Technology and Social Media Add Layers to Exploration 2011
November 16, 2011
By Vicki Brown*
Blogging, tweeting, and QR codes added new levels of connection to an event for young adults considering God's call to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church, allowing instant connections and real-time discussions about sermons, workshops, and small groups.
The Rev. Emily Oliver, associate director of the Center for Clergy Excellence, Florida Annual Conference, took a group of 35 college students and seminarians to Exploration 2011. She said Twitter allowed her to stay connected to her group throughout the event.
"I was sitting in the room listening to Adam Hamilton surrounded by only a few, but watching online my entire group of 35, based on their Twitter feeds. I could tell what they were thinking, what was resonating with them, [and] I was tweeting back. We were almost having our own small group in the middle of worship," Oliver said. "Just to be in the middle of that, to be able to hear who had a challenge or a pushback at the time, that makes me feel more connected."
The event hashtag, #explo2011, was projected on the wall throughout the event and was on most pages of the program book. Twitter users can search using a hashtag, to find all Twitter comments filed with that hashtag.
A number of participants were pleased that organizers of the event recognized that young adults are more comfortable with technology and social media. Some, however, expressed concern that social media could create distance.
Anitta Milloro, a student at North Central College, said she is an avid Facebook user and felt the effort to use social media was "really cool," but worried that it was a little impersonal. Some other participants said they actually like the act of writing down someone's contact info with a pen and paper, rather than scanning a QR (Quick Response) code. Each participant had a QR code on his or her nametag that could be used to exchange contact info by simply scanning the code with a smart phone.
In addition, all the seminaries and other exhibitors had a QR code that participants could scan to get an exhibitor's website and other information.
Isabel Willetts, a student at Florida State University, thought social media extended the reach of the event. "It kept people on the outside posted about what's going on here," she said.
Bishop Robert Schnase, episcopal leader of the Missouri area, who served Holy Communion on Sunday morning, led a workshop, and spent the weekend talking with young adults attending the event, called the approach "invigorating."
"The QR codes are really creative. It gives an instant quality to everything," Schnase said. He said he was excited to see such new and creative approaches at a United Methodist event.
The Rev. DJ del Rosario, director of Young Adult Ministry Discernment and Enlistment at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said the idea was to reach more people and add additional levels. GBHEM sponsors Exploration, which is held every other year for young adults considering God's call to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church. (Rosario is on Twitter as @pastordj.)
"The tweets provided a running feedback, and we actually made adjustments based on things that were tweeted. We also learned from Twitter that some incorrect information was given out at a workshop, so we were able to correct that," he said.
Tweets that used the event hashtag, #explo2011 or #gbhem were posted on a large-screen monitor outside the event office, so people could stop by and see what others were saying, even if they didn't have a smart phone or a tablet computer to follow the feeds.
"That added a level of accountability, since we didn't filter the Twitter feed," Del Rosario said.
Four young clergy were asked to be official bloggers during the event.
One of those bloggers, the Rev. Jeremy Smith (on Twitter as @umjeremy and blogging at http://hackingchristianity.net) said he counted 122 Tweets about the Rev. Adam Hamilton's comments during his 90-minute sermon. "That's more than one Tweet per minute. That provided a running commentary," Smith said.
Smith, an associate minister at First United Methodist Church in Checotah, Oklahoma, said the blogging about the event adds a third conversation, in addition to connecting people in the UMC with what was going on at Exploration.
"The first conversation is the presenter and yourself. The second conversation is you reflecting on what the presenter said. The third is me, or another blogger, reflecting about what the presenter said," Smith said. "That encourages reflection by offering a different point of view."
Amy Wills, a senior at Ohio State who just enrolled in the candidacy process for ordained ministry, said the hashtag was good and that the use of social media recognized that young adults are a high-tech generation – but she added that technology can create relationship barriers. "We have to work on face-to-face relationship building, too," she said.
Tiffania Willetts, a participant from the Florida Annual Conference who is a student at Princeton, said the use of technology set a tone. "It's a very genuine effort to say we understand where you are coming from."
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Joey Butler, editor of Young Adult Content for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this story.
Read blogs at: Anna Guillozet (http://ramblinganna.blogspot.com/, on Twitter as @TheAnnaG); Justin Halbersma (http://methodistjustin.com/, on Twitter as @justinhalbersma), and Melissa Cooper (http://www.revcooper.com, on Twitter as @revmelissa); the Rev. Jeremy Smith (http://hackingchristianity.net, on Twitter as @umjeremy).