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Keith's Blog

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14 Social Media Tools for Churches

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On May 11th, I presented "Getting Started with Social Media" to our conference of local Lutheran pastors, using my congregation as an example of the many ways congregations can use social media.  I thought it would be a good idea to document what we do at Redeemer and share it more broadly.  So, here are 14 great social media tools that we use in our church and that you can use in yours.

Having a Facebook page is just as important as having a website these days.  Create a page and invite your friends to join.  It is the absolutely easiest and most popular way to share what's happening in your church.  You can post video, pictures, links, and promote events.  This is our page.  After I post something on our FB Page, I also share it on my personal profile.  If you have a blog, you can use a great service called networkedblogs.com to automatically have your blog post listed on your FB Page.

This is a great blogging platform that I use to post and host our sermonseducational materials, and this blog.  Wordpress has lots of great designs and tools.  It includes free metrics, so you can track how many people visit your blog and what they're reading.  You can upload audio files for podcasts is only $15 a year, video for $60.  Blogger andTypePad are also popular blogging platforms.

Recent studies show that Twitter is only used by 7% of people in the U.S.  It isn't widely adopted yet, but it will be.  Twitter is a great way to link to your new blog posts, promote events, and share to things you find interesting - sort of like a personal news feed.  The value of Twitter for churches is the ability to share short bursts of news and information.  However, most of our people don't use Twitter.  One great way to use Twitter is to put a Twitter widget on your church website.  It allows you to share important news instantaneously without having to republish your webpage.  You can seeour widget on Redeemer's homepage.  Twitter can be confusing, if you just view it on the web.  I like to use a software program called Tweetie for Mac to manage my Twitter accounts.  Tweetdeck is also a great program.  When you're ready to take it to the next level, link your Twitter account to bit.ly, a great url-shortening service, and bit.ly will give you statistics on how many people followed your link.

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Four Benefits of Social Media for Churches

Credibility: Technology = Culture

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Social media has forever changed our expectations of the institutions to which we belong.

 93% of social media users thinks companies should have a presence in social media. Even Duck Tape has its own Facebook page. Shouldn’t you?  Today, having a Facebook Page is just as important as having a website.

Although most of our people don’t yet use social networks like TwitterSlideshareVimeo, and Foursquarecongregations broadly engaged in social media networks demonstrate a willingness to be engaged with technology and, therefore, culture, which are completely intertwined.  (See: Apple.) By engaging in social media your congregation is making a statement: we are leaning into the future; we are willing to engage and learn.

Transparency: Churches are Opaque Institutions

I bet there’s fantastic stuff happening of your church - stuff that’s inspiring, educational, transformative, life-changing. How many people outside your church know about it? A few decades ago it was probably a good assumption that most people knew what churches did. More people went to church. More people grew up in the church. Not so now. Churches are opaque institutions.

This fact is lost on church insiders who assume everyone else knows what we know. People don’t know what the church is about besides what they hear in the news, which is rarely good.  We have to tell our story. We need to get all that great stuff online, blog it, podcast it, Facebook it, tweet it, put your pictures on Flickr. Get the word out. 

 Then, once you make it available, the real power of social media kicks in. Your members and friends have something to share with their family, friends, and colleagues. Studies show that “word of mouth” outstrips any other kind for why people purchase a product. I imagine the same goes for churches. Social media is word of mouth on steroids.

Just a reminder: everyone checks out your church online before they ever visit. Are you telling your congregation’s great story? What story are you telling?

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But is Social Media "Real"?

One of the criticisms I hear in church circles about social media is that it isn't "real".  People mean a few different things when they say this.

  • Social media is no substitute for human contact. And everyone in social media agrees.  It isn't and never will be.  One recent study shows that the use social media does not lessen human contact.  In fact, for intensive users, social media actually increases personal human connections.  In a TED talk ethnographer Stefana Broadbent argues that the internet increases intimacy.  Social media is great because keeps us connected between those face-to-face contacts.  I just learned last night that two of my parishioners got engaged.  They posted it on Facebook from their Blackberrys and within an hour I saw it on my iPhone.  I knew almost instantaneously and sent them my congratulations.  This is part of ministry now.  By the end of 2011, 50% of people will be using smart phones.
  • This is just a fad. People say this is just the latest new thing and it will pass.  Agreed. Technology is changing at lightening speed.  Facebook and Twitter will definitely take new forms (Twitter's redesign will be launched soon), and they'll eventually be superceded by some new technology.  However, while the specific services will change, what will not change is the new and ubiquitous way people creating, communicating, and sharing.  This is not just technological development.  This is a major culture shift on the level of the printing press, and we better pay attention.  The longer you wait getting into social media, the harder it will be to catch up later.
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Are Your Social Media and Website in Sync?

Recently I noticed a congregation making a new push into social media. They started a Twitter feed, a Facebook fan page, and a Wordpress.com blog. Good for them! It’s great to see more churches engaging social media.

Their Twitter page had a background image and a link to their church webpage - two best practices for a Twitter page. I was excited. Then I followed the link to their website and my excitement dropped.

Unfortunately, church's website did not reflect the same spirit that their push into social media was trying to convey. Specifically, their welcome statement said quite explicitly that people should go from this website to worship, from worship to fellowship, then from fellowship into a ministry at the church.

Now, the value of social media it allows people to connect with your church in many different ways. It is open and people can decide how they want to connect and participate.  At Redeemer, we have a saying when it comes to newcomers, "Nothing is straightforward and everyone is different."  The same goes for folks engaged in social media.  People come at things in many different ways.  This church’s welcome message immediately takes this wide open portal of social media and narrows it down to a proscribed process. It tells you not just the next step, but the next two after that, and in which order. And they’re telling you what to do.

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Running Prayer

First Appeared in March 2009 Redeemer Newsletter

I started running two years ago as part of a new year resolution to get in shape.  At first, I could only run about seven minutes at a time; then I’d have to walk.  After a while, I built up my endurance and got in shape, and now I run 3-5 miles, and would do more if I had the time.

In these last two years, running has gone from being a resolution to a way of life for me.  It has become an indispensable part of my week.  It gives me a feeling of well-being, clarity, and precious time to myself.  What once was pure drudgery has become a great gift in my life.

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Parenting: A Sacred Path

First Appeared in February 2009 Redeemer Reporter

Everything is spiritual. There is not one part of our lives or this world that is beyond God’s presence. Our lives are not divided between sacred and secular, between Sunday and the rest of the week. All of life is infused with the grace of God. Therefore, everything we do – from the sublime to the mundane – can be seen a spiritual practice, a way of opening ourselves to God and growing in love. Parenting is one of those practices, and, for many, one of the most important.

Last month a number of parents with children from 3 months to 22 years old gathered to talk about our parenting and spirituality, using a booklet by Patience Robbins called Parenting: A Sacred Path.

We shared our joys, fears, comforts, and challenges. Here are some of our gleanings from these very rich conversations:

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