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Church creates its own social network


7:00 A.M. EDT June 29, 2011 | GULF BREEZE, Fla. (UMNS)

Gulf Breeze (Fla.) United Methodist Church’s custom-made private social network allows the Rev. Jack Kale to engage the congregation “more than one hour a week.” UMNS photos courtesy of Doug Bunze.
Gulf Breeze (Fla.) United Methodist Church’s custom-made private social network allows the Rev. Jack Kale to engage the congregation “more than one hour a week.” UMNS photos courtesy of Doug Bunze. View in Photo Gallery

It’s Friday, and the Rev. Jack Kale is doing what he frequently does on a day off: household chores. But as all pastors know, there’s no such thing as a day off when you are doing God’s work.

As soon as he drops off the kids at school, his focus shifts from the family to-do list to the Sunday sermon. He thinks about his message all week long, and he wants his congregation to do the same. With technology, this is now easily done.

Rev. Kale sits down at his kitchen table, opens his laptop, and signs on to gbNetwork, the private social network of Gulf Breeze (Fla.) United Methodist Church. He talks into his webcam. “Have you ever just wanted to start over? Have you ever wanted to restart part of your life?”

The message is less than two minutes. Kale uploads to the gbNetwork, closes his laptop, and goes back to his to-do list. On a Friday morning, in less than five minutes and from the comfort of his home, he’s engaged his congregation. It’s a give-and-take that has enormous value.

Over the next two days, hundreds of members of the church will view his message on gbNetwork. They often will post comments about relevant experiences in their lives that pertain to his message. Kale frequently will incorporate their thoughts into future Sunday sermons.

“I used to have one hour a week on Sundays with my congregation,” he said. “Now I engage the congregation 24 hours a day seven days a week. That’s amazing.”

Social media pioneer

Kale is a pioneer in the use of church social networking. A few years ago, he started using Facebook. Then he added Twitter. Then he launched a private social network for the church.

“Facebook was great for outreach, but it was public, so I couldn’t fully engage the congregation. I wanted a private social network for my church that would facilitate social interaction on a more personal level. gbNetwork does that.”

The private network was used at first only by the congregation of Worship at the Water, Gulf Breeze’s outreach church where Kale is pastor. The church has services at a restaurant on Pensacola Beach. The network was so successful that Gulf Breeze’s senior pastor, the Rev. Shane Stanford, rolled it out to the entire congregation in February.

gbNetwork is a private social network available only to members of Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church.
gbNetwork is a private social network available only to members of Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church. View in Photo Gallery

Stanford said the church “is committed to building a church of small groups—of people drawn together for care of one another, for fellowship, for prayer and for study. And, any way that makes this process easier, more efficient and more effective in living out the image of God in each of us, is not only a tool for ministry, but a divine gift.”

More than 600 church members have joined gbNetwork. They go to it often, and spend a lot of time on it. In three months, there have been more than 76,000 page views, and the average visit lasts more than nine minutes.

“Nearly half of the people who have signed up visit gbNetwork between one and six times a day. That’s staggering, ” said Andrew Wagner, the designer of the platform and the chief products officer for Connection Applications, a company that creates private networks for churches.

The congregation uses gbNetwork to build profiles, upload pictures, pray and share all aspects of their lives. When the BP oil spill devastated area beaches last summer, Kale created a group online to organize volunteers to help with the cleanup. Now, there are nearly 50 small groups that have been created on the platform, including groups for disaster relief, children’s ministry, body gospel fitness and singles.

“Our groups are now able to more effectively interact. It’s very helpful to everyone,” Kale said.

As with most pastors, the demands on Kale’s time can be overwhelming. Social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and gbNetwork allow him to more efficiently and widely engage the congregation in ways that weren’t possible only a few years ago.

Kale says social networking is just one more tool to keep the church more relevant in the lives of the congregation. “It’s important for churches to go where the people are, and the people are online.”

*Bunze is a freelance writer in Gulf Breeze, Fla.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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  • FatToaster, Worship/sandwich artisan 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    Thanks for your further explanation. I would suggest that the original article gave the solid impression that you had migrated off facebook in search of something more private where you could engage your congregation.

    While I probably would not choose to pursue creating a separate network... both for reasons of cost and for some of the reasons I outlined in my previous post... I respect that you are at least using a "both/and" approach.

    I'm glad you were able to clarify, if only to give a clearer picture of your social media use to other pastors and congregants that may be reading this thread. I certainly would hope that readers would not get the impression that we *need* to create our own more private and church-only networks. The original article certainly had a slant toward that implication, and as both a full-time ministry professional and as a social media user/adviser I can attest that privatizing social media is not the answer. Other services like myChurch have attempted to provide similar "separatist" services to "keep church folk safe" from "the world's" social media, and that is just a shame to put it lightly. The fact that you are simply augmenting your full use of other social media is far more palatable.

    Anyway, thanks for doing ministry outside the walls of your church, and thanks again for offering clarity.
  • JackKale 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    In response to FatToaster,
    We use this media in ADDITION to other social media, not in replacement of it.
  • FatToaster, Worship/sandwich artisan 3 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    don't think this is something that should be lauded. Social networks
    are amazing because they are public. When a church engages in social
    networking tools, like facebook or twitter, they have a unique
    opportunity to share the love of Jesus
    with their non-church friends and neighbors... along with providing a
    witness of how "real" folks live their lives as both Christians and

    When we separate our Christian experience from our
    public one (especially on a mass scale... ie. taking your entire
    congregation "private"), we only serve to act as separatists. Do you
    need to keep your needs, prayers, and passions separate from your public
    persona? Are you afraid that sharing a prayer need with your non-church
    friends is going to diminish it somehow? Maybe people from other churches
    or faiths can offer prayers for you and share in your struggles too.

    offers private ways to engage... including private pages where
    information can be shared to only your group. Why take all of your
    interactions completely off the cloud when you have such an amazing tool
    at your disposal for free. How much did they spend on developing their
    own social network?

    I just don't buy the megachurch mentality
    that says we need to build bigger churches, remake "the world" inside
    our church ("Our own" music, "our own" coffeeshop, "our own" social
    network) when we could be out in the community... supporting local
    businesses and engaging with people outside the walls of our church.
    Take church out. Don't make more separate institutions "in." If facebook
    isn't "private enough" then maybe you're too focused on being "private"
    instead of "outward".

    The quote says, “It’s important for churches to go where the people are, and the people are online.”...exactly! But by creating a separatist network that is only accessible (mostly) to "in-house" folks, I fear you are doing the exact opposite of this.
  • JackKale 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Fat Toaster,

    Your comments are well received and thoughtful.  However, it seems that you must have assumed that we are using this media in exclusion of other more public social media like Facebook and Twitter.  That simply is not the case.  We use gbNetwork as an ADDITIONAL media.  This is quite helpful because some folks simply don't trust the public ones.  This new option provides them a level of comfort and safety that allows them to "dip their toe" into the virtual world that you and I appreciate so much.  We are just trying to offer another opportunity for folks to plug in and be even more involved.  I have found that some of my non-church friends will just "block" people who post incessantly about their church life.  The gbNetwork allows us to go hog wild on the church stuff and still offer a balanced life approach on the secular networks.  Thanks for your response and critical thinking. (Furthermore, the services I lead are located in a beach bar far outside the walled fortresses of many of our church buildings.  We are very invitational in trying to live life where the people of our community live.)

  • JackKale 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I don't use this network at the exclusion of my other social media.  It seems your comments are based on that assumption.  We use this social media in addition to our other resources.  However, there are some folks who simply don't trust Facebook or Twitter.  This offers them a safe way to engage social media.  For some, this is dipping a toe into the virtual world that you and I appreciate so much.  So, it is not so much of elitism at all, instead it is invitational.

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