June 19, 2009

facebook ministry

7) outreach and ministry through facebook (prayers in the aftermath of the shooting tragedy in our county).

Nearly two weeks ago, we had a tragic shooting near our community. I don't need to go into details, but a young woman's life was taken. There were very little official details at first, but everyone in the community had their own version of what might or might not have happened. I didn't know anyone who was involved, and so while it was very close to me, it also seemed very remote.

Until I watched the news the next morning and saw a congregation member being interviewed. And it was as if I suddenly realized that even though I was not personally affected by this - people in my church were. People in my church knew those who were involved and were grieving the death of a friend. People in my church were shaken up by the fact that something like this had even happened.

I was still in my pj's at the time, but I knew that as a church, the best response we can have is prayer. so I got dressed and headed over to the church.

Here is where I realized that we have no great means of getting the word out fast to people. We don't have a calling tree. Most of our congregation doesn't regularly use email or check our website. But I knew that some of the people affected were on facebook.

I recently created a page for our church on facebook. I thought it might be a good way of publicizing events for our youth who are on there. And so far it has worked very successfully. But some of these kid's parents are also on facebook. So I created an event - a day long prayer vigil at the church for anyone and everyone who wanted to stop in.

And I called a few of the people that in 18 short hours I knew had been personally affected. I let them know that I was at the church and was available.

I don't think we had anyone stop in and use the prayer space at all that day. BUT... simply because it was there, other conversations happened across facebook.

One of my members who saw the listing also posted it as her facebook status. And friends of hers in the community who have never been to our church were touched by the fact that we were doing this. One person even messaged me directly and said that she wanted to come and visit our church after that. Another person requested to add me as her facebook friend afterwards.

People go back and forth all the time about what kind of persona pastors should have on facebook and other social network media. I have always taken the stand that I need to a) be myself wherever I am, and b) that used in the right way - it can be a powerful tool. I do block some of my information/pictues/etc to my church group - mostly because there are kids included in that group that don't necessarily need to see what my friends and I were up to in college. But for the most part - who I am is out there. And I have found it to be an incredible resource for ministry. I get to chat with parents about their kid's baseball games. I can give students encouragement before a concert. I am making connections with people that sneak out of worship before I really have a chance to talk with them on Sunday mornings... or who come to worship only occasionally. In many ways - I'm meeting those congregation members where they are... but I'm also connecting with their friends and colleagues in a way that would not have been available to me before. And that is pretty amazing.

I have a pretty idealistic view of the world. I look for the best in things before I look for their faults - but I also know that everything has its pros and its cons. The best we can do is navigate the waters as best we can, and (I think this this is my new motto) take one step beyond caution when the Spirit nudges.

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