Twitter asks, ‘What are you doing? Should your church answer?’

SUMMARY: My 2001 dictionary defines “twitter” as “to utter successive chirping noises, to talk in a chattering fashion and to tremble with agitation.” How times have changed!

Today,” Twitter” represents a proper name, a noun, a verb and relatively new technology. Twitter, a form of instant micro-blogging, may open new communication avenues for your church. Formed two years ago, Twitter revolutionized the instant communication world.

In 2008, more than 6 million adult U.S. users tapped in at least monthly. By 2010, more than 18 million adults are expected to tweet monthly, according to e-Marketing.

However, sheer numbers do not mean your church should get into the Twitter game. Like any communications tool, Twitter requires a well-thought, well-executed strategy.

Identify followers.
The first step to a Twitter plan is to see if anyone in your congregation uses it. Ask around at worship or another church activity, send a quick e-mail survey or pose the question in your church bulletin. If no one in your congregation uses Twitter, you probably don’t need to go any further. If a few members say "yes" or you want to target the younger Twitter audience, then explore the possibilities.

Have a purpose.
People who consider Twitter useless usually mention following Twitterers who post every mundane detail of their lives. Who cares if someone had cornflakes for breakfast? Twitter can be so much more, offering substantive postings if planned and executed well. Use Twitter to create a dialogue. Engage your followers.

See what the congregation thinks.
In some U.S. churches, pastors use Twitter during worship to add visual interest and interactivity. Two Michigan clergy encouraged their congregation to tweet during services. Worshipers saw their tweets projected on screens behind the minister. The church expanded its technology server’s bandwidth to accommodate the in-service Twitters. Read this Time article for more details.

Using Twitter during worship should be done when appropriate to the congregation. Most Twitter users fall between the ages of 20 and 40. Pastors also must consider how to maintain the spiritual, reflective nature of services. In one church, the pastor saves questions posted on Twitter and responds later in the week. In another church, the pastor asks a question of the congregation and responds during the sermon. Either way can work. The important part is not just to ask but to respond and to share as well.

Be creative.
A New York City church turned the Passion play into a Twitter. Each character assumed a Twitter identity and tweeted his or her “part” between noon and 3 p.m. on Good Friday. It advertised the site, allowing people who could not attend services to participate in the day. Media also covered the Twitter Passion Play, such as this CNET article.

Give thanks.
Oklahoma United Methodists’ OK Circle of Care, provides residential and foster care services to at-risk youth. Its Twitter account manager takes the time to thank each person who signs up to follow the organization. Circle of Care also uses the site to post links to its newsletter as well as its annual report.

Connect to other social media.
First United Methodist Church in Orange, Texas, like many other congregations, uses its Twitter page to promote upcoming events. It also uses it to publicize when the church’s photo albums have been updated on Facebook. Many social media sites, such as Facebook, allow users to publicize new entries on Twitter with minimal effort.

Use it for everything.
The West Virgnia United Methodist Conference maximizes Twitter. By providing frequent, relevant and interesting content, it has built a growing audience of followers. Recent tweets have included a plea for counselors at an upcoming workshop, an announcement about the United Methodist Communications’ Church Marketing Plan link, an article about microcredit, local church activities, rules of social media policy and a request for help in publicizing the importance of social media.

In Marion, N.C., Providence United Methodist Church talks on Twitter about its upcoming events, writes its mission and summarizes events by announcing, for example, how much money it raised for a local pregnancy center, and thanking participants.

Others tweet about you.
Don’t forget your congregation’s tweeters. They and others can talk about your church too. Steve Burton of Owensboro, Ky., chats about many things on his Twitter page, but each week he asks followers to “Come worship with Settle Memorial United Methodist Church . . . on Ustream TV.” Followers can click on the linkand see a digital recording of the celebration from their computer.

Do you need more details on the technical side of Twitter? Visit http://tweeternet.com/.

resources

Follow United Methodist Communications: http://twitter.com/umcommunication

New Interpreter magazine article: The New Worship Question: To Tweet or Not To Tweet

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