By Pamela J. Nielsen
How do you capture the attention of 25,000 youth and adults in the span of a week when they are engaged in a multitude of other learning and service opportunities?
LCMS Communications — charged with showcasing the witness and mercy work of the LCMS at major events — tackled that question for this summer’s July 16-20 LCMS Youth Gathering in New Orleans.
#thisisMYchurch is the new LCMS social-media campaign to highlight that work of the Synod.
“Youth gathering planners have learned over 30 years of planning and feedback from exhibitors that creating interactive exhibits enhances learning, memory of information, and provides a lasting experience for the participant,” said Mark Kiessling, director of Youth Ministry for the LCMS. Kiessling and his team offered guidance about how to engage participants at the gathering.
LCMS Communications wanted to introduce the youth to how and where God is working through the church body with its proclamation of the Gospel and tangible acts of mercy.
“On every assignment, I meet and tell the stories of people who intensely love their Lord and love their church,” said Erik Lunsford, managing photojournalist with LCMS Communications. “Whether they are in the remote villages of Africa or Asia, tiny midwestern farm towns, or gritty urban neighborhoods, the body of Christ is active in proclaiming the Gospel. To see it is both humbling and awe-inspiring. We should all be talking about these stories.”
A goal of the #thisisMYchurch campaign is to help young people discover that they are part of something much bigger than themselves or their home congregation.
“Social media is where the young people are getting their information and where they go to find out what’s going on. It’s where they go to share things they think are important, interesting or funny with their friends,” said Peter Slayton, social-media manger for LCMS Communications. “We wanted to give them good stories to tell about the work God is doing through them and their church body.”
The campaign launched in early April on LCMS social-media pages — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — and is gaining momentum with new pictures and stories being added weekly through the time of the Youth Gathering, where images shot by Lunsford will be scattered throughout the convention center, accompanied by QR codes and the hashtag #thisisMYchurch.
A QR code is a graphic image that, when scanned with a smartphone or tablet app, directs the user to a specific web page. Searching for a specific hashtag will bring up pictures, videos and text with that tag posted by anyone, anywhere. On social-media platforms, hashtags provide a way to track a conversation on a given topic.
“When a young person scans the QR code, they’ll be taken to a web page that tells the story behind the picture,” said Jennifer Duffy, production director for LCMS Communications. “It’s a scavenger hunt. Groups that search out the QR codes and tell us about the images they’ve found will be entered in a drawing to win a prize for their parish youth ministry.”
At the Synod convention
The week before the Youth Gathering, the Synod gathers (July 9-14) in Milwaukee for its 66th Regular Convention.
The Communications team quickly realized that the #thisisMYchurch campaign was equally relevant to the convention audience. The new website for this campaign will be introduced at the convention.
The hashtag campaign has already fostered an online discussion and a few alternate hashtags such as #thisisCHRISTSchurch and #thisisGODSchurch that expand on the ideas behind the campaign.
“One goal of the campaign is to foster a healthy sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves and to share stories that inspire us all to exclaim, ‘This is my church,’ ” said Roger Drinnon, Editorial Services and Media Relations director for LCMS Communications. “This same sense of belonging expresses itself,” he added, “when we invite a friend to church by asking, ‘Hey, do you want to come to my church with me this Sunday?’ ”
“The alternate hashtags are an excellent way of placing this sense of belonging in perspective,” Slayton added, “as participants read the stories and understand that their church is really Christ’s church and that He is the one doing the work of bringing people to faith. Working together, all three hashtags do an excellent job of fleshing out what the Church is and to whom it belongs.”
What’s your story?
“With 6,000 congregations, hundreds of day schools, 35 districts and missionaries on five continents,” said Lunsford, “there are a lot of witness and mercy stories taking place every week across the Synod. The hope is that the whole church will join in using the hashtag #thisisMYchurch to tell the stories of how God is working in and through us. It is good news that we can share and use to engage our families and friends as we tell them about Christ and His Church.”
To see the stories or add your own, search or use the hashtag #thisisMYchurch on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Deaconess Pamela J. Nielsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate executive director of LCMS Communications.
Posted April 14, 2016 / Updated April 28, 2016