MANATEE — A church in Texas encourages congregation members to text messages from their cell phones that instantly appear on a giant LCD projector set to the church’s Twitter.com Web page.
A decade ago, this may have seemed distracting and even sacrilegious. But in today’s world, which offers instant communications through technology, it’s not at all surprising for a church to allow this.
That’s the view of Jim DeLa, the spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, which is headquartered in Lakewood Ranch.
“At that church in San Antonio, I would bet that people in the congregation tweet when the band is playing with a message like, ‘You are rocking today’ or ‘Right on,’” DeLa added. “When the pastor is delivering a sermon, they may tweet, ‘Amen.’ Rather than shouting out, they are twittering. It’s the craziest thing. But it’s what’s happening now.
“It’s not so much that Twitter.com is bringing people into church, it’s that Twitter.com is helping them bond more once they get there,” added DeLa, who has 71 followers when he tweets.
Twitter.com, according to the definition supplied by Wikipedia, is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages, known as tweets.
Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on an author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers, who are known as followers, Wikipedia adds.
No Manatee or Sarasota county Episcopal church invites its congregation to text messages on cell phones that appear on a giant screen. DeLa said.
At least not yet.
But DeLa and other local religious figures all indicate that “tweeting” is perfectly suited for churches, where reaching out, staying in touch and remaining close, are all things that Twitter.com accomplishes.
Pastor Mike Wilder, the children’s minister at Woodland — The Community Church on State Road 70 East, is a tweeter who has 37 followers. He is one of about a half dozen staff and clergy at the church who tweet.
Wilder, like DeLa, thinks tweeting is a way that people who already know each other will stay connected in the future. He tweets two times per day. He believes that tweeting is not a fad. He is sure it will still be popular 10 years from now.
“It’s a quick and easy way to let people know what the church is doing,” Wilder said. “I use it in my ministry. I might tweet that I need volunteers for something or about one of my church activities coming up.”
DeLa has a free Web browser on his computer called Flock. It has a window panel that allows him to track Facebook friends, Twitter feeds, the Flicker Web site and YouTube, all social networking tools that churches may want to use, DeLa said.
“I monitor all of those,” DeLa said.
“A lot of priests and deacons in our local diocese tweet,” DeLa said, indicating that Deacon Marsha Tremmel, of Parrish, tweets from St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church on Palmbrush Trail in Lakewood Ranch.
“She recently tweeted and sent her photographs from a recent trip to Israel,” DeLa said of Tremmel. “Some people are really heavy tweeters. I am not. I have a blog also that I invest a lot of my energy into.”
Pastor David Wilson, of Wellspring Church in Sarasota, has 1,400 followers of his tweeting, but there are only 75 people at his church on a given Sunday.
His followers include people he has touched in his life and people they have touched. For him, Twitter.com is a vast spider web of contacts.
“I used my Facebook site for a long time but when a lot of people started using Twitter.com, we started too,” said Wilson, whose four-year-old church meets in the Longwood Park Auditorium, near the intersection of Longwood and University Parkway.
“You can’t write a whole sermon on Twitter.com but you can encourage people with a scripture,” Wilson said. “You can include a link to a blog and they can click on that link and go there.”