According to Dr. James Caverlee, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M, social media can “harness collective intelligence to perform tasks, to persuade and change minds and maybe even to change the world.”
As we approach the year 2014, we are well aware of the power of social networking. It has changed the way we receive our news, keep up with our friends and even the way we engage in our communities (political and otherwise).
In a sense, social networking has replaced everything from the U.S. Postal Service to the Yellow Pages.
Today, when somebody is trying to find a new place to worship, they don’t open the phone book. While word of mouth may still be the number one form of evangelical advertisement, social media is quickly becoming the second.
Not only are churches sprucing up their web pages, but according to an article by The Cap Times, “local churches have had to upend their print- and Yellow Pages-based marketing strategies in favor of Facebook pages, photo-saturated websites and carefully worded Twitter feeds.”
“The front page of your website has replaced the front door for young adults and millennials,” said Pastor Brian Konkol of Lake Edge Lutheran Church.
Social media can help lead people to a niche group of specific beliefs, help them find a new home in which to worship or encourage them to try something new that could broaden their religious perspective.
This Google map tracks the journeys of two people searching for a religious organization that fits their lifestyle as well as young women looking to garner a variety of experiences in college.
The blue pins map the journey of Christy Schwartz; the green, Mackenzie Ford and the yellow, Adam Poling.
Christy Schwartz, a teacher for Putnam County Schools, used social media to find an organization that fit with her specific spiritual beliefs.
Through the use of the church’s website, Facebook page, blog and various survey sites, Schwartz found Unity of Kanawha Valley. She was drawn in by the “spiritual premise of the organization, which embraces the universal truth in all faith traditions” that the church promoted on social media.
“The church is attractive to my family because of its practices of inclusion and open-mindedness. On any given Sunday, an attendee might hear Beatle’s music, contemporary jazz, a traditional hymn and a message that includes truths from new age spiritual practices, eastern mysticism, Judaism and traditional Christianity all in the same service,” Schwartz said.
Adam Poling and his wife moved to Morgantown, West Virginia from Philippi. For a while they commuted home on Sunday mornings to attend their church. The couple began looking for a new church to attend and turned to social media and the web to find the perfect fit.
“I liked the church’s statement of beliefs, as well as the fact they are a part of what is called the Acts 29 network, a group of connected churches started by church planters,” Poling said. “The churches share similar values and beliefs. Because I had respect for some of the more well-known members of the network, Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll in particular, I decided to visit the church.”
Poling thinks social media plays a big role at Crossroads Church. Many of the members stay connected through Facebook and Twitter, but the church also has its own social networking site called The City, which functions as sort of a private Facebook-type site for the church. Members use The City to share prayer requests, announce events, plan the weekly Bible study and make plans for outings.
While social media can certainly lead you to a place of worship, it can also simply open up new opportunities.
Mackenzie Ford, a freshman human food and nutrition major at WVU, recently attended a Jewish dinner at the Chabad Jewish Center on campus. Ford was drawn to the event through advertisements on campus as well as the Center’s social media presence.
The dinner took place during Passover, and Ford could tell that it was a very spiritual time for those in attendance.
“I’m not attending this place; I believe one experience was it for me,” Ford said. “The people and the atmosphere were great and very welcoming though. The most attractive qualities were the hospitality of the people. Although I am not of the Jewish faith, the people were very welcoming and invited me to share their culture with them, and that truly warmed my heart. It was a very small group of practicing Jews, so it was a warm, friendly environment compromised of both the young and the old. To be accepted into their group without question and open arms was the best part.”