[Revisiting] The United Church of Christ Social Media Case Study

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 In October, I looked at the population of my mother's United Church of Christ congregation and I noticed that it was relatively devoid of teens, 20-somethings, and folks in their early thirties. How could the church use social media to retain these potential members, I asked. I took a look at how the church was presently utilizing social media, met with Rev. Ben Guess, Director of Communications there, discussed their plans, and then offered a series of criticisms.

I had noted a several-decade-long decline in UCC congrgations, and that the decline has been steadily occurring at the same time that participation in Evangelical Churchs has steadily grown. While there are many reasoned meditations on these two movements, and how the ascent and descent are interwtined, I found the decline in participation among younger members considerably interesting, especially since the relatively decentralized, dogma-free, human-rights-obsessed UCC's profile matches pretty well with that of the tendencies and preferences of the Millennial Generation. Where the church lacks a flare for dogma, it holds an innate drive for social justice issues - and I had imagined that for a generation that largely (though by no means exclusively) has a cultural background in Christianity (in the US, at least), but a relatively secular suspicion of organized religion, this could be a natural meeting place for those looking for a social net centered on organization and spirituality.

Like the tech-obsessive I am, when I offered my initial critique of the UCC's social media approach, my suggestions and criticisms were largely centered around aesthetic and choice of platforms. I had wholly ignored the aspects of the church's character and agenda that are both appealing to youth and implementable by way of social media integration, and this is the direction that I'll take the study/suggestions in. I've been spending the past month thinking about and processing what I learned on the Millennials Changing America tour - how to interpret and understand the techniques [used, engineered and implemented by inventive Millennial activists] that inspired, moved, and motivated me. Between reflecting on this meditative period and looking ahead, I'm concentrating much more on organic, holistic off/online visions and organizational approaches and then building suggestions for a social media strategy into those visions, rather than ontop of preexisting ones. My aesthetic and technical critiques are still relevant, as it is of particular importance to be sure to be able to maintain the attention of the passive, uncommitted user or passer-by, but the following is an observation of what the church has going for it, how it can ultimately be made appealing to a more-youthful audience, lubricated with social media tools, and implemented accordingly.

The plan and meditation takes into consideration my own relationship with the church, the relationship of other young people with the church (as collected through formal and informal interviews), observation and dissection of some of the more-successful approaches to organization and social media campaigns through 2008, and an appreciation for 2009 being a year in which social media outreach is, from the incarnation of any outreach plan, built into the DNA of a great mission and approach (as opposed to overlaid on a pre-existing goal).