Is Your Church Connected? Building Online Community That Counts – Part 1

Ours is a highly connected generation. If the people checking their smart phones on every curb, elevator and dinner table don’t subtly underline that fact, the latest social networking numbers will.

This past August, Facebook will top 1 billion—yes “B” as in billion—active users. 1 Translation? This means almost 15% of our planet has taken up online residence in Zuckerberg country.

Twitter too is becoming an undeniable heavyweight. They’re expected to hit 500 million registered users next month.

2. It’s not just people who are hyper-connected either. Organizations are no exception.
A church, company or non-profit who opts out of social networking today is starting to steal the stigma of an organization without a landline telephone in the 80’s or without an email address in the 2000’s.

By now, it’s become obvious that increasing numbers of people ARE online and, as a result, most churches have crafted at least a basic internet presence.  They’ve managed to put up a clean, easy to navigate website. They’re updating attendees about events and programs using Facebook and Twitter.  And they’ve created a profile in the major online church directories.

This means, if we want to grow in the ways we use technology, churches would be wise to move beyond just “showing up” to a more intentional strategy of relationship-building. A follow-up question that might serve us well, for example, is to ask why people are logging on in mass and with such regularity? And how can we use our interactions to meet their needs and deepen our relationship with them?

So why are a growing number of people stay so “plugged in” to the internet? NM Incite, a Nielsen McKinsey company, found that the majority of Facebook users are motivated by relational hopes. 88% of people report using Facebook to find and maintain existing friendships, while 70% also admitted they use it to search for new friends. 3

People’s search for connectedness may not be immediately obvious however.  After all, many internet users—including some of your church attenders—may appear to have a thriving network of online friends. The average Facebook user has 130 friends and the average Twitter user has 126 followers.

These numbers may give the perception that every person is well-networked, or at least adequately supported in daily life. Which might lead us to believe they just log in for an occasional witty remark or event reminder.

But experts warn social networking data can be inflated and misleading. One researcher in this field, noted researcher Matthew Brashears of Cornell University, found that—on average—most Americans only have two close friends. 4

Given the relational needs and hopes of those logging into social networks, just posting service times or re-tweeting the pastor’s sermon points, then, may keep the browser informed about the church community, but still feeling detached.  A guiding question that might better serve relationally-hungry web surfers is: Does this use of social media—i.e. this tweet, this update—invite people into deeper relationship with our church community…and ultimately into better relationship with our God?

In the next post, we’ll be expanding this filter question into more detailed suggestions for intentionally using your church’s social networks to enhance and expand your physical community. Then, in the following two posts, we’ll share an interview with a church who is using this and other technology to enhance their congregation’s connectedness.

1 http://www.allfacebook.com/facebook-billion-2012-01
2 http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/twitter-active-total-users_b17655
3 http://www.nmincite.com/?p=6051

Mark is the Brand Manager and Director of Marketing for Clark. Before working at Clark, Mark spent most of the last decade leading the media efforts of various mega churches.