Building mission outreach and discipleship through Facebook

November 05, 2013

Community connections, through Facebook, can grow the mission outreach and discipleship of a faith community.  What took place at Old Hickory United Methodist Church is evidence of creative opportunities made possible by a social media connection.
Old Hickory is a section of metropolitan Nashville named in honor of President Andrew Jackson.  It’s “a very Facebook dependent community,” said Rev. Jay Voorhees, the congregation’s lead Pastor.  “One of our largest demographics in the community is what’s called ‘digital dependents.'  They’re people who live on Facebook.”
Old Hickory UMC had had a small summer children’s program for many years.  Voorhees remembered that “it hadn’t been very well promoted.”
But that all changed.  In an effort to expand it “I put a message on Facebook one day, sometime after the first of the year,” he remembered, telling the community about the idea and asking, “Hey, is anyone interested?”  
“Over twenty people from the community responded immediately.  They said, ‘yes, we’re really excited about this.  We want to do it.’”
The group met to pull things together.  Almost $10,000 was raised to support the children’s summer program from private donations in the community.  The church’s contribution was only about $500 of the total budget.
By the end of the summer “we had had seventy-five kids come through the camp and we also had seventy-five adult volunteers, almost a one-to-one ratio.  And of that only about ten were members of the church. One volunteer who taught a class on song writing ended up joining the church and becoming a member.”
What was the impact of social media on the summer experience of children in the community?  “We were really pleased seeing how a very simple Facebook ask really translated into a major program for our church” Voorhees said.
New understandings
The demographics of  the community, the Facebook use, and the interests of Old Hickory’s residents were well documented.  “It’s only recently that we put together how all that fits together,” he added.  
“The ‘digital dependent’ group wants to be engaged in service projects.  They’re more likely to show up for service projects.”
When the congregation thought about how to get people into the church and involved in activities “we tended to think in other ways…not ‘Well, let’s create an opportunity for folks to serve so that they can serve their way into the lifestyle of discipleship’…we tended to want them to come attend a worship service or go to a class or get a set of beliefs and then they’ll serve out of that.”
Voorhees noted that the model needs to be turned around completely.  
“This group (the ‘digital dependents’) wants to serve.  They want to help.  They want opportunities to be hands on.  So, how do we offer those opportunities and in the midst of that build the relationships that lead them, then, into the deeper life of discipleship?”
Facebook makes possible that community connection, and then a new way of mission engagement leading to discipleship.