What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Outreach, Part III

February 28, 2014 § 6 Comments

Social Media

Friends are pretty far behind the curve with social media, I think, mainly because our median age is so high. This seems quite natural to me. I know that in my life, there just isn’t room or time for the kind of active online life that drives Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and the rest. It’s hard enough to keep up with this blog. But we could be experimenting more and asking those who are involved more to share their interest and energy with the meeting.

For instance, nowadays your meeting probably does need a Facebook page. For one thing, this is one of the platforms through which people will search for you, especially younger people. In fact younger people are the main reason to have a Facebook page. And a Twitter account, for that matter.

These media present problems, however.

First, if a static, unchanging website is bad, an empty and dead Facebook page may be even worse. So someone has to keep up with it. Who? Most meetings are already having trouble filling more important roles in the meeting.

Second, people have to Like your Facebook page before they will receive your postings, so you have to start off with a campaign to get members to Like your page. In my experience, this progresses slowly, especially if there’s not much going on on your page.

Third, many Friends don’t even have a Facebook page themselves, or they’ve stopped paying attention to the one they opened years ago out of curiosity or a sense of resigned necessity. I don’t pay much attention to mine. The population that really does pay attention is going to be a very small portion of your meeting. But some of them are going to be young.

What to do?

See if you can find someone who is engaged in that world and who actually does want to manage the page. Maybe make this a project of your First Day School. But don’t micro-manage them or exhibit other forms of paranoia about what they might do on your Facebook page. If you can’t trust them, don’t ask them. And if you can’t trust yourselves to leave them alone, don’t get a Facebook page. I say this because I know of a meeting that is anxious enough about what someone might be doing on the meeting’s Facebook page that the person who manages it doesn’t feel it’s safe to do it.

Get in the habit of thinking about the meeting’s activities as opportunities to post. Use it to post highlights from your minutes. Do you already use GoogleGroups to communicate within the meeting using email? Some of what gets communicated this way may be appropriate for a Facebook page posting. Encourage members to repost things that catch their attention. Think of your Facebook page as the time after meeting in which you give announcements.

Find other meeting’s Facebook pages, those in your quarterly and yearly meeting, especially, and other nearby meetings of other affiliation, if there are any. Then Like their page, and get them to Like yours. Then you will all know what each other is up to. This might be the most valuable use for a meeting Facebook page, as a kind of regional newsletter.

And accept your limitations: do what you can do and don’t feel bad about the rest.

Other connections

QuakerQuaker. Perhaps most of my readers will already know about QuakerQuaker.org, but many people in your meeting may not. QuakerQuaker is a platform for conversation among Friends and it gathers together Quaker blogs from all over. It offers a digest that will periodically bring featured blog entries straight to you by email. This is a great way to follow the Friendly blogosphere. Spread the word; put a notice in your meeting’s newsletter.

LinkedIn. Friends are also holding conversations on various topics on LinkedIn. Check it out.

Twitter. Twitter seems even less valuable to the majority of Friends than Facebook, as a constant, sustained social media presence. But it might be far more valuable as a tool for local, short-term communication inside events, especially crowd events like yearly meeting sessions. New York Yearly Meeting publishes a daily newsletter during its week-long summer sessions, and these items could be tweeted as well as posted on Facebook, in addition to appearing in the printed handouts (though the yearly meeting’s summer sessions site on Lake George has notoriously bad cell phone coverage). This would also allow Friends who cannot attend sessions to get a more or less real-time feel for what’s going on without being there. And Twitter would be good for getting the word out about spontaneous events. I remember one year we came out of the dining hall at NYYM summer sessions to a huge double rainbow. Time to tweet the photo.

Outreach online

I wonder whether one of best new ways to reach out to non-Friends with the Quaker message might be to actively participate in the wider online religious community and especially, communities formed around spirituality more generally defined. This is just an idea, not something I have tested yet, though I plan to try it out when I get the time. But websites like beliefnet.net offer platforms for conversation about religion in which lots of people are talking to each other. If we were participating and self-identifying as Quakers, we might reach some of these people. So also for the very many websites and forums and Facebook and Ning groups organized around spirituality, separate from “religion”. Many people have abandoned “religion” but are dedicated to the life of the spirit more broadly defined and earnestly seek community. I would think we would be very attractive to some of these people.

Likewise for the websites and blogs of nonprofits and activist organizations in areas touching on our testimonies. I think we could be building alliances between our witness committees and these non-Quaker organizations, or at least sharing our spirit-led perspective with them, if we were a real presence in their conversations.

The danger with this latter effort would be that we will attract some people who might accelerate our trend toward secularization, which is already a problem in our witness life, in my experience. I have seen so many witness minutes that would leave you completely unaware that a Quaker community—or any religious community—had written them, so full were they with cogent but totally secular arguments as rationale.

Likewise, reaching out to the people in the “spirituality” cyber-world would inevitably attract people who might resist the religious impulse that lies at the heart of Quakerism—or ought to. We already suffer considerably from such influences, with lots of refugee members who are allergic to “religion”, people who think of meeting for worship as little more than group meditation, and activists who barely understand the role of the spirit in the testimonial life.

Thus it behooves us to maintain our identity as the Religious Society of Friends and to be clear, with ourselves and with newcomers, that we are a religion, that as a community we are Christian (if a bit “neo”), whatever our individual experience is. The last thing we want is to accelerate these trends ourselves by misrepresenting Quakerism in an exclusively universalist mold.

This gets back to message, being clear about who we are and what we have to say. And that brings us forward to the third aspect of outreach—being a warm, welcoming community that knows how to answer newcomer’s questions, so that people who come to check us out might decide to come back.

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§ 6 Responses to What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Outreach, Part III

  • Flo fflach says:

    interesting timely post for me. I’ve just started a blog for my meeting and a facebook page for the south west chunk of my area meeting as we are arranging Quaker Quest outreach. Nothing much is happening on them and there is not a clear idea from meeting what they are for or what individuals want them for – sometimes due to not knowing how internt and social media can work, how it functions. I’m thinking a facebook for my meeting and a blog for the Quaker quest – but then what sort – as I use blogspot but somene else suggested wordpress….

    I follow this blog and one or two others of quaker outlook.
    Twitter is where I have most spiritual contact with the rest of the world by way of quakers and a few others, mainly christian but also of note Jihad Jew – and through him other Jewish and also Muslim discussions.

    For me this is essential as I don’t drive, live in a rural area, have health problems and my contact with Quakers and anyone is limited, I don’t get to meeting for worship every week and have only ever got to area meeting once. {I’m in Cymru/Wales

  • In the years during which I was gainfully employed, I worked on a state of the art (at the time, anyway) computer. These were the days when email and discussion groups online were in their infancy. (Yes, I was toilet trained on computers.) In those days, almost all the contributors to those online discussions appeared to be 19 year old computer programmers, most of them male, and most of them very anti-religion. (Part of being 19?) I spent a great deal of time (when I should have been working harder on my bread job, which was highly routine) serving as a Quaker mentor online for some of those young men.

    It helps to have a sense of humor, considerable compassion, and ability to actively listen to their experiences–they often had good reason to be down on the religion of their childhood. They needed a forum to share their anger and why they were angry, and they needed a little incentive in the form of a Friendly mentor to help them begin to move beyond the anger, to move beyond throwing out God along with the perpetrators of their awful experiences. Occasionally a good query in response to a broad overgeneralization changed the tone of a discussion quite dramatically. Quakers are good at queries, right?!

    I remember one of those discussions in which a young male asserted there was no God “because everything is ultimately knowable.” My query was something like, “How does conception of a brand new, totally unique, human life happen?” Most of those young males were NOT interested in conception, but in getting laid!! But some of them were ready to engage the query, and maybe some of that public discussion of the mysteries of how our individual uniquenesses happen spread a little fairy dust on the others who witnessed that different conversation on a deeper level. Some of them were curious enough to come visit me in my office; one young fella invited me to come talk about Quakerism with his dorm mates; there were coffee dates. Some of the dorm mates decided to try out Quaker worship, and an occasional one became Quaker.

    Sometimes I responded to a discussion by telling a story. Left the point for them to figure out for themselves. I mentioned, for instance, the person in my meeting who stuttered — but never stuttered when he spoke in worship. Or the stone-deaf Friend who spoke very movingly on the same subject as the rest of the meeting was wrestling with. Some of the young males wanted to explain that away, of course, but others…heard.

    As I said, you hafta have a sense of humor. I remember one carefully-reasoned response I wrote to which a young man responded, “Quakers are commie pinko fags.” I responded with a brief history of Communist efforts to infiltrate the Quakers and how frustrated they became because we kept right on making decisions by looking for the sense of the meeting. I ended the little history by saying, “Fags we may be, but commies we’re not.” Not only had I informed them how we make decisions, but I’d kept them listening!

    Obviously, it was possible in those days, when the online community mostly resided on the same university campus, for really authentic human connection to happen when the fellas wished to make contact face-to-face. But, they had to be interested and intrigued enough to want to make contact with a Quaker. The online community provided an opportunity for them to become interested and intrigued.

  • Thanks for the QuakerQuaker shout-out. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Friends Journal has a presence on many of these channels: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, podcasting (and on iTunes) and Youtube. We’re really excited to be launching a whole Youtube channel called QuakerSpeak next week. It’s all a lot of work, but it’s our attempt to reach Friends and seekers where they are.

    I can think of a number of interesting, grounded Friends who seem to be making a ministry of carrying on conversations in various social networks. There’s a real value in the dialogue of answering questions–even if they’re endlessly repetitive as new curious people come into the discussions. It’s a real gift to the RSOF that these Friends have taken on this work (largely unrecognized I think).

    Online outreach has its pitfalls. It’s hard to keep conversations from derailing into ad hominem attacks when people aren’t face-to-face (there’s a crazy amount of grudge-holding in some forums). Then you also have the online seeker who finds Friends in January, declares themselves a Quaker in February, starts denouncing unpure Friends in March, and loudly leaves in April–all without having stepped foot in a meetinghouse! But for every one of these we have a dozen more who found Quakers online or whose appreciation of Friends have deepened by these conversations. Social media is yet another tool for our toolkit, something to learn to use.

  • treegestalt says:

    What I found in my brief time on Beliefnet was:
    1) Most of the conversation is on the level of their introductory quiz: People are inclined to base their understanding of religious matters on political positions & some simple theological flags.
    2) If one raises the wrong theological flag, it gets attacked. It isn’t a friendly attack; you get mugged by people who want that flag down by any means necessary. Don’t sign up unless you want more excitement than I did.

    • Well, this is very useful to know.Thanks for the warning. As I said in the post, I hadn’t tried this kind of thing yet and now maybe I won’t. Where do all these angry people come from?

      • treegestalt says:

        I dunno; maybe I thumps them & they thumps back? Maybe the temperature is a little hotter on the historical Jesus subjects because people can get really nervous about having The Right Answers on The Exam?

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