March 29, 2012

Foursquare 4 Church?

I don’t get the appeal of Foursquare. I remember posts on Facebook telling me that ‘so and so’ had checked in somewhere or that they were the mayor of a place and not understanding why I should care. Thinking about it, I don’t recall any recent Foursquare posts… confirming that its okay for me to stay ignorant of this social media application.

I was wrong. Or, as Rick says in Casablanca, “I was misinformed.”

Hi! I want to learn more about foursquare! from foursquare on Vimeo.

According to Sonya DiPalma, associate professor of mass communication at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, just because those of us who are digital immigrants* don’t ‘get’ something, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to it. “That shouldn’t matter,” says DiPalma. “It’s not for us to ‘get’ why Millennials find Foursquare so compelling; what is important is knowing that it is and if you want to reach out to this age group, you should too. “

So what is Foursquare and why should congregational leaders consider using it to attract Millennials to your church? Wikipedia defines it as

A location-based social networking website for mobile devices, such as smart phones. Users "check-in" at venues using a mobile website, text messaging or a device-specific application by selecting from a list of venues the application locates nearby. Location is based on GPS hardware in the mobile device or network location provided by the application. Each check-in awards the user points and sometimes "badges".”

Following DiPalma’s recommendation to learn more about Foursquare, I’ve committed myself to learn more about this tool and to share my findings through ECF Vital Practices. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. According to DiPalma, Millennials are gamers and Foursquare feeds into this by helping users earn points and offering rewards for ‘checking in.’ Many businesses offer discounts after checking in a certain number of times.
  2. The person who checks in most frequently during a set period of time becomes the Mayor and receives additional prizes.
  3. Like Google Plus or Yelp, businesses and organizations can ‘claim their place’ and customize their free Foursquare website with hours of operation, photos, descriptive text, and more.
  4. I typed in ‘Churches’ and ‘Marblehead’ and was surprised to see a fairly lengthy list pop up. Like Google Places, I expect Foursquare pulls locations from the Internet. I wasn’t surprised to find that most churches had not claimed their space. The two Episcopal Churches in my community showing 16 and 10 check-ins; neither church has claimed their Foursquare site.
  5. People checking in to a location via Foursquare can leave ‘tips.’ Gini C. posted this tip on the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead’s page:
Worship service 10:30 am Sunday. Caring community. Justice seeking ministry. Very welcoming of new people.

I still have much to learn. Yesterday, I posted a tweet asking “Anyone using Foursquare for church?” and received one response from Houston, Texas: “I use regularly. And so do several people at our church. We are always "checking in". Let's us know who is already there.” I’m eager to hear from more of you.

My next step is to find a small business – or a congregation – that will work with me to test Foursquare by claiming their site and trying different ways to use this social media tool to generate interest in their site, and their ministry. Interested? Please email me at I promise to share my findings in future blog posts.

* Digital immigrant: If you have ever typed on a typewriter, dialed a rotary phone, or practiced penmanship in elementary or grammar school, you qualify as a digital immigrant. It doesn’t matter if you define yourself as being technically savvy; your immigrant status comes from not having technology as your ‘native language.’