God on Facebook: Finding God in social media

Published: Wednesday, March 2 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

The biggest problem is keeping the Facebook page current. "A facebook site that is not kept up to date and does not have new material put on it is a negative thing," Bloss said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops came up with a set of Social Media Guidelines to help guide churches in using social media:

— Define appropriate boundaries for communications — such as acceptable-use policies

— Include examples of Codes of Conduct like: "All posts and comments should be marked by Christian charity and respect for the truth. They should be on topic and presume the good will of other posters. Discussion should take place primarily from a faith perspective. No ads please."

— Provide recommendations on how to deal with difficult "fans."

— Provide links to trusted sites for reference.

— Remember that social media websites are global platforms. Online content is visible to anyone in the world.

Only five years ago, a few Mormon bishops at BYU were recommending that students abandon their Facebook pages. Now, the conversation is more about using Facebook as a tool to share faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses Facebook for communicating at the church-wide level. Local congregations have private websites that are fully accessible only to members. Individuals, of course, have their own pages with various levels of religious expression.

Some of the LDS Church's official Facebook pages include: facebook.com/lds, facebook.com/mormon, facebook.com/ldsnewsroom, facebook.com/ldsseminary and facebook.com/ldstech.

The Southeast Christian Church uses its Facebook page to post videos made by members — such as ones about the financial seminar, a recent charity trip to Haiti to work on an orphanage or one about some of their small study groups they have throughout the valley. "Personal testimonials where people are talking about their own lives and their own spiritual connection, were the things that had the most impact, the most hits, (were) the most listened to," Bloss said. "But I don't think Facebook is the place to go deep into doctrine and theology. It's more of a place to see how people's lives are being impacted by what the church believes. And if it makes people more interested, they can come and visit and get a deeper understanding."

Jacobsen said that online interaction of church members with non-church members should facilitate offline interaction. "The more you use it, the more time you spend face-to-face," Jacobsen said.

Today Facebook is about connecting and sharing — primarily between people who already know each other in real life. And while 86 percent of young people aged 18 to 29 use social media, about 40 percent of Protestant congregations don't use any social media. Bloss thinks this should change. "Social media is here to stay. It's the way the kids communicate these days," he said.

"It's here whether we like it or not. Let's use it."

e-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com Twitter: twitter.com/degroote

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