I’m always very interested to hear of ways in which we, in the church, are finding new ideas to serve the communities where we find ourselves and I’m particularly pleased when I hear of people using social media to benefit local communities.
When we think of engaging with people over the internet, using the social media platforms of Facebook and Twitter, for example, we tend to think about engagement being global, not local. (In one of my earlier posts I focused on a project in the Philippines that was being supported entirely by people on Facebook, from all around the world.)
Revd Sue Pegg is a Methodist presbyter who serves in the Market Weighton Circuit, in Yorkshire. Four years ago the church where she is Minister had less than thirty Sunday worshippers and only one child in the congregation. They were some £40,000 in debt following a building renovation project and this escalated to a massive £150,000 when the church hall was gutted by fire.
The church was committed to provide a Christian witness in the town; in fellowship, caring for others and service to the local community, so, undeterred by misfortune they opened up the church building.
Soon, a lady from the church noticed that young mums who dropped off their children at the local school were gathering outside the church to chat. Often they would be standing in the rain, so she asked them if they would like to come inside if the church “put the kettle on.”
The reply was that they would definitely come in if there was toast as well! This was the start of the Tea and Toast Project. Now up to 60 young families come to enjoy breakfast twice a week. The project liaises with a toy library, the Community Police and the story teller from the local library and is incredibly popular.
Sue Pegg is an extremely warm, friendly person and a regular Facebook user. Many of the young mums were also on Facebook and soon asked to be “friends”. This gave Sue a great opportunity to become part of their lives, to support and encourage them as young mums through all the challenges and problems faced by many young parents today. She found herself being a listening ear and an encourager. If anything is confidential then she finds Facebook “chat” feature to be really useful, taking conversations off the more public pages.
The church wanted to do more for these young families and decided to put on events for them in the school holidays. These have been well attended and Sue has found that advertising them via her Facebook page has been very effective.
This is not the only experience Sue has had of using social media in her ministry. She set up a “cyber church” group on Facebook and invited her Facebook friends to join. She says “It was interesting how many young parents asked for prayer and how others were interested in asking questions about the Christian faith.”
St Johns, Market Weighton now has approximately 80-100 worshippers on a Sunday morning with over a third being under 30 years of age. There are lots of children, teenagers and young families and for many the first contact has been through the Tea and Toast Project further enhanced by Facebook. And this summer they have just paid off the outstanding £150,000 and go into this church year debt free.
I find this is incredibly encouraging, to see such positive benefits coming from our engagement with social media. We all need to be finding more opportunities to start conversations like this; to open ourselves up to people and practice extravagant hospitality in our dealings with each other if we are to give people a taste of the love of God.