Facebook can help church stay connected

February 15, 2012 | Young Voices
Aaron Epp | Special to Young Voices

When a church member suffered a medical emergency in Winnipeg, Man. where his heart stopped for a full 45 minutes, many members of Level Ground Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, B.C., relied on Facebook for updates regarding the young man’s condition.

“Through the crisis, our [lead] pastor was able to update her Facebook account, and then we would copy that message and put it on our church [Facebook] wall, which then got sent out to people and they would put it on their Facebook walls,” says Dan Loewen, the worship pastor at Level Ground. “You could just see it spreading to thousands of people who would pray for the situation.”

Social media are more pervasive than ever. According to a June 2011 article from The Canadian Press, 16.6 million Canadians use Facebook. It is not uncommon to find church leaders using Facebook and Twitter to update congregation members on what is happening in the life of the church.

In 2010, a group of Christians in the United States started The Table Project, a social networking platform designed specifically for churches. Any church can access the resources provided by The Table Project to create an online social network that is customized to fit the needs of the individual church. All of the information that is posted on the site also stays private within the church.

The Table Project aims to promote group interaction, sharing and openness within individual church communities. It is not a Christian alternative to Facebook, but rather, churches can incorporate things like Facebook and Twitter into their Table site if they choose to. Also, a congregation member does not need to be a member of Facebook to be a part of their church’s Table page.

Loewen, whose work at Level Ground includes web design, communications and creating videos for the church, has heard of The Table Project but has not implemented it at Level Ground.

“I think it can be helpful, I think it can be a good tool,” the 29-year-old says.

However, Loewen points out that in today’s social media landscape, it is difficult to complete with Facebook. He points to Google+ as an example. When Google’s foray into social media launched last fall, many people created accounts to check it out. Six months later, the buzz has fizzled out and the majority of people have stuck with Facebook for their social networking needs.

For Chris Lenshyn, the associate pastor at Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, B.C., Facebook is an effective tool to communicate with the church’s youth group.

“The majority of the youth are on Facebook often,” the 31-year-old says. “It’s the primary way that I get in touch with them about stuff. Some things warrant a phone call, some things warrant a Facebook message, and it’s pretty much a guarantee that my [youth] will receive the Facebook message and will respond to it.”

Lenshyn also posts on Mennonite Church Canada’s Facebook page. A question he posted at the end of January about Mennonite theology and masculinity started a 98-comment discussion on the topic.

Lenshyn says he found the discussion helpful, but ultimately, he hopes that any connections made—and discussions started—on Facebook can continue on in face-to-face conversation.

“I think it’s easier to hear people and get their perspective” in person, he says. “It’s one thing to have a conversation digitally via text or Facebook comments, but it’s a completely other thing to sit with that person in the same room . . . People communicate with more than just words, and it’s hard to communicate that when you’re leaving comments on Facebook pages or even on blogs.”

Loewen agrees that Facebook has its drawbacks, but he has also seen how the site has been a boon to the work that pastors at Level Ground do.

“[Facebook is] kind of like if there was a coffee shop in town that was the place to be and everyone was there, and whenever people were there, they shared things about how their day was going and how their life was,” Loewen muses. “You as a pastor would want to be at that coffee shop. You would want to be at the place where it’s all going down, where it’s all happening.”

“There are pros and cons [to Facebook], but this is a place where so much is happening,” he adds. “How can we as a church not engage that and use that as a tool, and connect with people in the space where they are, rather than expecting them to come to us?”

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