Many moments throughout the day we find ourselves picking up our phones to check a notification, even if there is no sound to alert us of one, browse the Internet, text, use an app, listen to audio and even engage in the old-fashioned “telephone call.” Using technologies like smart phones, video, web sites, email and social media is a new way of life, and because of that today’s churches are finding new ways to spread the Gospel and stay connected to a congregation that’s not only tech savvy, but whose lives revolve around media.
Leaders of small and medium-sized churches are using new forms of media to deliver inspiring messages and remain relevant to a new generation of churchgoers. “We spend hours each week crafting our posts because we know they have the capability of reaching tens of thousands of people across this city, country and the world,” said John Garippa, executive director of Downtown Harbor Church in Fort Lauderdale. “We’re a small church plant, but because of our social media posts, we’re able to hang in the same category as Elevation Church and Hillsong Church — that’s the power of Facebook for you!”
Large churches, such as Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, Christ Fellowship and Family Church in Palm Beach County, are also using new media to enhance messages, encourage attendance and engage a new generation. As they see it, at the end of the day, it comes down to one thing — staying connected to God’s people and sharing God’s love with them.
“In some ways, we live in such an unprecedented time of interconnectedness and access to information, but the reality still exists that we all want to feel connected and loved — to feel like we belong,” said Michael Miller, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale’s Director of Communications. “The rise of social media in all its forms is simply the use of technology to meet this inherent need in all of us. As a church, we recognize the ever-changing landscape of how people connect and communicate provides us unique ways to tailor and deliver our message for the audiences on these platforms.”
According to Miller, these new methods of communication do not transcend the core message of the Gospel. “Our church’s desire is to connect people to God, connect people to people and connect people to outreach and serving. We tailor our message to the ever-changing various avenues of communication, but our message — and The Message — does not change.”
Though the message of the Gospel does not change, the way we communicate is constantly evolving, which creates a challenge when trying to connect to people who are distracted by the constant noise of social media. “The potential to be distracted has always been with us, and now it just happens to be in the form of a window into the world that hangs out in our pocket or our bag,” explained Miller. “The approach we take is to be part of the conversations where people chose to have them, provide them information to what our church has to offer them, and sharing inspiration they can benefit from, as well as share with others — all in the mediums and devices people are already on.”
People of all ages are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the likes, and use blogs and email to express themselves and share information, as well as photos of whatever is happening in their lives. The obsession with self expression has never been more pronounced, and so the driving force behind the use of new media in churches is simply a tool to engage with people on these platforms of communication. The question is, which ones should they use?
“The challenge for all of us — as individuals and for churches/organizations – is to determine which ones to engage with that match up with who we are, what we want to do and if that tool will help us get there,” added Miller, who clearly sees social media as a powerful tool, but one that has limitations.
Face to face or real-time communication cannot be equaled. Even in the first-century world, the Apostle Paul, who influenced Christianity second only to Jesus, knew this to be true. His desire to spread the good news about Jesus Christ led him to travel the world, meeting people face to face, forming social circles wherever he went and leaving a legacy that led to the formation of communities dominated by Christians who worshiped the Lord.
Churches recognize that there is no substitute for that kind of evangelism. Using online chat rooms; however, is providing a cyberbridge to people on the other side of the line — many times on the other side of the globe. “A post is posted, a comment is posted, a reply is posted…but there’s usually several minutes and hours in-between these interactions, based on who’s checking what and when,” admists Dan Hickling, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale’s Web Campus Pastor, who believes interactive chat rooms are more effective in building relationships, and accomplishing discipleship.
“Our chat room runs concurrent with our live stream of our church services, providing content (the service being streamed) along with community (the interaction in the chat room) that’s more reciprocal in nature,” he explained. The relationships are formed by consistent two-way communication — by funneling people to the place and time when the Gospel message is proclaimed and being there online to facilitate people in their response to it.
Directing people to God
Whether it’s through a chat room, post, text or tweet, today’s churches are consistently using new media to stay connected with the world in a timely manner. In that moment, there may not be prayer or a true conversion to Christianity, as social media is, at best, a way to direct people to a more spiritual experience. However, as Pastor Hickling observes, “You simply lead or direct people to what God wants for them. Once they have grown in God’s will for their lives, it is time to entrust them with a degree of ownership…that is to serve in the ministry that God has used in their lives.”
Indubitably, making disciples, whether online or in “the real world” is what today’s churches strive to do well.
Maritza Cosano is a freelance writer/editor, writing teacher and author of young adult books. She offers editorial and publishing services for writers and can be reached at [email protected]