Rev. Mark Stephenson is amazed by how people from around the world have contacted the ministry of Disability Concerns via The Network, a social-networking tool launched by the Christian Reformed Church a year ago.
The Network helps people across the CRC connect to share ideas, concerns, and suggestions on how to do ministry.
As director of the CRC's Office of Disability Concerns, Stephenson writes regular posts on a range of disability-related issues. Recently his site has been visited by people from Indonesia, Fiji, Kenya, Vietnam, and elsewhere.
"The numbers aren't huge, but they do show that people from all over the world are interested in what we are doing," said Stephenson.
Stephenson tells of an encounter on the site with a man who wrote about how having a disability made him feel hopeless. Stephenson and another person wrote back with words of encouragement and prayer. This exchange encouraged the man, Stephenson said, and he is now a regular on The Network.
"Many people are learning from one another by sharing their thoughts and experiences on the various sections of The Network," said Stephenson. The Network is accessible at www.crcna.org/network.
In addition to The Network, many CRC ministries use social networking.
Christian Reformed World Missions has a program called "Hope Equals," which links college students across North America to discuss social issues, among them the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Facebook is a critical way of connecting all of these people, says Mariano Avila, coordinator of Hope Equals. "This is not a fun new tool. It's the way we communicate." (See www.facebook.com/hopeequals.)
Christian Reformed Home Missions uses Facebook and Twitter to communicate with supporters. Many of CRHM's funded ministries, particularly church plants and campus ministries, have their own Facebook pages.
Faith Alive, the publishing agency for the CRC and the resource provider for the Reformed Church in America, has connected with more than 11,000 people by using social media to promote its resources.
Among the outlets that Faith Alive uses regularly are Twitter (twitter.com/faithalive), Facebook (facebook.com/faithalive), YouTube (youtube.com/faithaliveresources), and GodTube (godtube.com/faithaliveresources).
The CRC's Office of Social Justice also relies heavily on social media, using Twitter, Facebook, Ning, and other services, depending on the audience it wants to reach.
"You can't beat the bang-for-your-buck impact, and it helps us hear from constituents (and even the field) in a way that wouldn't otherwise be possible," says Meghan Kraley, communications director of OSJ.
The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee shares links to its newsroom stories and also publishes some items on Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, it shares videos, posts events, and features causes such as "Feed the Fish" or the "Embrace AIDS" campaign. Social media has become an integral part of how the CRC in North America communicates.