Prayer books, rosary meetings, the church bulletin, the sermon. Those are some of the ways a house of worship used to stay connected with its parishioners on a weekly basis.
Websites, Facebook, Twitter, youtube, Podcasts. Those are the new world order — and accessible 24/7.
Faith hasn’t changed, but the way God’s message is delivered to the people sure has.
Today’s house of worship is often plugged in to social media. And nowhere is that more important than a church in its beginning stages. Take the Restored Church at 47 N. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre, which opened its doors in September 2013, or New Hope Foursquare Church, at 489 S. Main St., Wilkes-Barre.
You could say both churches “Like” Facebook.
“Social media was one of the primary things we have used for marketing and getting the word out about New Hope Church,” said the Rev. Susanne Bolt, who leads the congregation with her husand, the Rev. Richard Bolt. The Bolts restarted the existing church in 2010 and set up a website and Facebook page. They also use Twitter.
“People’s main way of communicating today is through their smartphone,” Pastor Tim Walker of the Restored Church said. “We live in a very instant culture. Today people are very oriented to quick, short, snappy updates, not long reams of paper or long-winded brochures.”
Since its opening, Walker boasts, his church has attracted more than 1,500 followers on Facebook. That’s why this year, he said, the Restored Church built a line item for Facebook advertising into its budget.
Social media have been an integral part of both churches since their beginning stages. New Hope has a relaxed but focused “blue jeans” atmosphere, allowing faithful to come as they are. Restored Church also takes a similar stance, stating that “there are no perfect people.”
In September 2013, Pastors Tim Walker and Dan Nicholas, college dorm mates, officially launched Restored Church with five house churches meeting weekly. They had started a church in Scranton and recruited a launch team to set up in Wilkes-Barre.
One of the ways the church reached out to members was through a youtube promotional video, Walker said.
Although New Hope existed in Wilkes-Barre since 1989, the Bolts joined the church in December 2010. Before that, Bolt believes, the church never reached out to followers through social media.
The Restored Church and New Hope Church both have websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Restored Church also uses MailChimp to gain subscribers to email weekly updates, and sermons are offered via Podcast.
“Social media gives us a good avenue to post a lot of pictures and show a variety of ways that we are reaching out to the community,” Walker said. “It visualizes online the work that we are trying to do and gives our followers a good idea of what we are all about.”
“We make it a point to regularly place inspirational thoughts and encouragement for those who follow us on Facebook,” Bolt said. “We monitor things very closely so that nothing inappropriate gets placed on the site. We have had people try to use it as a forum for debate, but we don’t allow that as it’s not productive nor the right forum.”
New Hope also allows the community to send in prayer requests through Facebook.
Bolt said social media have been more productive than any other media the church has used. “We currently have people who learned about our church from Facebook who are now faithful attenders,” she said. “We have had a number of visitors and current attenders who have discovered us through our website as well. I am a firm believer that today’s generation wants to explore us as a church online first before they visit us in person.”
Several people at the Restored Church take turns handling the posting duties on a daily basis. “No one likes a static website,” Walker said. “So we really keep that updated. We go on Facebook all the time.”
During inclement weather, Facebook has been a blessing to keep the community updated. Walker has posted photos of snow-shoveling at the church with the message that service is still on.
Still, Walker maintains that Facebook will never replace the face-to-face communication and comfort of attending a weekly service
“Most won’t use these mediums to replace church, but they are thrilled to have them there when they can’t attend for any reason,” he said.