The Meredith Gould on Church Social Media (and book giveaway!)

meredith-gouldRecently I had the chance to interview Meredith Gould, author of numerous books, the most recent being, The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways. I wanted to talk to Meredith about #chsocm, or church social media, and she had some tremendous insights and advice to offer. The woman that I refer to as “the apostle of the internet” has been living at the intersection of faith, communications and technology, long before social media was social media, tireless in her faith. And she always has something to say, generously sharing her gifts and experience with all! (If you don’t believe me, visit her website, or follow Meredith on Twitter.)

Do you want to win a book? Anyone who leaves a comment on any of the blogs where this interview is posted will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of The Social Media Gospel. Rules can be found at the end of the post.

Now for questions – and answers – about the practical and pastoral dimensions of the mission field of @chsocm from Meredith’s point of view.

As a social media minister, I’m often told by others that they “don’t have the time” for social media. The implication seems to be that #chsocm is something for lazy people with nothing better to do. What would you say to this?

After heaving a deep sigh and looking toward heaven, I’d explore this naysayer’s knowledge of what social media is and why it works well for community-building among people of faith.

I’m pretty sure I’d quickly discover that the naysayer doesn’t realize social media is called “social” media because it facilitates conversations that can lead to quality relationships that in turn lead to community.

Probing a bit further, I’d probably discover that the naysayer does not, in fact, understand the amount of commitment and effort it takes to build communities IRL (in real life). And I’d probably also discover that the naysayer is clueless about tools for easily maintaining a credible online presence to build community.

Depending on my mood, I might ask questions like, “How much time do you think it takes to develop any ministry and then get people actively involved?” Next, I’d ask, “If you had a tool that could speed up that process, why wouldn’t you want to learn how to use it?” I might also ask, “What’s really doing on? What worries you about social media?”

If I were completely fed-up with the naysayer’s resistance, negativity, and lack of coachability, I might ask, “Are you always so uncharitable toward people who are developing new ways to preach, teach, and live the Gospel?”

Nah, I wouldn’t say that.

I’d say, “Don’t want to use social media? Then, don’t but please don’t prevent others from sharing the Gospel with these tools.”

Many of us who are active in social media ministry see this as an offering of hospitality. How can worship communities use social media as a way of welcome? OK, that is a big question… let me rephrase it by asking, what are the top 2 or 3 best practices of social media hospitality?

Great question! I’m going to mention three best practices because I love the number three, for reasons that should be obvious!

1) For your church website and e-newsletter: Don’t just post social media icons/buttons. Include “teaser copy” that’s a call to action like, “continue the conversation at:” or “build community at:” or “join us in between Sundays at:” And please don’t bury information about these ways to connect in your website or e-newsletter footer.

2) When setting up social media platforms: Make sure that images, color palette, font, description and other forms of “branding” is consistent across platforms. While this might seem like a picky technical issue, this level of coherence conveys stability, integrity, and clarity. More hospitable!

3) While using social media platforms: Be inviting and gracious to newcomers; generous with regular visitors. Know when to use email or pick up the phone to reach out when online communication is devolving in clarity or tone.

Many parishes or dioceses fear social media because they see a potential for something nefarious, worrying that it might compromise safety, especially for the young. What are some assurances against this, as you see it?

We’re now experienced enough with digital to understand the vital importance of privacy and protection, especially for youth and other vulnerable populations. Every social media platform offers rigorous ways to lock down accounts for more privacy. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to be getting help or taking time to learn how to set up privacy functions.

In addition, I encourage churches at the local and diocesan levels to either create or adapt existing guidelines for social media use. I include a detailed appendix about this (Appendix B: Yes You Need a Social Media Policy) in The Social Media Gospel as well as examples. Trust me, adapting an existing policy (even from churches in other denominations) is way more efficient than making one up from scratch.

Bigger issue that’s too big to get into here: “privacy” vs. “secrecy.” Church has gotten into a whole lot of avoidable trouble and scandal by confusing “privacy” with “secrecy.” I discuss this in more detail in my earlier book about church communications ministry, The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today.

Along those lines, how do you counter the old trope that says social media is really for “young people”?

I’d reach for high quality dark chocolate and let that flow into my system before suggesting a visit to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Data collected by the Pew Research Center puts that erroneous assumption to rest. Lately, when anyone asks how to find something online, I send them to this link.

Contest rules: Anyone who enters a comment on any of the blogs where this post appears will be entered into a drawing. The deadline for comments is Friday, July 26, 2013 at 8pm Eastern Time. The winner will be contacted for address and shipping information.   The winner will be contacted for address and shipping information.

Preach the Gospel at All Times, If Necessary Use Twitter

SocialMediaGospelI first encountered Meredith Gould in 2007, in the comment boxes at Fr. Austin Fleming’s blog, A Concord Pastor Comments. Call it profiling, but I was pretty sure that Meredith was Jewish, yet she appeared to be Catholic. I am a Catholic with many Jewish relatives and friends so I was curious indeed. Could Meredith be mishpoca? My inner Gladys Kravitz got to work, which helped me learn more about Meredith, and to get to know her.

Over the years I have come to know that there is no better guide to the world of church social media, or #ChSocM, than Meredith Gould. Wise, funny, insightful, determined, and filled with a deep faith, she has traversed the internet like a digital Saint Paul. Instead of places like Troas, Samothrace, Neapolis, and Philippi, her digital journey carries her Twitterfeed around the world at a dizzying pace.

This is why I have always called Meredith the “apostle of the internet,” and now she has a new book that offers one of the best foundations for any person or faith community interested in using social media. The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways was recently published by Liturgical Press. Tomorrow I will be posting an interview with Meredith, which will also offer the opportunity for one reader to win a copy of the book. I had the privilege of reading an advance copy and providing a blurb for the publisher, so I have worked with the book for awhile now, and it is a great resource.

Until tomorrow, go have a look at her website, her personal blog, her church social media blog, or follow her on Twitter. If you can’t wait to win the book, go get a copy, or copies, for you and your worship community now.  Here is a video introduction for you:

Here and there, this and that

That's me on the left... wait, on the right. Well - both! Some photo trickery for you.

That’s me on the left… wait, on the right. Well – both! Some photo trickery for you.

Once again days go by and posts do not go up. It is a pattern, and while posting itself may not be consistent, this pattern sure is! Last week found me awash in meeting deadlines. Procrastination is a particular gift of mine, and it is a gift that stands tall in my life. This week won’t be that different – I guess no week is that different for me!

imagesMore about the writing that I have been working on in a moment, but first things first… Last week a truly wonderful book was published, and I cannot recommend it to you highly enough. The Social Media Gospel, Sharing the Good News in New Ways by Meredith Gould is now available! A full review will follow, but for now, hear me when I say that this is a great book. It was an honor to have been asked to read an early copy and to provide what is commonly known as a book blurb to the publisher, so I have known about this work for some time. I am thrilled that the book is finally out, and in such an attractive volume. What – you want an ebook? Of course that is available, too! Order either version up right here. Parishes or groups wanting to embark on social media ministry should consider bulk orders; contact the publisher for further info.

There is no one who knows more about faith and social media than the woman whom I have called, “the apostle of the internet.” Meredith Gould is tireless in her promotion of #chsocm, aka, church social media. Go check out that #chosm link, or better yet, put that Twitter hashtag to good use by checking it out, and using it as well.

Along those same lines, I attended a great workshop from Friday to Saturday, which dovetails quite nicely with the book. It was a tremendous blessing to return to the (greatly refurbished) peaceful and prayerful place of respite and retreat known as St. Mary’s on the Lake. What? You live in the area and you have not been there? Oh, you *must* go! St. Mary’s is the summer home of the Paulist Fathers who are based in New York City.

There is a special place in my heart for the Paulists who “seek to meet the contemporary culture on its own terms, to present the Gospel message in ways that are compelling but not diluted, so that the fullness of the Catholic faith may lead others to find Christ’s deep peace and ‘unreachable quietness.’ Paulists do not condemn culture, nor do they try to conform the Gospel to it. Rather, we preach the Gospel in new ways and in new forms, so that the deep spiritual longings of the culture might find fulfillment in Jesus Christ. To this end, Paulists use printing presses, movie cameras, and the Internet to give voice to the words of Christ – the Word Himself – to a new generation of Americans.” 

Larry Rice, CSP proudly holding up his copy of The Social Media Gospel by Meredith Gould!

Larry Rice, CSP proudly holding up his copy of The Social Media Gospel by Meredith Gould!

Sorry, that was long but so necessary to understand this great order of priests. You can find out more about them by visiting their website. They may be best known to a generation of younger Catholics and other spiritual seekers at Busted Halo.

The workshop was lead by Larry Rice, CSP. Father Larry was previously unknown to me, but got a big thumbs up from people who are both familiar with the Paulists and the power of church social media, my dear friends, Mike Hayes and Paul Snatchko.  It was indeed a great workshop and we all learned and shared a lot in a short time. I don’t know how I did not know Father Larry before, but I know him now and am grateful for that!

By the way, if you can get yourself up to St. Mary’s on the Lake for a visit, I urge you to do so. Come on people, gather your parishes, your worship communities, your small faith sharing groups, or others with whom you gather in prayer – all are welcome! People of all faiths are invited to St. Mary’s on the Lake. You will find great natural beauty, peace, a quiet corner of Lake George, so please consider a visit.

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The accommodations are freshly painted and the common spaces are upgraded. As for the food… What can I possibly say? Best. Food. Ever. Seriously – if you do not believe me, go and find out for yourself. Site manager Ethan Allen has such a tremendous spirit of hospitality that you will feel gathered up in welcome the minute you drive up. And the man can cook – it is truly heavenly food!

So all of this has kept me busy along with some writing assignments for offline matters. I am also gearing up to take the helm at one of my favorite blogs, Catholic Sensibility, next week. Todd is going on retreat, and he must really need one if he hands the keys over to me. Honestly – what a privilege to write in this esteemed spot, easily one of my favorite blogs in all of #chsocm. I will somehow do for Catholic Sensibility what I can’t do for myself, and that is to post every day. Let’s see how that goes. (I have been preparing, so watch out world!) Todd is going on what sounds like an amazing retreat at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, a place that I dream of visiting.  Anyway, I will cross post whatever I publish at Catholic Sensibility, so stay tuned.

That’s all the news from here for now, more to follow! Thanks for reading. Why don’t you use the comments to tell us about what you’ve been up to? Stats tell me that a lot of you are out there reading, so if you want to speak up, I would love to hear from you!