'If we do not embrace social media we're essentially putting a nail in our own coffin.'
PETER BOWDEN: The Arlington website was redesigned two years ago. What was the vision behind the new site?
JUNE HEROLD: We wanted to take church life, which is essentially social content in itself, and put it online for people who were unable to attend for any given reason. We wanted to create something where people could still be a part of church life at any time from anywhere.
BOWDEN: What have the benefits been?
HEROLD: We are able to share our spiritual experiences or journeys more because we go online. We either leave pieces of ourselves there—meaning our opinions and thoughts—or we’re actually online together at the same time. I know that the phrase “sacred presence” in many religions implies a presence that is in the here and now, that is about the divine. But to me, the presence when we’re online together is sacred.
BOWDEN: Your congregation has built a self-contained social network. Why not rely more on popular sites such as Facebook?
HEROLD: Your church represents a body, a living and breathing organism. You give up part of your identity and part of the ability to function the way you’d like to online if you put yourself solely on Facebook and Twitter. They have different uses, and I recommend that congregations do use them. We chose a platform that would give us tremendous freedom to own our experience online.
BOWDEN: What would you say to congregations reluctant to engage with social media?
HEROLD: I would say that if we do not embrace social media, we’re essentially putting a nail in our own coffin. That’s how strongly I feel about this. It is a fact of life. It’s nothing to be afraid of. The tools nowadays give you plenty of options to control your privacy. I would say that if privacy is your number one issue, please remember that our history is full of people who died for their religion. None of us are going to die for taking a chance on social media. Social media is the heretic’s tool.
Listen to an audio recording [mp3] of the 40-minute conversation from which this article was excerpted. Read reports about social media at the 2011 General Assembly.
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Peter Bowden is a Unitarian Universalist speaker, trainer, and coach specializing in congregational growth, outreach, and media. Learn more about his work and projects at Peter Bowden—Helping Unitarian Universalists lead and grow amazing congregations.
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