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Social networking brings new ideas, methods to tablecomment (0)

July 16, 2009

By Jeremy Henderson

It was June 23, the first day of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., and Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, was up early. 

He got on the Internet and saw that the Baptist Press Web site had linked to his recent blog post “Whatever happened to old-fashioned respect?”

Later that morning, Lance heard two Alabama pastors, Scott Harris and Glenn Graham, speak during the Global Evangelical Relations segment of the meeting.

That evening, he bumped into his friend Rob Jackson, pastor of Central Baptist Church, Decatur, and posed for a picture with him taken with a cell phone.

It was a busy day. And for the 220 people who currently follow Lance on Twitter, it’s old news.

Twitter, an Internet microblogging service that allows users to “tweet” their opinions, whereabouts and plans in abbreviated real time, is the newest kid on the social networking block.

Friends are made. Lives are followed.

Twitter’s appeal is rooted in its haiku-esque functionality, which restricts individual posts to 140 characters.

Church leaders across the country have quickly caught on, and more and more of them are harnessing Twitter’s power, as well as that of other social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace and blogs, for the kingdom of God.

Alabamians are no exception. Some use it for fellowship, some for outreach.

“I have learned the value of Twitter in terms of keeping up with the breaking news and weather alerts,” Lance said. “I also enjoy reading the thoughts of friends and colleagues. It has been beneficial for me in connecting with younger pastors, too.”

Alan Cross, pastor of Gateway Baptist Church, Montgomery, said he feels the same way.

“I follow quite a few pastors on Twitter, and I enjoy tracking with their experiences and what they are learning,” said Cross, who posts regular, on-the-go updates to his Twitter and Facebook accounts via his BlackBerry. “It sharpens me and opens me up to a larger world.”

While Cross, who estimates that half of his church members are on Facebook, says social networking applications can be a waste of time, he noted they “can also be used redemptively.”

When Cross heard the news of Michael Jackson’s death, which was widely reported via Twitter, he wrote a blog post asking if Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, who died the same day, were Christians. In it, he presented the gospel.

“All week long, I had visitors (to my blog) from all over the world who wanted to know the same thing,” Cross said. “They were all exposed to the gospel. So whether I am getting out prayer requests, reflecting on the world around me, broadcasting praises, writing out my thoughts or just making simple observations, blogging, Facebook and Twitter have allowed me to connect with tens of thousands of people around the world.

“When you are in the ministry and your goal is to proclaim the gospel and give glory to God, that can only be a good thing,” he added.

Some churches around the country have taken so-called “Twittervangelism” even further.

On Good Friday, members of New York City’s Trinity Wall Street Church “performed” a twitterized Passion play, detailing Christ’s final hours on earth under usernames like @JosephArimithea, @Pontius_Pilate and @_JesusChrist.

According to a May issue of Time magazine, other tech-savvy churches are incorporating Twitter into their services, encouraging members to tweet their thoughts on the sermon — which are instantly relayed to sanctuary video screens — as part of a running interactive commentary. 

Offering a digital spin on the idea that nothing done for God is in vain, one pastor was quoted as saying, “If God leads you to continue [Twitter] as a form of worship, by all means, do it.”

But David Hicks, director of media and publication for East Memorial Baptist Church, Prattville, doesn’t see “tworship” taking off at his church anytime soon.

“Personally I would find that a little distracting,” Hicks said. “Our pastor doesn’t even have sermon notes up (on a video screen) behind him.”

Although he said his pastor probably would not encourage the congregation to Twitter during the service, East Memorial Baptist does have a Twitter page that Hicks updates regularly, along with its Facebook page.

He appreciates the potential of social networking in fostering a sense of community within the East Memorial congregation.

“People do like it,” Hicks said. “I’m really not personally big on social networking, but I know it’s a tool to get information out there.”

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