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The New Media Project is a research endeavor funded by the Lilly Endowment aimed at helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology.

 



Social media and the gifts of the Spirit

March 06, 2012
By Jim Rice

Best practices: During February, March, and April, 2012 the New Media Project bloggers are looking intentionally at new media “best practices.” Join the conversation: What are the new media best practices in your church or organization? What are some other examples of how communities engage in new media well?

One of the advantages of small congregations is the level of intimacy members can build with one another. (Some might argue that that’s also one of the disadvantages....) In a small church or community, our gifts (and our liabilities) are more readily known to one another and to the leadership of the church.

In larger churches, a person can more easily be “lost” (or hide) in the pews. Even regular attendees may not become as well-known to others in the church. That can be a handicap when it’s time to invoke the gifts of the congregation.

Much of what happens in a church community is carried out by volunteers, often working with the overstretched pastoral and administrative staff. From welcoming visitors to cleaning up the grounds, and from filling the various committees to making meals for the local soup kitchen, people in the congregation step up to offer their “varieties of gifts,” as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7. These gifts, Paul explains, all come from the same Spirit, and “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

The logistics of calling out those gifts in a larger congregation, however, can be difficult, especially concerning newer attendees—or introverts. At Seattle’s Quest Church, social media have played a helpful role in reaching out to invite people to volunteer their gifts.

“From a technological standpoint, social media definitely helps” with calling out gifts, said Jin An, who works for the church part-time on IT issues. “With all the ways that people are connected, that’s probably the biggest black hole: that the community is not able to draw on itself for answers for help that it could and should be able to,” An says. And while technology can’t solve that, it can help facilitate connections between people. “That’s one of the ideals that I’ve always had as a technological professional. I’ve always felt that our communities, the people that we know, are our best source of information, our best connecting points.”

Sometimes, drawing out people’s gifts is as simple as putting out a call. A notice on the church’s Facebook page or an email to the congregation can often reach people who might miss a Sunday announcement or a bulletin notice.

Invoking gifts not only helps meet the needs of a church or its neighborhood. Engaging people in the work of the church also helps deepen their commitment to the body and can even be a factor in encouraging spiritual growth. Engaged members in one area tend to connect more deeply with others as well.

New media, as with other forms of communication, can help people in a congregation be more informed about ways they can link in. That can be a real gift for anyone who believes that “church” is an action word.

Jim Rice, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is editor of Sojourners magazine in Washington, D.C.

The New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmedia@uts.columbia.edu.


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