This got me thinking about the comparative benefits of Facebook and other social media for church congregations in general and campus ministry programs specifically. More and more mainstream churches have gone online now, realizing that a well polished website with sermon clips and an inviting schedule of activities is often what a church visitor sees first today, long before he or she walks into the church building. This may present a bit of a learning curve for some congregations, especially among those parishioners who see social media as frivolous trivial pursuit. In the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, author Paul Lamb concedes that, for churches,”the ability to understand and leverage the use of social media tools like blogs, social networks, and interactive media presents a clear communications challenge during the age of the one-minute attention span.”
However, Lamb also warns that this is about more than just learning how to publish the same message using new tools. It is in fact a cultural shift, a “sea change” as he dubs it, in how people interact and how they view institutions. While the Church has traditionally maintained an authoritative structure, organizing and directing its congregations, the online world is a place of bottom-up participation, thriving on interaction and individual input, a little messy perhaps but also energetic and creative. (Think Wikipedia, for example!)
Of course, campus ministry should be at the heart of this new engagement, a practical lab for exploring new communication venues for the Church at large. The millenials are light years ahead of the rest of us in this new territory. According to the Pew Internet Reports, nearly three quarters (72%) of young adults (ages 18-29) use social network sites. This is about communication but it is also about building community, and there is much that we can learn here. Paul Lamb writes:
It is critical to understand, for better or worse, that today’s youth want a personalized religious experience. They want to have their say, be listened to, and engage each other directly—beyond the physical walls and formal dictates of the church. Just as the TV generation demanded an “edutainment” experience, the millennials are demanding a two-way interactive experience. They want to participate in a conversation with their religion and their religious leaders, and not be lectured to.
Facebook fan pages certainly make a great community bulletin board for reminders about where and when, but I’m interested in hearing about other ways campus ministries are using Facebook and other social media to connect their local community and engage the Church at large. How about it, folks?