyone, though. “If you get on Twitter, use Twitter. If it’s not your thing, please don’t feel bad.”

Finally, if you want a handy guide on the subject, check out Twitter as a Ministry Tool: The Basics, a white paper from @ChurchJuice. It’s a nice summary of Twitter in general, with some good specific thoughts about how congregations and ministers can use Twitter.

That’s about it for now. There are some more advanced tools congregations and ministers (or anyone else) can use to get the most out of Twitter, and I’ll do a follow-up post about them sometime soon. In the meantime, if you haven’t tried Twitter, give it a shot. And if you have but didn’t know what to do with it, take a look at these resources and think about giving it another try. Done well, it can be a powerful and satisfying way to share and deepen your religious life.

On July 1, 2011, I volunteered myself for a month-long social media experiment (see Social Media Lab Rat). My not-so-diabolical plan was to follow the instructions laid out by Chris Forbes in a post called Pastor’s 10 Minute Jump Start Guide to Social Media. So, for the last month I’ve been trying to do the following things:

  • Participate by finding “at least four ways to participate each day” in my social networks, “and only comment or respond with sincere participation”
  • Network by doing my “research and find [one or two] new people to follow each day”
  • Share by taking “some time each day to share something, at least twice, with those in [my] networks” and
  • Create by sending tweets, updating my status, posting candid shots, “or other original content.” And “about three times per week, write a blog post and link to individuals and pages in [my] networks.”

Before I check in with the results, I want to point out while the title of Forbes’s post implies that one need take only ten minutes a day to do these things, he’s really talking about 10 tasks a day. What I’ve been doing over the last month took much longer than 10 minutes a day. (I’ll say more about the implications of that in a future post.) At any rate, here are the “metrics” I was tracking during this experiment:

For this blog: blog hits per day; blog hits for the month; number of posts over the month; number of subscribers; number of “shares.” (I also added the average number of comments per post at the suggestion of a regular commenter). On Twitter: number of people I’m following; number that are following me; number of “tweets” per month. On Facebook: number of followers. On Klout: my overall score.

So here’s out everything shook out (first number is from the beginning of July, second number is from July 31):

  • Blog hits per day: 52/52
  • Blog hits per month: 1558.5/1623
  • Number of posts per month: 10.83/14
  • Number of subscribers: 12/12
  • Number of shared posts: 37/46 (9 shares in July)
  • Comments per post: 1.82/2.5
  • Twitter following: 452/587
  • Twitter followers: 359/418
  • Total tweets: 2,518/3844 (1326 tweets in July)
  • Facebook friends: 359/397
  • Klout score: 55/62

I plan to blog more about this soon, but in the meantime, suffice it to say that it’s definitely possible to build one’s online presence by being attentive to the four areas Forbes mentions: participating, sharing, networking, and creating. The end results depend on how much time and energy one puts into the enterprise. Truth be told, I found it a bit exhausting to keep up with all four areas, which leads me to believe that for religious professionals serving in congregations, developing this kind of online presence will require a social media strategy that’s totally integrated not only with congregation’s website, but with the congregation’s mission, vision, and values as well. More later (including a rundown of some nifty tools that make this much more manageable).

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