... So how can churches encourage congregants to interact with their church’s Facebook page? Here are some ways churches have engaged people through Facebook:
• Custer Road UMC in Plano, Texas, hosted a competition for its college students who attend universities across the country. “Post your stories of the worst possible roommate experiences. The best worst stories will get a $10 gift card.” In the next two weeks, the church’s college students posted more than 100 comments and stories.
• Several church youth groups report using their Facebook page for “scavenger hunts.” Youth have to find something or record their group doing something. They post it on the Facebook page where the youth minister can then tally points. In the process, the youth are sharing their youth group activities with all of their Facebook friends, since every video shows up on their profiles as well as the church’s Facebook page.
• The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor at House for All Saints and Sinners, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America mission church in Denver, Colo., posts on Facebook while preparing sermons. Sometimes she seeks stories; sometimes she wants to know what people think about the lectionary text for the week. Facebook and Twitter afford the opportunity for her congregants and friends to contribute to her sermons.
• Good Shepherd UMC, Mr. Richardson’s church, posts an abundance of pictures from church events on Facebook and tags its members. Not only does this then show up on church members’ walls for all of their Facebook friends to see, but many of their members have used the photos as their profile picture, linking their online identity to their church.
• Bed Start, a ministry that helps low-income families in Plano, Texas, uses Facebook to mobilize volunteers to address immediate and unexpected needs.
• White’s Chapel UMC in Southlake, Texas, uses Facebook as a primary means for communication with its local and online congregation. The church advertises across North and South America, welcoming Brazilians, Canadians, Chileans, Hondurans, Venezuelans, Americans and others into online worship several days a week.
• Multiple church youth groups report using Facebook to give updates to donors, parents and congregation members while they serve on mission trips and choir tours.
• University Park UMC in Dallas posts close-up pictures of parts of their building and challenges members to identify the subject.
• Lake Highlands UMC in Dallas spent minimal amounts on Facebook advertising for its Christmas Eve worship services. The ad appeared on screens in the church’s ZIP code 1.4 million times. About 400 people clicked for more information.
But does all of this online interaction actually further the missions of congregations?
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released 2011 data that challenges many assumptions of social media critics.
“The findings suggest that there is little validity to concerns that people who use social network sites experience smaller social networks, less closeness or experience less diversity,” the Pew report said, adding that frequent use of Facebook is associated with having more overall close ties.
Using independent metrics, the study further established that Facebook users have stronger total support, emotional support and companionship. Social network site users are half as likely to be socially isolated as the average American. ...