When the Rev. Jim Liberatore gave his young congregation carte blanche to use social media during his sermon two weeks ago, about 25 percent of his 700-member church jumped at the offer. But now, even his older congregants want to talk about Jesus on social media.
In a move he calls the "big splash," the rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Pearland, Texas, said instead of railing against the practice of some of his congregants to hang out on social media on mobile devices during church services, he embraced it as an opportunity to reach a new audience.
"The bigger reason we did it was really so that we could evangelize," said Liberatore. "I have a young church, the median age is 34. It's a fairly young congregation; they all use social media in many ways shapes and forms. And part of communicating with the secular culture is to be able to find ways to communicate with them," said Liberatore in an interview with The Christian Post on Monday. "Since they are often on social media on a Sunday morning, I said 'tweet pictures, comments, stories, things that went well,'" explained Liberatore.
And Liberatore is not alone. According to results of a survey of 250 randomly chosen churches conducted by BuzzPlant, a Christian-based digital marketing agency, last summer, churches now consider social media their most effective method of outreach, with Facebook, Twitter and Google + ranking as their favorite channels.
Rob Hutchins, BuzzPlant owner and author of Faith-Based Marketing and The Recommendation Age, noted in a statement on the survey that it was encouraging to see churches integrating with social media.
"What the survey shows is that they use it regularly and see it as one of their most important outreach tools. As more and more resources are devoted to social media in churches, the congregations will become even more connected to each other and their community," said Hutchins.
Liberatore agrees that the importance of social media has been growing in his ministry. "I've used social media in my ministry quite a bit especially in the last two years and I send out all kinds of things. I do a lot of teaching, I do pastoral care over social media, small snippets of things," he said.
Pointing out the changing ways in which people now communicate, he said the older members of his flock are recognizing the need to participate in the changing culture and several of them have already approached him for help in using social media tools. This week, he will be teaching a class to some of his older congregants on using social media.
"The culture [back then] was everybody went to church and you sat and listened to long lectures and sermons and things like that. But people just don't do that today like they did back then. I'm not saying that no one does it, but I'm interested in the people who don't know God," said Liberatore.
Controversial pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Robert Jeffress, told CBS in a recent report that allowing congregants to use social media during services is something the church has been considering for several months and plans on taking up the issue once they move into their new $130 million campus on Easter Sunday, March 31.
"Look, you're not going to keep people from using their iPhones and why not use them for good instead of for bad so I applaud anything that uses technology to spread the gospel," said Jeffress in the interview.
"Right now we are focused on getting into our new campus, we open up on Easter Sunday so as soon as we make that great move and we invite all of our DFW residents to come celebrate with us, once we are in there I think we'll talk about how to use the technology for good," he added.