I swore I wouldn't sign up for Twitter. It seemed like a nuisance. I had already given in to Facebook and started my personal blog. I didn't need one more thing!
But I quickly realized that as a leader in a church with a population of primarily Generation X and Y, I needed to engage this medium if I intended to influence them. Little did I know that less than a year later Twitter would become a key tool for responding to one of the greatest tragedies our city has ever faced.
Sunday, May 2, 2010, is a day that will be etched in my memory forever. I'd never seen so much water in my life, and it just continued to rain and rain and rain. I had spent nearly two hours trying to get home, but there was simply no way. My neighborhood and several of those around it were completely surrounded by water. Since going home was not an option, I found my way to a friend's house and camped out in front of the TV, paralyzed by the continuous news footage. Soon I received word of not one, not two, but three of my staff members whose homes were submerged in water. Tears began to flow when one of my staff texted me a picture of the roof of her house–everything else was under water. "God, please make it stop," I begged.
Nashville was devastated and we needed to respond. That evening, Pete Wilson, lead pastor for Cross Point Church, and I brainstormed ways our church might bring the love and hope of Christ to our flooded city. We had no idea what we could do, but we knew we needed to rally Cross Point volunteers and begin to help. Sunday evening Pete and I began tweeting our plans to our combined 60,000 followers and several thousand Facebook friends, asking them to meet Monday morning to help with flood relief.
Pulling into our Bellevue Campus on Monday, we had no idea what to expect. We had put the word out, but who would show up? People from around the world had responded to our tweets with prayers and encouragement. This provided immeasurable strength. But would enough volunteers come out to help?
At 10 a.m., people began to stream into the parking lot. They arrived ready to work with chainsaws, gloves, boats, generators–all the supplies we had requested in our tweets. We didn't know what all the specific needs would be until our volunteers got out into the field, but as we sent each team out, I reminded our volunteers, "You will be hope today. Whether you lift a hand in physical labor or not, your presence will represent hope to people who desperately need it. Serve and love them well!"
For nearly two weeks we sent teams out every day to do flood relief. They sorted peoples' valuables, cleared out homes, pulled out drywall and flooring, prayed with people, cried with people, served people–loved people.
More than 2,200 volunteers responded to our call for help–a call for help that began with some simple Twitter messages and grew to include a fully interactive website, updates on our personal blogs, and frequent email blasts.
In the weeks that followed, our social media efforts helped avert the "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome that happened when national media attention waned and the city itself got back to business as usual. There were still thousands of families who needed to know they weren't forgotten. Social media became the platform for us to keep the need alive and to rally volunteers as opportunities to serve continued to surface.
Additionally, we received tens of thousands of dollars in donations for flood relief from churches and individuals across the country who knew of the flood need only because of our social media focus.
I'm convinced it was no accident that our pastors and staff have been active social media users for the last several years. I believe that God gave us influence in this medium "for such a time as this." (Esther 4:14) The expediency and viral nature of social media allowed us to engage people to serve as I believe God had called us to for this specific moment.
The flood changed my perspective on just how powerful social media can be. I tweet and blog with more sensitivity now. I watch for needs and identify ways that I can pray for others. I look for opportunities to serve and for opportunities to encourage others to serve. I'm reminded that God will use whatever He needs to use to accomplish His purpose, and I pray I'll always be receptive to how I can be a part of His plan!
How has social media helped you mobilize your church for ministry?
Jenni Catron first shared this story in the book @StickyJesus. She serves as the Executive Director of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN, and is a contributing editor for GiftedforLeadership.com. She loves a fabulous cup of tea, great books, learning the game of tennis and hanging out with her husband and border collie. Jenni's passion is to lead well and to inspire, equip and encourage other women to do the same. That passion drove Jenni to start the women's leadership community, Cultivate Her. Jenni blogs there and at www.jennicatron.tv.