“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
It was only somewhat coincidental that St. Mark’s planned our first attempt at Social Media Sunday on the same day that we heard this passage from the prophet Isaiah. While I admit, I was pleased when I read the appointed lessons, it was actually after the fact! We picked Sunday, March 13, because it was the end of Lent and timely in that folks may in fact be considering attending church for Holy Week and Easter. It was also planned to happen at the same time that we launched our new website (www.saintmarkserie.org in case you were wondering). Once we determined those two things, the Isaiah reading made it all the more appropriate. So much so, that we used #doinganewthing as part of the day!
So why do a Social Media Sunday? This idea is certainly not original to St. Mark’s. The Episcopal Church has done several on a national level in recent years. Why? Because Social Media has become a powerful way to encourage people of faith to share the gospel. Facebook reports that they have 1.2 billion users (238 million in the United States alone) and Twitter reports 230 million users. I think we could all agree that this kind of reach is greater than just about any other medium available right now – oh and it’s free!
Our goal, like others who have done similar events, was to get people beyond their fear of using digital media and understand that these are effective tools that we can use to invite others, show our care and concern, tell our friends about our church, and introduce them to Jesus. Not everyone is an extrovert and not everyone is going to be comfortable walking up to someone and inviting them to church. However, if you are on Facebook or Twitter, you can post, share, invite and you have reached into your network of folks in a way that your church couldn’t do without your help. One on one evangelism times the number of friends you have on Facebook!
Our organization for this Sunday was simple. We produced a handout with clear instructions that everyone who came to church was given. It explained where to find St. Mark’s on Facebook and Twitter and then we suggested posts and tweets and of course hashtags (#doinganewthing #getconnected #stmarks). We gave those who were not on social media a way to participate by giving them the opportunity to write out their tweets and giving them to me to tweet. We also projected the new website and the live twitter feed in the church. (Yes, projecting in an Episcopal church and nothing bad happened, it was just fine.) Both really helped people get engaged. Vanessa Butler was on hand posting and tweeting on behalf of the diocese so our reach was even broader.
The results of all of this were beyond what we could have expected. The participation from the congregation was overwhelming and we had so much fun engaging in it on a Sunday. We picked up 20 new Twitter followers and 10 new page likes on Facebook, all in less than two hours. The website traffic was exponentially higher than any other Sunday morning. Will these people turn up at St. Mark’s for Easter or another Sunday? That remains to be seen, but at least they now know who we are and what we stand for when they decide that they are ready to come to church.
An unexpected result was that our members found new relationships and connected with other members they may not have otherwise connected with, by liking and sharing their posts and tweets. They were looking for each other after the services, introducing themselves by asking “Were you the one that posted that?”.
We said all along it was about the relationships, not the technology. Indeed it was. We reached hundreds of people outside of the walls of St. Mark’s on March 13 and we formed community for those who were already there. Win, win, and, yes, we would most certainly do it again!
Carly Rowe, Associate for Programs and Development, St. Mark’s, Erie