What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Outreach, Part III
February 28, 2014 § 6 Comments
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.
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.
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.