On Facebook, Megachurches, and Brevity

Episcopal priest and social media expert, Tom Ehrich, began his talk on social media with a bunch of paper handouts — extremely gloomy charts showing the steady and certain downward march in Episcopal church attendance.

“The world of the 1950s ended a long time ago but churches hung onto it. We are the corner hardware store in a Home Depot world,” Ehrich said. People laughed uncomfortably.

For the record, I still love corner hardware stores. I like to say “Gene Doubray” (dzień dobry) to the Polish guys who own the hardware store on 72nd Street. I have never been in a Home Depot. But I like their commercials that show older women as experts. I digress, back to last week’s luncheon. Here are my takeaways:

Facebook

How does Facebook work?No one knows.” (Someone must know!) “Facebook is a mystery. Facebook tells your friends ‘Here’s what I’m caring about today.'”

Update your church’s Facebook frequently and recruit people to attend your church. Inviting doesn’t work; recruiting does (recruting always sounds militaristic to me).

Give people what they want. When people come to a church they may have questions. But the questions they have will be ones about their own lives — “Should I send my kid to private or public school?” they ask. They don’t ask, “What is your Sunday school like?” Ehrich said. True, true.

Create buzz. Let churches “touch people,” not “create members.” True.

Why do restaurants in New York not have to advertise? Restaurants get business by generating buzz, Ehrich said.

Megachurches

Getting people to attend Sunday worship is not enough. Churches have to be open 7 days/24 hours a day.

“Sunday is for tourists,” Ehrich said. He gave an example that Rick Warren’s megachurch, Saddleback Church, has its real worship on Wednesday nights, not Sundays.

“The Megachurch is not the enemy. They have methods that work. They greet newcomers. Train leaders.” Warren’s goal was to start 2,000 new small groups in a year; that is, 20,000 new members.

Megachurch Willow Creek sends an email newsletter that reaches 3 million readers. (I’m not sold on e-newsletters.) In his weekly Willow Creek e-newsletter, Bill Hybels, the founder, has passion and enthusiasm for upcoming sermon.

In his e-newsletters, Hybels writes, “Please come. If you can’t come, please pray for me.” That is cool. (How often do grown men asked to be prayed for? Love it!)

Full disclosure: for several months as a teenager in Park Ridge, Illinois, I was a part of Son City, which Bill Hybels founded. It was really fun. I don’t remember him specifically, but I remember that I sang rockin’ Christian songs in a big auditorium. I’m not a singer, but I remember thinking I sounded really good. I loved the idea of Son City, especially when I heard rumors that kids were allowed to run around and have chicken-fights in the church aisles of the South Park Church. I digress.

Digression on blogs may be unnecessary.

Brevity

Ehrich was a proponent of brevity. On Twitter: “140-character limit is magic,” Ehrich said.

Ehrich blogs daily. I love that. His word limit is 100 words. My blog posts tend to exceed that. (This one’s up to 560!). A blog doesn’t need to be friendly but can establish you as an expert. (I wonder if my blog(s) are making me an expert at anything.)

Another takeaway: Social media is a good tool for networking but not for controling. And these luncheons are definitely good for networking and sparking lively conversations about religion and media.

Ehrich’s blog and web pages can be found at: http://www.morningwalkmedia.com

The November RCC (Religion Commnicators Council) luncheon was held near the United Nations at the Episcopal building on 43rd and 2nd. The RCC luncheons and events are always provocative.

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