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What can Twitter teach the church?

By Jeremy Steele

Just eight years ago, no one had ever heard of an “at reply.” People didn't use the term “hashtag” in everyday conversation and only tweeted when they were talking to their parakeet. In less than a decade, Twitter has exploded to engage more than 500 million users. With such massive success, churches can learn much from this company’s short history.

1. Master the pivot. The founders of Twitter never set out to make a microblogging/status update service. Initially, the company — named Odeo — focused on the almost-unheard-of practice of podcasting. After Apple decided to include many of Odeo’s features in iTunes, the Odeo team knew their days were numbered. Instead of calling it quits, they decided to dream and consider what other products their team of brilliant programmers and business people could produce.

Your church may be in a similar place, seeing the end of the road for one or more ministries on the horizon. If this sounds familiar, take heart! You do not need to shut down one ministry to start another; rather, use the resources from one to help the new ministry get off the ground. At some point, you likely will cease the waning ministry so you can, as the founders of Twitter did, put all your resources behind what works.

2. Test by invitation. When Twitter began, the only way to sign up for the service was by invitation. This meant that for awhile, the Twitter team could keep the community small and work out kinks before it was on display for the entire world to see.

The lesson here is to test things before they happen. In the excitement of beginning something new, be sure to allow enough breathing room to think. If you have an upcoming project or change, invite several people who are good at giving constructive criticism to do a dry run with you. Make sure you trust their opinion and their ability to be discreet about any early fumbles.

3. Incorporate crowd-sourced innovations officially. For a long time, the Twitter team focused almost entirely on keeping the servers from crashing, which put incorporating new features on the back burner. However, users of the service began to add their own features by adding little characters like “@” and “#.” After the Twitter team dealt with server issues, they decided to incorporate officially what users had developed into the app.

Your church may have developed patterns that make sense to the regulars, but can be confusing for visitors. The key is paying attention to the way people use your service and communicating it to everyone. For example, does the pastor stand at the rear doors to greet everyone after the service? Simply saying, “After the service, I’ll be at the back door to say ‘good morning’ to everyone” can direct those who are not regulars.

Often as cities expand, churches find local businesses who allow worshippers to park in their vacant lots on Sundays. Incorporating this sort of crowd-sourced solution could be as easy as putting up a sign that indicates people attending your services are welcome to park in these lots.

As Twitter’s massive user and usage numbers indicate, all this work produced an incredible product that you and your church should learn from and use. We have several articles to help you get started. From “Your Questions about Twitter Answered” to using hashtags, check out the social-media section for all your needs.