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LifeWay taps into online networking

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–If you visit Facebook and search the word “LifeWay,” John Cade’s profile is the first to pop up.

Known as “John at LifeWay,” Cade uses Facebook to connect with 700-plus student leaders for ministry.

LifeWay is harnessing the power of online networking among Facebook’s 140 million-plus users worldwide and Twitter’s 2.2 million users.

“When we connect with people online, they see that we are not a corporation with closed walls,” said Cade, whose main job at LifeWay Christian Resources is to create an online presence for the student ministry team. “Social networking helps to break down the barriers between us and our customers. Student pastors see that I am a legit person who cares deeply about them. I am available to answer their questions all the time. Social networking also allows me to have a two-way conversation with people who use our resources.”

Social networking often is called micromarketing, a new trend that designs marketing strategies for the benefit of a select group.

Facebook provides Cade with a network of student workers for instant exchange of ideas detailing latest trends and resources.

“Our goal in student ministry is to help student ministers do their job better,” Cade said. “Social networking is one way we can support ministers. Through Facebook and Twitter, we are able to respond directly to questions, concerns and even negative feedback when appropriate.”

While skeptics may question the ability to develop customer relationships over the Internet, Cade noted that it “can lay the groundwork for an authentic relationship.” At student conferences, for example, attendees often recognize him from his Facebook and Twitter profiles and are quick to begin a conversation with him.

In LifeWay’s church resources division, meanwhile, Dwayne McCrary is expanding his Facebook audience to another social networking site, Ning.com, with the goal of growing better Sunday School teachers.

McCrary works on Extra!, the companion piece for dated Sunday School lessons, and expects to use Ning.com as an online tool for Sunday School teachers to share tips and best practices via forums, real-time dialogues, videos and additional resources.

McCrary is so confident social networking will help promote spiritual change that he has placed his stamp of approval — an icon of his face — on the social website.

“My face is on this website and it helps churches know we at LifeWay are people,” McCrary said. “They see our faces on these sites and know that we’re not a building or an institution. We are people they can learn to trust. And when people trust us, they continue to use our resources.”

For Janell Fadler, who once was skeptical of social networking sites, it became a way to organize prayer support when she traveled to Rwanda with a LifeWay mission team several months ago.

Fadler, who works in leadership training and events, distributed prayer requests and updated real-time information while in Rwanda through the group she set up on Facebook.

She also learned how fast social networking groups could grow once information posted.

“There were four other team members who had accounts on Facebook and they sent a note to all their Facebook friends to join in and pray for us,” Fadler recounted, noting that more than 80 people joined the online prayer team. “By posting the group online, we even made a brief connection with a relief worker from Rwanda.”

Real-time updates were invaluable, she added, especially when immediate prayers were needed.

“A few of us got pretty sick while we were on the trip and we were able to inform our team how to pray specifically,” she said. “The next time I go on a mission trip, I will create another prayer group on Facebook for sure.”

Pam Case, director of LifeWay Women, stumbled reluctantly into the world of Twitter when her church planter husband encouraged her to give it a try as a way to stay connected with other pastors’ wives.

She soon discovered that Twittering does what social networking is designed to do — connects individuals who share common interests.

Seeing the value of a real-time connection with individuals who care deeply about women’s ministry, she added an additional Twitter page for LifeWay Women.

“In order for this type of social networking to be beneficial, you have to be engaged,” said Case, who “tweets” to more than 330 women via LifeWay Women’s Twitter page (www.twitter.com/pamcase). “Twittering is a great way to stay connected 24/7 with co-workers and with churches,” she said.

Specifically, Case can keep her finger on the pulse of women’s ministry around the globe and communicate with other leaders about the issues that impact women’s ministry.

“Twitter is breaking down the walls and reinforcing the idea that we are all real people doing real work for the purpose of making Christ’s name known,” Case said. “It is a way to let the churches know that we at LifeWay are real people who love Jesus like crazy.”
Kelly Shrout is the employee communications editor at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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