Congregations are feeling their way through the “social media,” such as Facebook and Twitter, and are finding they need to develop new forms of etiquette to adapt such innovations to their ministries.
The National Catholic Reporter (May 29) notes that the cell phone texting network known as Twitter is the “newest technology arriving in contemporary church services … church leaders are inviting worshippers to tweet and text their way through services as a way to share their prayers and reflections with neighbors in the pew” or with their families and friends who may not be attending services. In some churches, pastors pose questions to worshipers, asking them to text responses, which are displayed on a screen.
The other type of twittering is more informal, as parishioners “tweet” their reflections to the service, much as they might take notes. The New York Times (July 5) notes that while evangelicals pioneered the use of the social media for their churches, today “religious groups from Episcopalians to Orthodox Jews have signed up” for such networks. The article continues: “In online debates and private discussions, leaders of all faiths have been weighing pros and cons and diagramming the boundaries of acceptable interactions: Should the congregation have a Facebook page, or should it be the imam’s or the priest’s? Should there be limited access? Censoring? Is it appropriate for a clergy member to `friend’ a minor?”
A central question is whether these forms of media sidestep traditional authority and means of control. When worshipers can intersperse their own comments with the liturgy and sermon, such interactions are a particular challenge to centralized and hierarchical institutions, such as the Catholic Church, that have a standardized form of worship. Another effect of these networks is that they create varying levels of “community” within a congregation.
For instance, Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York has attracted a small, but growing community of followers from as far afield as Europe and California, as well as those nearby. A church employee transmits snippets of the service, with participants following on Twitter. These “slender” connections to the church are sometimes interspersed with actual visits to a service.