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Featured: Social media opening new doors to communication

A cell phone shows the Twitter feed of United Methodist News Service. Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry and Laurens Glass, United Methodist Communications.

Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry and Laurens Glass, United Methodist Communications

A cell phone shows the Twitter feed of United Methodist News Service.

Participants used social media to submit images for the 2013 Advent and 2014 Lent Photo-a-Day projects coordinated by Rethink Church, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SOPHIA AGTARAP

Participants used social media to submit images for the 2013 Advent and 2014 Lent Photo-a-Day projects coordinated by Rethink Church, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

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Social media opening new doors to communication

Sophia Agtarap

Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest. Facebook. LinkedIn. Vine. YouTube.

The list of social media tools is almost infinite. Some of you may have accounts with these services. Others may be wondering what this list is doing in Interpreter.

Simply put, social media is a means to have a conversation, 24/7, using web-based tools. You can join (or leave) "conversations" at your leisure, contribute knowledge and content when appropriate, and receive (and give) real-time updates about events, causes and issues that matter to you. Social media is a newer way to discover, read and share information apart and in collaboration with traditional media.

The church is a fantastic venue for using social media. Here are two reasons.

1. Social media is about building relationships and community. Through meaningful conversations and information exchange, members of congregations build networks that, in turn, inform their communities. Social media flattens the hierarchy. All contribute to the conversation and create content, rather than just consuming it.

Consider social media as one way to invite all to the table, to build relationships in and outside of your church community, without geographic restrictions.

What if church were a social network?

2. It is our ecclesial and theological task. The changing communications landscape has more to do with ministry, evangelism and discipleship than you might think. The culture is no longer one where everyone assumes that families will attend church together on Sunday morning. People are finding other ways to meet their spiritual/faith needs, including going to church on a different day. For some, church may be the weekly small group that gathers to feed the hungry every Thursday night.

Though tools have changed how we communicate the Gospel, the relational aspects of ministry continue to be essential.

According to research by the Barna Group, the most common way millennials (people born roughly between 1982 and 1999) blend their faith and technology is through digital reading of Scripture. There are as many downloads of YouVersion (the free Bible application for mobile devices) as of Instagram. Young people today experience faith in real time. They are called "digital natives" for a reason: Technology has infiltrated every area of millennial life, and the realm of faith is no exception. Barna says about 56 percent of practicing Christian millennials use online searches to scope out a church, temple or synagogue.

However, it is not only millennials who are found in these spaces.

The Rev. Consorcia A. Sanchez, a retired United Methodist elder in Oregon, uses Facebook to extend pastoral care. Before she goes to bed, she checks Facebook to see if she has any messages. Sometimes, people leave prayer requests or ask questions. "People don't have to come to my office for us to talk," she says. "It's easier and faster with Facebook messaging."

For Sanchez, Facebook is about relationships.

"I'm a person-to-person pastor," she says. "I build relationships with people, and that is a factor in how we communicate. We did that when I was their pastor. So when I retired, the relationship continued."

So, where to begin? How do we navigate these social spaces?

Just start somewhere.

You likely do not have hours to spend learning these new tools, so start with just one. Perhaps Facebook is what you will tackle this month as you learn how to build your church's Web presence through short posts and stories. Maybe next month it will be Instagram, as you learn how to share glimpses of your church community through photos.

However you decide to begin, you'll find a wealth of resources from United Methodist Communications, from the monthly MyCom newsletter [www. umcom.org/mycom] to the learning and online training section of the agency's website, www.umcom.org/learn.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published for November - December 2014.

Sophia Agtarap is minister of online engagement with the Rethink Church team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.