Meet a Growing, 'Facebooking' Church

September 08, 2011

By Natalie Bannon

Out of the Box Worship Center in Hillsville, Virginia, is living up to its name. Holston Conference has labeled it "one of the fastest new-church starts in United Methodism." So how is this small-town church, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, growing so rapidly? Two words: social media.
 
An extension of First United Methodist Church of Hillsville, Out of the Box launched in January 2011 in an old store on Main Street. Within two months, the church had almost reached its 180-person capacity, and added a second service to accommodate growth.
 
Pastor Ronnie G. Collins says, "When the church first started, we placed one full-page ad in the local newspaper, but every last bit of promotion other than that was on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. All of our advertising was done virtually cost-free."
 
Collins entered the social media revolution four years ago, when a youth ministry member dared him to join MySpace. With a bit of reluctance, he quickly realized the power of online networking for ministry. Today, he connects with thousands through Facebook, Twitter, his blog, and the church's blog. "Jesus hung out where the people were, and today the people hang out on Facebook," Collins explains.
 
Then there's YouTube. Collins hosts Three-Minute Thursdays, a weekly series (three minutes in length, as its name suggests) that offers the biblical perspective to questions such as, "What does God think of tattoos?" Viewers – some of whom Collins has never even met – email him with suggested topics.
 
Collins has discovered that people are open to sharing their faith on line. And he urges them to share (or tweet) about it whenever the mood strikes – even during Sunday morning service.
 
"We encourage people to tweet, to tell their friends what they're finding out in the service," he says. And he adds, "One woman has brought 30 people to this church by impacting people on Facebook."
 
Expansion of the church's web ministry continues. In the testing stage: an online life group, designed for members who cannot attend a regularly scheduled meeting. So far, it's a hit.
 
The message of Christ is the same at Out of the Box, but the method used to share it sets the church apart. Collins tells his congregation, "We're not going to do things like everyone else does them, just to be a part of the crowd."
 
How has social media started you thinking out of the box? You're invited to comment below, or at