In Part 1 of this blog entry, I explained the tremendous power of social media to permit anyone to broadcast to large numbers of people. It is a greatly useful too, but – like any medium – the message and its targeting is essential.

While many Unitarian/Unitarian Universalist social media campaigns appear to be aimed at existing members of our movement, my primary purpose in using social media has been evangelism. (I make no apologies for that word. I believe it is my moral responsibility to make our transformative faith visible and appealing to all who might benefit. We have very good news and we are obligated to share it.)

I want to inform the world about Unitarianism and interest them in giving it a try. To do that, I have needed to think hard about who I am trying to reach and about the sort of messages and language that will catch their interest, speak to them, and inform them – not a small challenge, particularly for a medium like Twitter where messages are limited to 140 characters.

I serve a Unitarian congregation in London, England. The United Kingdom – like most of Western Europe – is a rather secular place. Only 5-10% of our population participates with any regularity in a religious community. 40% proclaim that they are not theistic. ‘Church’ and even ‘religion’ have, to a great extent, become words that causes people to turn away. Religion is understood to be irrelevant at best and a cause of division, hatred, and violence at worst.

The first step in my communication strategy has had to be to gather an audience of the sort of people I want to reach. This works somewhat differently between social media tools, but generally, the approach is to ‘follow’ or ‘friend’ the people you want to reach and hope that they then reciprocate. If they do, then you have someone listening. If they don’t, no harm done. You can always ‘unfollow’ or ‘unfriend’ them! Follow, unfollow, rinse, repeat. Do this 160,000 times and you should have 16,000 followers on Twitter, as I do. Not complicated, just a lot of work!

Who to follow? I choose people based on their interests. This is easily done by watching what people say in their posts or tweets and what they say about themselves in their profiles. I have sought out people who are passionate about social justice, interested in spirituality, and people who proclaim themselves atheists. The last category may seem a bit odd, but in fact, the proud and even angry atheists are at least interested in the subject. As Elie Wiesel wrote “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” The angry atheists may well be more interested in hearing about religion than the ones who don’t give it another thought.

The next step is to consider what to say.

The vast majority of UK residents think they know what ‘religion’ is. They are convinced it is dogmatic, boring, socially conservative, and exclusive. My goal has been to challenge that mindset in an engaging, eye-catching way – remembering that my message has to somehow stand out amid the torrent of messages that appear at every moment.

I have used messages that challenge what is expected of ‘religion.’ Not all have been effective, but together, they help to create an impression of a faith community that is very, very different from what most people expect:

  • Celebrate!: Scotland to be first part of UK to legalise gay marriage buff.ly/OohcaZ
  • Gay Marriage A ‘Dangerous Experiment’ Says Catholic Church In Scotland buff.ly/LOWAva <True. Love is always dangerous!
  • A inclusive faith community without intolerance in North London: New Unity bit.ly/KGHFz0
  • I’m so disappointed we didn’t get Unitarian condoms to give out at Pride #lgbt #WorldPride2012
  • We are proud to practice a very “queer” faith. Unitarians in North London. new-unity.org. #lgbt #WorldPride2012
  • A loving spiritual community without dogma in North London: New Unity buff.ly/LIOlgo
  • Our banner for World Pride parade this Saturday: “Unitarianism – a very queer religion” #lgbt #pride
  • A loving spiritual group without hate in North London: New Unity bit.ly/KGHFz0
  • A radically inclusive faith community without certainty in North London: New Unity buff.ly/LIOlgo
  • A radically inclusive spiritual group without conformity in North London: New Unity bit.ly/KGHFz0
  • Salvation Army Rep: Gays Should Die goo.gl/mag/rS2Tz
  • My congregation is getting hate tweets from US right-wingers. We must be on the right track! new-unity.org
  • The water we drink has more than a million molecules/L of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed… Everything is holy.buff.ly/PzoV7w
  • What you call ‘I’ is an arrangement of atoms continually exchanging with other living things. How can we think we are alone?
  • I consider a faith to be “true” to the extent that it makes us more compassionate, connected, and justice-seeking.
  • I am surprised at how many people can’t imagine religious/spiritual atheism. My congregation has lots! new-unity.org
  • Dear God, Do you exist? If so, will you please @reply me? I await your #word.
  • Dear God – Did you get my tweet? Surely an all-powerful deity can get onto Twitter, no?
  • God is not responding to my tweets. Has God blocked me? :-( #deargod
  • #Unitarianism – a religion unlike others. Leave judgement & homophobia outside. Bring your reason in with you! BBC:buff.ly/MrdNZJ
  • Spirituality – conformity = Unitarian. BBC: buff.ly/MrdNZJ
  • Where can atheists meditate, do yoga, pray, sing, love, discuss, support, and do social justice in N London? new-unity.org
  • I am a deeply religious nonbeliever – this is a somewhat new kind of religion. – Einstein sounds Unitarian!goo.gl/nnrDv
  • Unitarianism = #religionforatheists (and others too)ht.ly/9YPo7

Some of these may be shocking or even blasphemous. They need to be edgy in order to break through two challenging barriers: the high volume of social media messages and the widespread assumption of what ‘religion’ is and is not.

Many of these messages have been seen and repeated (retweeted) by others. Many have driven traffic to my congregation’s web site. We have been at least modestly successful at getting Unitarianism known by more people, changing minds, and even at having more newcomers show up at a Sunday service.

These messages are intended for an urban British context. Your context is almost certainly different. The key questions are the same: Who is your audience? What is your message? How can you say it so they will pay attention?

 

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Guest Blogger: Andrew Pakula is the minister of New Unity in London, England.  He also writes for the blog Throw Yourself Like Seeds.

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Tandi Rogers

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