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Social media changes way churches reach congregants

By Matthew Prosser
Jan. 18, 2016 at 4:47 p.m.

Mickey Seward, director of communications for Mobberly Baptist Church, talks about social media has changed the way the church reaches its members and people from across the world.

As demographics shift and alter the way people live, churches are trying to roll with the changes by embracing new forms of communication.

"Technology allows us the opportunity to share some amazing stories of how God is changing lives and using his people to grow his kingdom," said Mickey Seward, director of communications for Mobberly Baptist Church. "We're able to help people share their stories, and that's a lot of fun."

For a church with about 6,000 members, a packed parking lot is not surprising. But Mobberly's worldwide reach on social media surprised even the man in charge of content.

Seward said the recent Mobberly video, "A Movie on Cwismus," was viewed by about 1.4 million people on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.

"We saw it or heard stories about it being shared in Southeast Asia, Africa, South America and Europe. One member told us that a relative from Vietnam — who is not a Christian — was sharing it with family members there. It allowed people all over the world to begin a conversation about Jesus in an easy way," he said.

As a result of the video going viral, Seward said Mobberly experienced "a huge influx" of new Facebook followers in a short time.

"We saw the number of people who follow our Facebook page grow by 50 percent in the two weeks following the release of 'A Movie on Cwismus,' " he said. "There is a large number of people that we are now able to interact with and equip through social media because they were introduced to us through that video."

The church has regular updates through the day, and Pastor Glynn Stone is active on his Twitter account, but Seward said the heart behind the technology is the same "Old-Time Religion" that has sustained Christians for centuries.

"Our communications strategy is to support the mission of the church by engaging and encouraging people and endorsing Mobberly activities. Our digital presence falls right in line with that strategy," he said. "As we look at the most popular and shared content, we can see that people really want to be inspired and hear God's message. Social media and our mobile app allow us to extend our connection with others beyond the typical Sunday and Wednesday interaction."

Crossroads Community Church Media Ministry Director Kevin Shelley said social media allows regular attendees to stay up to date throughout the week, while also introducing potential new members to what the church is all about.

"We have a lot of regular (attendees) who live a good ways off and can only attend on Sunday mornings, so our Facebook page and website is an easy way for them to know about upcoming events or prayer requests," he said. "We've got videos of sermons uploaded for those who miss church but want to follow along with Pastor Bo Bolding as he goes through a series."

The church also has introduced an anonymous "poll" feature to some worship services. During a recent sermon series on sexuality, attendees were able to text where they stood theologically on issues of same-sex marriage and the church, with results appearing on a screen in real-time.

Shelley said this kind of technology helps provide another means for church members to connect to what is being taught as well as let the leadership know how they can better serve the church body.

"No church wants an audience just passive listening to what's being talked about; we want them engaged and thinking," he said.

As lives get busier and more distracted, Seward said technology can be a tremendous tool to help Christians stay connected.

"For example, this past October, Mobberly members raised over $90,000 to purchase food, and then packaged and shipped it to Malawi, which was ravaged by flooding and has been facing the prospects of famine in certain areas," he said. "Not long ago, we were able to share photos of children in orphanages eating that food, along with a story from someone who was there when it was delivered. You talk about encouraging our people. Technology has been a great tool in sharing the gospel message and encouraging others."

Thomas McDaniels, senior pastor of LifeBridge Christian Center, said the direction of social media is changing for churches.

"It used to be we sent them from social media to a message on our website; now, we post a message (on social media) that goes directly to them," he said. "We're sending out content to help people, as opposed to asking them to come to us."

McDaniels said he spends up to an hour a day on the church's various social media accounts — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest — working with church staff to build stronger connections.

"It's a kingdom resource to help spread the gospel and to help impact people's lives in a way that draws them to Jesus Christ," he said.

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