Why Twitter could be the next form of Ministry

Twitter is an amazingly versatile tool; the ways in which it can be used is limited only by human imagination. One of my favourite, and one of the earliest, examples of Twitter innovation is a bakery in Londonwhich used Twitter to tell potential customers when fresh goods were ready:

https://twitter.com/#!/AlbionsOven/media/grid

The system, named Baker Tweet, uses a control panel next to the oven. As bakers remove hot food, they turn a dial to select the product and press a switch. A twitter update – or “tweet” -is sent.

Londoners can follow what is happening via the Twitter name albionsoven, and more than 300 people have signed up already. “We’ve been amazed by the response. It has made a big difference to sales,” said Mr Prescott. “We generally update once a day as we don’t want to overwhelm people, but we’re now thinking of offering updates at unusual times – for instance, as we’re in Shoreditch, offering fresh bread later at night – or running special offers.”

The service was developed by Andrew Zolty at marketing firm Poke. He said: “Our office is opposite the bakery, and the idea started as an office joke – we thought it would be great to get food as soon as it comes out of the oven.”

You don’t have to look long and hard to find other interesting ways that Twitter has been used; as a cat flap monitor, to report when a baby kicks and as a crowd-sourced weather map! Those last three examples could arguably dismissed as being gimmicky/pointless, but what they do have in common is that they require creative thinking. After all, Twitter is just a tool; without our imagination then its potential cannot be realised!

On November 9th 2011, it was my passion for Twitter and social media that led me to found the first Twitter Remembrance Service. My initial thought was ‘why hasn’t this (or something similar) been done before?’ It seemed like such a simple, obvious idea to me. Yet the more I thought about it, the more developed the idea became. So our hymns were sourced from YouTube, sermons and prayers were divided into 140 character chunks, a 2 minute silence would be observed, and the names of loved ones were provided, on the fly, by our followers. Another unique element of the service was that that it was planned by people from around the UK, using nothing more than a closed Facebook group, a few emails and the occasional phone call. And the result, if I may say so myself, was astounding. On Friday morning, before the start of the service, we had over 1300 followers, which grew during the service. In total, we reached approximately 4000 people. The stream of people naming loved ones was so great that at its peak we were Reposting/Retweeting about one tweet per second! As you can probably imagine, the whole thing was very emotionally moving.

This was quite possibly the first time that Twitter had been used like this, with a significant amount of people focusing all their attention on one account in such a short space of time. Furthermore, by bringing a traditional service of Remembrance to a new audience, using a digital medium, we changed the experience of worship completely. Yet once we’d worked out the finer details, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

The reason I’m telling you all this is because I think that more churches, organisations and individuals should be using Twitter, or other forms of social media, to expand their reach and to bring their gifts to a new audience. This could be as simple as providing a Twitter summary of the weekly sermon, or delivering an entire pre-planned service. And if you, or someone you know, has the skills to implement this, why not? I will close by giving you a few hints and starting points:

  • Think about what your church, your organisation or you can offer to the world. Is it the power of your message, the diversity of opinions represented by your community, or a fresh look on real-world problems? Whatever it is, decide how this could be communicated using social media.
  • Look at other ways that Christianity is represented on social media. Two good starting points are Natwivity and Online Carols, but also see what churches and organisations are doing on a daily basis.
  • ‘Branding’ is very important. Make it very clear to potential followers who you are and what you’re about.
  • Finally, if you think that your idea has potential, or you’ve found a gap that needs filling, go for it! You’ll be amazed what you can achieve!

About RightSaidJames

Advocate of the arts (especially independent or student-led), technology and social media and lover of culture, food & drink, politics & current affairs, Methodism and Radio 4 comedy. Founder of the 2011 Twitter Remembrance Service (@Poppy_Tweet) and interested in ways that churches and Christian organisations can engage new and existing audiences using modern, accessible technology.