Won't you be my (virtual) neighbor? - Word&Way

Won’t you be my (virtual) neighbor?

By Ken Satterfield

If you write a media column, people expect you to keep up with cutting-edge gizmos.

That’s not always the case. Sometimes technologies have passed me by, some I can’t afford and others I am just not interested in at the time.
But with friends, that can all change. And thanks to David, it did.
It started innocently enough several months ago. I got an e-mail from a college buddy asking if I wanted to be his friend. Since I thought we were friends already, I was intrigued. (After all, David married my cousin.) A link led me to a Web site called Facebook where I signed up, primarily to save face and look cool. All it took was an e-mail address and a password.
And then I forgot about it.
Much later, I heard from a former supervisor with a similar invitation. It led me back to Facebook, searching for my pass­word. I discovered other invitations. Woo-hoo! People wanted to be my friend. I eagerly accepted all the invitations.
Tim responded to my accepting his offer: “Is this all the friends you have?” I’d show him! 
Facebook made it easy, actually suggesting new fiends, based on common friends of the friends I had accumulated. Once I went back and updated my profile, schools and key words, there were other possibilities and some old friends.
The more involved I be­came, the more messages I received. Leslie warned me to avoid becoming addicted.
Late one night, I heard a funny sound on my computer and discovered that Facebook had an instant messaging feature. (David again.) In addition to these messages, friends can write on each other’s walls and give status update so that I can discover what friends are doing: Danny mowing his yard, Ron traveling, Jeanie and Cindy moving.
Jody sent me a camera through Facebook, although it’s only a virtual one. I can discover groups and networks that help refine circles of friends. Jennifer suggested a cause to support. And I am still learning how to use the events calendar, photo and video sharing and many other applications that are available.  
At this point, you may be where I was, thinking that social networking sites like Facebook are a distraction you don’t need. Or, like Mark commented, “I heard anyone over 50 on Facebook is creepy.” (For the record: about a third of users are 35-54, and he’s not a friend!)
Here’s why it matters: Being able to connect with old friends and discover new friends through an enlarging network of friends (though no six degrees of Kevin Bacon yet) increases those with whom I can interact and expands how I can minister. 
Sites like Facebook and its ilk (MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and the brand-new Google Friend Connect) have various pros and cons, compared at "PC World." Facebook is designed to protect privacy in layers and verifies users’ identities via e-mail  and cell phone.
There are also a variety of Christian social networking sites, such as MyChurch or ShoutLife. (See a list here). The number of users and features vary.
Church marketing expert (and friend) Chris Forbes has posted a free download of his e-book “Facebook for Pastors” at MinistryMarketingCoach.com. He believes that “all pastors should be on Facebook” and gives more use and ministry helps. Other tips can be found at snipurl.com/Facebooktips.
Is your church a social networking site? Do we eagerly invite others, engage in meaningful dialogue, keep up with one another and reach out beyond our immediate circle of friends? Sites like Facebook can help us reach out and stay in touch.
Ken Satterfield (ksatterfield @wordandway.org) is marketing and advertising coordinator for Word&Way. He welcomes your feedback and invites you to be his friend on either Facebook or MyChurch!