Tweet Talking’s Fine, Mennonite Ministers Told, but First ‘Know Thyself’

Brian Gumm of the EMU School of Leadership Training offers insights into spreading the church’s message in the digital age during a seminar at Eastern Mennonite Seminary on Tuesday. Gumm discussed both high-tech and old-fashioned ways to communicate. Photo by Michael Reilly

By Tim Chapman, Daily News-Record

Before the Internet, one of the more public ways for a church to communicate to members and nonmembers alike was on its roadside sign. Today, though, pastors can tweet or update the congregation’s Facebook page.

Some churches are learning how to balance these diverse media, and Brian Gumm, an Eastern Mennonite University student, believes a few principles apply to both the old and new ways of spreading God’s word.

“A big part of it is to know your audience, but also know the technology, to know the medium you’re using, but also to know yourself,” Gumm said Tuesday at the EMU School of Leadership Training, an annual convention for Mennonites. The leadership school began Monday and ends today with a closing celebration at 7 p.m.

Gumm and Laura Amstutz, a communications coordinator at the Eastern Mennonite Seminary, advised a group of 12 local and out-of-town ministers on how to effectively use everything from social media to the church bulletin.

“I think the idea of critically looking at each one of the pieces of technology and understanding what are you trying to do, and does this really do that, was valuable,” said Tom Kauffman, the Ohio Mennonite Conference minister.

Find The Right Talent

The pair took turns explaining the basics of different media, while stressing the importance of finding members of the congregation best suited to and most interested in helping manage the flow of information and technology.

Laura Amstutz, seminary communications coordinator
Laura Amstutz, EMS communications coordinator

“Know who likes to take photos in your congregation,” Amstutz said. “And don’t discount the youth. They really like to take photos and find interesting angles. It’s part of their culture.”

But Amstutz and Gumm also reminded the ministers to be wary of temptations that lead to an excess use of any medium.

Ministers should encourage families to develop guidelines for Facebook, Twitter and other Internet platforms.

“In a short amount of time, Facebook has deeply penetrated American culture,” Gumm said. “If you get sucked into Twitter, you can get stuck reading or tweeting like crazy.”

But if used in moderation, social media can be beneficial for churches to reach out to younger members about events or upcoming sermons.

Not Too Social

Gumm also discussed the benefits of churches or leaders regularly blogging with sermon brainstorming, pictures from church events, and video and audio from services.

He was quick to discourage allowing comments on blogs and Facebook pages because of the vitriol often found in comments all over the Internet.

“Comment sections … are often such a wasteland,” he said. “They can be really combative.”

Gumm also discouraged churches from trying to be too “cute” or political on their roadside signs. His PowerPoint presentation said “Please, PLEASE say No” to cheesy messages on signs, but Kauffman and others disagreed with strictly putting clerical information on the signs.

“There’s a church in our neighborhood that’s doing this and they love it,” Kauffman said. “People have really identified that church with that sign.”

Gumm worries about neighboring churches getting into arguments and trying to make points with their signs. He acknowledged that if catchy sayings on a sign do well in a certain community, a church should stick with something that works.

He also doesn’t want churches to become lazy and rely too much on this older form of communication.

“This is not a replacement for outreach,” Gumm said. “This can be an important way to communicate something, but you have to understand the limits of it and put some thought into it.”