The words of wisdom expressed by pastors on Easter will extend far beyond the walls of some South Jersey churches.
Through the use of social media, Sunday services held locally can be experienced in such far-flung places as Moscow or Madagascar.
“Unlike most churches that just use social media to promote, we’re using social media to actually minister to people,” said Matt Stokes, lead pastor at Coastal Christian Ocean City.
Social media’s growth is also transforming how the leaders of various churches operate on a daily basis. Previously, pastors were only accessible on Sundays or when worshipers made the effort to physically come to the church. Now, social media-savvy religious leaders can interact with followers throughout their waking hours during the course of a day.
“The foyer of the church is now your website or your social media,” said Pastor Danielle Wilson of Fusion Church, which has services in Somers Point and will have them starting next month in Egg Harbor Township.
Wilson answers messages all the time from people. She consider this activity part of her job.
Sometimes, church followers want to know someone is specifically praying for them.
“I was able to direct message them back and say, ‘Hey, make sure you let me know how this goes. I’m praying for you,’ so I think that’s a great way to use social media,” Wilson said.
Coastal Christian, which sees about 1,000 people come through its front doors on a weekly basis, hired six people to be part of its digital communications team, including a videographer, Stokes said.
An online host is also part of the team. As the church’s Sunday services are shown online, the host greets people who watch the live stream and will start a dialogue with them on the side, Stokes said.
“We might ask, ‘How can we pray for you?’ We might say, ‘We’re so glad you are tuning in. Hope you found this message helpful.’ ... We are actually trying to establish what would be considered an online church,” said Stokes, though he added there is absolutely no substitute for the local church.
Stokes thinks many of those who view services on social media find their site through friends.
“The other guess is that some of these people must be military that are stationed at Fort Dix. They come to Coastal, and they get re-stationed, and they are staying in church with us wherever they go in the world,” Stokes said.
Churches can have a presence on social media just like any other organization, said Patti Dowling, campus administrator for Mission Point Church in Somers Point.
Mission Point has paid to have its posts boosted on its Facebook page to promote church events. When that happens, it can increase exposure to between 3,000 and 4,000 people, Dowling said.
“People really do engage us on our Facebook page. I have people that ask questions,” Dowling said. “It is interactive. People really do reach out through the page.”
Mission Point will post links to sermons on social media, so people who missed the service can listen to it.
“We share the Gospel. We share Bible verses. We share things that people are looking for. They are looking for hope. They are looking for things Christ and God can provide on the same vehicle that a restaurant uses or any business uses,” Dowling said.