Pastors go online to reach out
While he was skeptical at first Josh Corbett has embraced the social networking site Facebook. In the beginning, the director of youth ministries at Rosemount United Methodist Church didn't want to get on the bandwagon. But as the old adage goes, if you can't beat 'em join 'em.
After taking a student up on an offer to show him how to work Facebook, Corbett found the site could be a valuable tool. He set up a group on the networking site for the RUMC Youth Group and found it allowed him to better connect to the high school and middle school teens in his youth group. The free site also has helped him save some money.
A Facebook group is essentially a web page within the site with information about a certain group. Group administrators can update information that then goes out to each member of the group. The members willl receive the updates when they check their personal profile.
Facebook users have the option of making groups open to the public or private. Corbett said he originally set the RUMC group up to be open to the public but after some parents expressed concerns he changed it to a private group.
As a private group Corbett either must invite or approve all members. Without his approval the site can not be seen. With the private setting Corbett can track who uses the site.
About 60 percent of the youth group are on Facebook. Additionally he said parents of teens access the site as well and former youth group members.
The Facebook group is the youth group's main mode of communication these days. And while he didn't expect it, Corbett said it has worked out wonderfully and has helped increase attendance at events.
"It's a great resource," Corbett said.
Corbett said he thinks it has worked out so well because he is getting to kids where they already are.
"I asked some of the kids why they were coming more and they explained that they had seen the update on Facebook. I asked them if they ever read the newsletter and most of them answered 'no'" Corbett said.
Before using Facebook, Corbett said he mailed out a monthly newsletter, which he no longer does.
"Between paper and postage we save $1,000 a year," Corbett said. "Now we use that money for scholarships and other things."
In addition, Corbett said using Facebook is less time consuming than sending out a newsletter. And it's easier to send out last minute updates.
"(Facebook) has been a awesome tool," Corbett said.
RUMC isn't the only Rosemount church that has started using the social networking web site. Nic Stevens, youth pastor at Community of Hope Church, said he uses Facebook to connect with the teens in his youth program.
While his use of site isn't nearly as extensive, Stevens said the site helps him keep in contact with the nearly 80 teens in his congregation. Stevens has a personal profile on the site, as do most of the kids in his youth group. That makes it an easy way to keep a presence in their lives.
Stevens said he prefers Facebook over MySpace, another social networking site, because they censor their advertising to certain age groups.
"They use some level of discretion," Stevens said.
In addition to using the social networking site, Stevens said he also has found other more recent technologies useful for reaching out. He said his group uses text messaging to get out information.
While using technologies has proved useful, Stevens said there are boundaries and that it can't replace time face to face.
"I will never solely rely on it, but it's a tool we can use to reach out," said Stevens.
While some churches in the community have embraced the technology others haven't. Neil Ristow, senior pastor at Lutheran Church of Our Savior, said while the church hasn't done anything with such sites it's something he's interested in looking into.
"Unfortunately we're behind but it's something I think I'm in favor of," said Ristow.