Editor's Note: Drew Goodmanson, co-founder and pastor of San Diego's Kaleo Church and a church web consultant, conducted a research project earlier this year on the state of social media for churches. In Part 1, Drew explained the research project, the scope of the findings, and the first of three discoveries that church leaders, business administrators, and pastors should note. In Part 2 today, he looks at a variety of online tools that churches are using for connection and community efforts.
Discovery No. 2: Tokbox Can Help Build Community
Building relationships and community online is an oft-cited goal of social networking. In the research, 40 percent of church leaders say making an effort to connect with, and support, their online communities was one of the most effective ways to use the web. Yet a third of ministry leaders felt building real community was one of the top challenges to being successful online.
In contrast, only 5 percent of church members felt building community online is a challenge. Many church members already see the benefits of online communities as they use tools to connect with past schoolmates and friends throughout the day.
Tokbox is one example of a social, video, and voice technology that can be used for building this community and supporting relationships. Tokbox, similar to Skype, offers free video calling and video conferencing. Conferencing is often equated with business meetings, but Cynthia Ware used it for a small group of moms that she led.
"When you're at a certain place in your young motherhood, either pregnant, with a newborn, and/or sick toddlers, it's just too hard to go to church. Often, doctors even recommend that moms keep infants home for at least 6 weeks to build up their immunities," Cynthia says. "But the cruel twist of fate is that one of the most important needs of a young mother is a support group to draw encouragement, instruction, and resource from. Forget trying to get her out of the house for support. Bring the support to her.
Tokbox provides a platform where you can invite a group of mothers to have a conversation together online—let's say every Monday night at 7:00—and they don't have to get dressed, don't have to get baby dressed, and all the rest. We just sit in front of our computers, kids in our laps, and enjoy the support of others just like us. It's a cell group really, a place teeming with life, and it really wouldn't happen any other way due to our season in life."
Another time, a group of women threw a fellow mom (someone who had moved away from her support group) an online Tokbox shower.
The software splits a user's computer screen as many ways as there are people. To avoid noisy feedback, everyone can wear headphones, which allows everyone to talk and hear each other. It's not the same as being physically present, but it offers a tremendous step up from being isolated.
Discovery No. 3: What Members Want
In our study, one-third of ministry leaders plan to invest more in the creation or expansion of an online, members-only community website. When asked what the top features and functions the leaders sought, they ranked the following seven (listed from highest to lowest):
1. Event scheduling, registration, and management.
2. Integration with an existing church website.
3. Ability to connect people to serving opportunities based on interest or gifts.
4. Ability to post prayer requests or needs.
5. Member communication and messaging.
6. Resource sharing.
7. Connecting people within public interest or home groups.
When we asked church members, this was their top 7:
1. Ability to find, register, and/or get details for events.
2. Ability to join and interact with home/bible study groups.
3. Ability to find serving opportunities at the church based on interest or gifts.
4. Ability to post prayer requests or needs.
5. Ability to access a phone/email directory.
6. Ability to share resources.
7. Discussion groups and/or forums.
Events and event management topped the lists for both church leaders and congregants. Most of the remaining items on the wish lists were similar.
But there was one primary difference: Church congregants want access to a member directory, while church leaders want managerial features, such as member communication and integration with their existing websites.
Many of the desired features, such as prayer requests or connecting people to opportunities to serve based on interest or gifts, are fairly church-specific features that numerous church-specific community sites, such as Cobblestone Community Network, Member Hub, or Church Community Builder, seek to address.
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