Our guest blogger this week is one of our very own Jim Fairchild. Jim attends Community of Christ in Topeka. Jim has been a co creator of this blog as he has taken on the responsibility of managing our website and doing all of our social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. He has learned a lot from this endeavor and is wanting to share some of that knowledge with you. So a big thanks for Jim being willing to share with us.
I have been a life long member of the RLDS/Community of Christ faith community. I was very active as a youth and attended Graceland College (University). Although I was seeking a career in health services, I was unable to find a suitable career path without further professional education. I was encouraged by friends, who also attended Graceland, to utilize my social science credits, to seek employment with the Missouri Department of Social Services. I worked in Child Protective Services as a rural field supervisor for almost ten years. I continued to remain interested in a health services administration career and obtained an administrative position at a Kansas psychiatric hospital in Topeka, which would permit me to attend KU and obtain a master’s degree in health services administration. I remained very active in the church in Topeka and served in the office of Priest.
After completing my professional training, I obtained employment as a healthcare administrator, working for several rural hospitals as a Chief Executive Officer. I spent the last fifteen years of my professional career as a healthcare administrator in the central part of the United States. While I had a successful career, my work took me far away from my faith community. Planning to return to Topeka upon retirement, I kept my membership with the Topeka congregation.
A few years ago, I retired and moved back to eastern Kansas. I also decided that in retirement I would maximize my time and talents in volunteer service to the church. I currently serve in the office of Elder, and serve as the Congregation Financial Officer.
My Invitational Ministry Plan
Early 1960s church membership statistics show the success of evangelizing methods. Effective use of the developing technology, personal evangelism materials, and a strong determination to proselytize, are among the many factors that account for the steady membership increase. I am very concerned about the decline of Community of Christ membership which was shared by Steve Veazey in his “Time to Act” message to the church. (September 2017)
In response to this “call to action” I looked for things that I could do as an individual, as well as, successful outreach methods that could easily be implemented in a local congregation. I have been always interested in Invitational Ministry, however my only experience was through proseltyzing “door-to-door” with tracts. Due to changes in cultural demographics and technology, this did not appear to be a viable option for Invitational Ministry.
Why Virtual Ministry?
I am familiar with D&C Section 155:7. But what does this scripture mean by “many techniques for proclaiming my word?” As Disciples, we are called to go places where we have never been, to do new things that we have never attempted and to be things we have never envisioned.
I decided to search the Internet for information regarding successful church growth strategies. There were numerous church growth websites, classes and books on the topic. I searched YouTube for presentations (videos) about successful ideas that other churches had used for church growth. I found many (free) video presentations on YouTube about using electronic outreach, including Church Websites and Church Social Media accounts to promote Church Growth. I thought outreach through Electronic Media might be a good methodology for me to utilize for invitational ministry, Invite People to Christ. I was computer literate but knew nothing about church websites or social media.
At the time, Community of Christ had very few resources on electronic outreach, however some Community of Christ Mission Centers were experimenting with this new technology, and sharing their information on line. (Community of Christ has since significantly increased it’s resources in this area and you will find a lot of this information on the Community of Christ YouTube page.) The Community of Christ Communications Department also provides free downloadable graphics which can be used for outreach.
OK, it’s time to act!
The Topeka Congregation had a free Weebly website which had been developed by a member, more than ten years ago. The website was still online, but no longer being managed, so I took responsibility for managing the Topeka Congregation website. The free Weebly software is limited and has ads. Based upon what I had learned, specific to church websites, I upgraded to the Weebly Pro website software and re-formatted the Topeka Congregation website.
I am not a Social Media person, and prior to this project I did not have an account, and knew very little about Social Media. However my research had indicated that churches should use Social Media for outreach, as it is a very effective outreach tool. So I learned (YouTube) about church Social Media. I established Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts for Topeka Community of Christ. Social Media is an ever changing technology. The learning is ongoing and systematic.
At the same time, Seventy Craig Hidy was developing a church group in Emporia, Kansas. This group is a “House Church” and doesn’t have a church building. Members of this group communicate by email concerning group activities. This group is also a Community of Christ Latter-day Seekers Ministry (Emporia Ministry). A website would be a good method to communicate the ministry’s presence in east-central Kansas for seekers.
Craig also thought a Blog might be beneficial for church outreach. I volunteered to set up and manage a website (website fees paid by MMC) for the Emporia Ministry, a Blog for Craig on the website, and Social Media accounts for the Emporia Group.
Aware of my success with Electronic Media Outreach for the Topeka Congregation and Emporia Ministry; Midlands Mission Center leadership asked me to do a presentation at the Fall 2018 Mission Learn. The Mission Learn presentation was titled: “Seize the 167!” An invaluable resource to my “Virtual Invitational Ministry” has been from a Canadian Company “Pro Church Tools” which sells software and services to churches for electronic and social media outreach. The company provides weekly videos on YouTube regarding the utilization of this ministry. This is a link to their “Seize the 167!” video for churches that inspired me to embrace this technology.
Progress, so far.
For the past two years I have been managing “Virtual Invitational Ministry” for one congregation (Topeka KS) and one group ministry (Emporia KS). How has that worked? As a congregation CFO, I am happy to report, that the Topeka Congregation has reduced their outreach expenditures (primarily for print ads) from $1100 per year to $150 per year for Weebly Pro Software.
In our previous efforts utilizing print media ads (yellow pages and newspaper) we had no measurable results for our expenses. We had not initiated any of the traditional prostelizing methods, door-to-door tracting, missionary home visits and special missionary preaching services for many years. Using Virtual Invitational Ministry, the Topeka Congregation Website averages over 1,000 visits per month and is open and working to extending our invitation to Christ, 24 hours per day every day of the year. The congregation also has daily posts to FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter. Website analytics indicate, other than our landing page, most visitors go to our “Activities” page to see how we are implementing the Mission of Christ in our community. I invite you to take a look at the Topeka Website and see what you think.
The Topeka Social Media accounts have a wide range of viewers, and I am focusing on improving engagement. I use these accounts to promote Community of Christ Mission Initiatives, Enduring Principles and Inviting People to join with us in Worship and Community. Our Twitter account averages about 8,000 views per month, with a high of 12,000 views per month.
The Midlands Mission Center pays for the Weebly Pro subscription for the Emporia Ministry of $150 per year. Using Virtual Invitational Ministry, the Emporia Ministry Website averages over 1,000 visits per month and is open and working to extending our invitation to Christ, 24 hours per day every day of the year. The ministry also has daily posts to FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter. Website analytics indicate, other than our landing page, most visitors go to this BLOG. I invite you to take a look at the Emporia Ministry website and see what you think.
The Emporia Social Media accounts have a wide range of viewers, and I am focusing on improving engagement. I use these accounts to promote this Blog, the Emporia Latter-day Seeker Ministry and Inviting people to join with us in Worship and Community. Our Twitter account averages about 6,500 views per month.
What can you do to help?
In a simple word “Share” and "Comment" on the Blog and Social Media Posts. Most of you probably have social media accounts. User data shows that FaceBook has over Two Billion active users per month, Instagram has over One Billion active users per month and Twitter approximately six-hundred thousand active users per month.
This is easy for you to do. For this Blog you will find a share link for FaceBook and Twitter at the bottom of each blog post. If you click share, you are inviting members of you social media network to visit the blog post.
You will also find links to the Emporia Ministry Social Media Accounts
A big thanks to Jim for sharing his knowledge and information with us.
This week please post something about your church online, share one of our posts, or comment on one of our blogs.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.