November 2016
Tools for Evangelism

#EvenTalk: Connect via Twitter

A reference to #EvenTalk in Alan Bentrap’s blog post piqued my curiosity. Skeptical of Twitter as part of a congregation’s communications toolkit, I clicked.

The link brought me to the St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church (Houston) Facebook page and a listing, with two photographs:

“Join us for #EvenTalk tonight 8-9 for a Christ-centered discussion on Twitter. Tonight, we will discuss the role of church in the public sphere after reading this article from The Living Church:”

Text on the first image included an invitation with instructions for participation and the second, this list of discussion questions:

Q1: How is Christianity countercultural?
Q2 How can Christians positively interact with subcultures that in some ways mirror the Gospel but also depart from Christian values in other ways?
Q3: What is the significance of one voice in a radically democratic community?
Q4: What does it mean to be the Church in the public sphere? How is the church’s image important in the public sphere?

I wanted to learn more.

An email introduction from Alan led to a phone conversation with Brian Tarver, curate at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Houston. Here’s what I learned:

At St. Dunstan’s, an active parish with many opportunities to grow in faith and serve others, the reality of families, jobs, and responsibilities at times limit a parishioner’s availability to participate. For parents with young children and early bedtimes, driving to the church on a weeknight for a Bible study or adult formation class wasn’t realistic. Yet, as Brian shared with me, that didn’t mean they weren’t interested in participating. What if people could participate without leaving home?

Brian began testing a different approach to bringing people together for conversation, fellowship, and Bible study. He invited parents with younger children to join him on a weeknight, via Twitter, for a directed, faith-based conversation about an article, presentation, or video. He soon expanded his invitation, seeking to include people from different generations and situations. Interest came from young adults without children as well as older parishioners

#EvenTalk is born.

Brian soon learned that getting people to participate would take more time than he first expected. He offered social media tutorials and asked participants for feedback. He kept at it and by late summer had a core group of eight to nine active followers, people who after joining the conversation and tweeting a greeting to other participants, respond to the questions as they are posed and interact by commenting on other’s posts or asking questions as a way to delve deeper into a response. This group, for the most part, is composed of regular Sunday worshippers.

There’s also a secondary group of participants – which I joined one week this month: people who read or watch the material chosen for discussion and follow the live Twitter chat in real time, perhaps liking a Tweet yet otherwise not actively participating in the conversation. Others sign on and read the transcript later in the week.

So what’s the experience like? An #EvenTalk session begins and ends with prayer. Greetings are exchanges as participants sign on, join together in prayer, and then begin to respond the first posted question. During the conversation, people comment on each other’s posts, at times sharing a poem or image, and as happened in the session I sat in on, warmly welcomed a participant from Pennsylvania who, perhaps learned of the event through Alan’s blog on ECF Vital Practices.

When asked how the animated film chosen as this week’s topic challenges people’s expectations of animation and how challenging expectations ties in to faith, responses included:

Expectations lead to misinterpreting & placing unfair burdens on someone(thing), even setting limitations. #eventalk

Challenging people’s expectations forces us to go against the grain and opens our eyes to new views. #eventalk

As Xians, many think we should be perfect & like Jesus but in doing so miss redemptive message of he cross & core of r faith #eventalk

To challenge expectations is a want to find a better way. #EvenTalk

It can cause you to think of things with new perspective. “Roles” can be rigid. “Breaking out” could cause a “break through. #eventalk

Church should challenge expectations by presenting the material (Bible) in different ways to connect to those on the edge #eventalk

As sometimes happens in a face-to-face group, side conversations take place, these posts related to an observation made about a watch and directed at the person who originally asked about the watch and the person who posed the follow up question:

@xxxx No one but you has mentioned the watch. Anyone else have thoughts on the buried watch? #eventalk

@xxxx @yyyy Time heals wounds

@xxxx @yyyy I think it was his only connection from that incident. It’s what brought him back from the edge #eventalk

As a way to strengthen the relationship among #EvenTalk participants – be they active or passive – Brian invited local participants and their families to gather at a local BBQ restaurant this past summer. Some of the conversation focused on process, with people offering ideas for topics as well as tips, such as using Tweet Chat on Hootsuite to make it easier for someone to follow the conversation. There was enthusiasm for meeting quarterly at the aptly named “EvenTalk Gathering,” with the second occurring in October.

What’s next? With #EvenTalk analytics showing a spike in visitors the day after the live Tweet chat, Brian is reaching out to other congregations to introduce them to the approach and welcome them to the conversation. His message? #EvenTalk offers an opportunity to bring both members and interested others into deeper relationship with each other and with God using social media to overcome the obstacles of commitments and distance that often hinder participation. Soon, EvenTalk will have its own account on Twitter (@Evan_Talk), making it easier for other churches to be involved.

Check it out!

Nancy Davidge is editor of ECF Vital Practices.

Try This:

Sit in on #EvenTalk on a Thursday evening, from 8:00 to 9:00 pm CT. Visit @saintdunstans on Wednesdays for featured content and discussion questions.

Interested in learning more? Like what you see? Follow the conversation at @Even_Talk. Questions, email Brian Tarver at .

  • #ChSocM a weekly Twitter-based chat about using social media to build church and faith
  • @TweetChat - a place to follow TwitterChat conversations 

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This article is part of the November 2016 Vestry Papers issue on Tools for Evangelism