Technology Connects Communities of Faith
Technology Workshop Presented by HSU at Texas Baptist Convention
HOUSTON--TEXAS BAPTIST CONVENTION
Photo: James Stone, HSU director of church relations; Jerry Hendrix, Crosspoint Fellowship
Glenn Young says he's a low-tech guy in a high-tech world, but since he has had someone else set up his Facebook page for him, he has quickly graduated to even counseling people using the emerging technology.
Young is the pastor of Clearlake Baptist Church in the NASA area of Houston. His perception of himself as low-tech is why he came to a workshop at the annual Texas Baptists Convention, being held in Houston, on how emerging technologies can be used for enhancing and growing the impact of ministry.
In the breakout session with Young are around 40 men and women, mostly wearing loafers, high heels, and sports jackets with well-creased khaki pants. For a session involving technology, the expected flip-flops, backpacks, Starbucks cups, jeans, and canvas shoes are barely sprinkled in among the crowd that is anxious to hear how Twitter and Facebook can enhance their ministries.
James Stone is the director of church relations and congregational resourcing at Hardin-Simmons University. Stone is typical of what young leaders bring to the ministry today and has the playbook on how to use technology effectively. As director of the workshop, he tells the audience, "I am no expert, only a practitioner."
In fact, he warns those still anxious about the use of Facebook in ministry, "If you haven't created your own Facebook pages, someone else will do it for you." He illustrates his point, "I have found Logsdon groups on Facebook," HSU's School of Theology, "that I didn't even know existed, including one called 'Logsdon Parking Stinks,'" he says with a chuckle.
Stone has brought another practitioner of emerging technologies to help give examples on how he manages to market his church using zero dollars. "It's interesting," says Jerry Hendrix, "how we can only have 50 people actually attend our church, but yet in the virtual world, we are a mega church with thousands of people online."
Hendrix is the founder and lead pastor of Crosspoint Fellowship church in Abilene. He spends no money on church newsletters and does not even pay for a phone line. In fact, the church does not even meet in the same place every week. "People know where to find us," says Hendrix, "because of our use of Facebook and Twitter."
Hendrix illustrates how effective these emerging medias can be, "I own a coffee shop in downtown Abilene. One day for two hours we gave away free coffee. Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau included that info on its Facebook page, which was picked up and posted on a television station's website. I was totally blown away how that information got out. We had people walking over from other offices in downtown because they saw it on Facebook or the TV station's website."
Stone says, "The beauty of Facebook is that people can communicate without the awkwardness that it might be in person. They can communicate at their level and without being intrusive or being intruded upon. Facebook is an audience who wants to know your information. Email is intrusive, but Facebook is a destination, not an interruption."
"If Facebook were a nation," says Stone, "it would be the fifth largest in the world." Hendrix adds, "Your website may be the face of your church, but an ongoing dialogue is integrated best with Facebook."
"I know of a church in Seattle which uses a video screen where Tweets are posted during the sermon. This is God's spirit in motion," Stone points out. "People in the congregation can reflect on what it being said and post comments on the screen without ever stepping out of their seats."
"On Facebook," says Stone, "'causes' are known to grow 39 percent faster than 'causes' spread by traditional means. Eleven percent of those people even donate money to the cause, and they are known to donate more." Pausing for a moment, Stone exclaims to his audience of ministers, "I saw your heads pop up on that one."
Glenn Young of the Clearlake Church says of his experience on Facebook, "I am even in touch with a Buddhist who is gay and hates Christians. That is someone I might not generally have any means to reach out to." Pointing to another example of how Facebook is making a difference to his church, "A very shy woman in our congregation has started leading a prayer group on Facebook, something she would never have done in person," says Young.
His church has even ventured into the world of Skyping. "Our Clearlake congregation, with just two computers with cameras, sang a song with a church in Russia. Using Skpe, both of our churches could see each other on video screens. That, like Facebook, is completely free," says Young.
As for the Buddhist, "We got in touch with him because he posted something offensive to us on Facebook. Now, I am having three or four conversations per week with him and he is even reading the Bible in depth!"