Church Communications resources and tips from Justin Dean

Listening to the Twitterverse

Twitter: Silly name. Big impact. Believe it or not, not everyone is tweeting about the sandwich they had for lunch. Some churches are even using Twitter as a digital missions field. Maybe it’s time you consider integrating Twitter into your Sunday morning worship service? I know, I know. For some of you, that’s a stretch. I might as well have said, “Bring in pole dancers to liven up your service,” or “in an effort to appeal to the male demographic, we’ll be replacing the communion bread and wine with chicken wings and ranch dressing!” But here’s what you may not know: Twitter has saved lives (yes, really). It’s connected people to a local church, gathered resources for those who need them most, and provided daily inspiration for millions of people across the globe. Twitter does all of that in 140 characters or less. Neat, huh? Yes, there are some things to take into consideration before embracing the little blue bird. Namely, distraction (“What did the pastor say? I was tweeting her second point and missed the third!”), vanity (“I just checked in at Holy-ville United Church — look at what a great Christian I am!”), and grammar (“We r glad ur here!”). Not to overstate it, but the good definitely outweighs the bad. Here are seven different ways you can integrate Twitter into the ebb-and-flow of your worship service.

7. Sign-up for Twitter

This is number seven for a reason. You can’t win if you don’t play. Head over to the Twitter signup page and create an account for your church. Make sure you fill out all the information fields and don’t forget to upload a profile picture!

Use something that visually conveys your church and is easily recognizable. A logo is a good place to start.

6. Publicize the church Twitter account

Once you have your account up and running, you need to let people know. Don’t be bashful about telling your congregation about your new, feathered friend. Put a blurb in your eNewsletter, bulletin, or take a risk and make an announcement from the front. If people don’t know, they won’t go! (And they want to go. Trust me.)

5. Follow everyone in your area

Twitter has a phenomenal search feature that’s extremely good at getting you the information you need. For instance, you can type in your church’s zip code and find all the Twitter users within a 10-, 25-, or 50-mile radius.

Take an afternoon and follow all of the users close by. It lets people know you exist and care.

4. Monitor hashtags

Throughout the week, you’re going to want to pick a few hashtags to monitor and interact with. (For those that may not know, hashtags, a keyword preceded by the # symbol, are simple ways to track a conversation through Twitter.)

You may want to search for #prayer, #yourcityhere, or #church. Get creative. Hashtags are a great way to see what your online community cares about.

3. Use Twitter Search to see who’s coming to service

This is one of my favorites. When I was on staff at a local church, I would run a Twitter search for our church name every Sunday morning. When a result popped up, usually through a Foursquare checkin, I would welcome that person to the church and thank them for coming to worship. Don’t underestimate this digital handshake. For a newcomer, a simple gesture like this can make all the difference.

2. Try a tweet wall

This will be for the more digitally progressive churches, but a tweet wall can be a thing of beauty. Basically, you’ll use a service like Tweetchat or Hootsuite to beam a stream of live tweets to a projector or a video display. Use Twitter lists to build a stream of tweets from church staffers. Pick a hashtag and display all the worldwide tweets from folks weighing in on the topic. It’s like a real-time ticker of human emotion. Fascinating.

But beware, Twitter is an unfiltered, raw look at humanity. Carefully select what users and/or hashtags you permit. One wily tweet can cause quite a bit of embarrassment (I’m speaking from experience!).

1. Hold a tweet chat after the service

I’d love to see more pastors utilize Twitter in this way. Imagine you’ve just given a difficult sermon. You know that not everyone who wanted to ask questions had the opportunity to do so. Why not take to Twitter and give them that chance? Use Tweetchat and tell the congregation you’ll be on Twitter for 30 minutes after the service. Tell them to give you any feedback and/or questions using a specific hashtag. If your name is Pastor Susie use #AskPastorSusie. If your church is First Lutheran use #1stLuthFeedback. You get the idea. This cuts to the core of the nature of social media. No longer is the pulpit a one-way street. You’ve opened the theological discussion up and extended the staying power of your sermon past the point of delivery. Keep it short. Don’t get into theological fights. Follow up in an email or in person if necessary. But most of all, have fun with it.

From top to bottom, these Twitter experiments will help you to start seeing just how powerful this social network truly is. Give one, two, or all seven a try and let me know how it goes. I’m here to help!

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