What would Jesus tweet?

With an eye on a generation immersed online, Talbot is offering a social media ministry class this summer.

Harmony Wheeler, Writer

20 students have already signed up for the new social media in ministry class, which Biola will offer for the first time this summer.

Titled, “Using the Internet and Social Media for Ministry” and taught by business professor David Bourgeois, the graduate-level course for Talbot and intercultural studies students will last six weeks and will allow students to interact with each other, critique existing ministry media, and create their own. The class, at least for now, is only open to graduate students.

“The class is not a how-to course,” Bourgeois said. “It’s deeper than that. It’s about how can Internet best be used to communicate a message? What are the underlying principles? There’s a focus on strategy. Asking the right questions. How to decide the right-versus-wrong approach. What are your goals and how do you accomplish them with the means you have?”

Bourgeois began researching social media three years ago, and offered an undergrad course on ministry and the Internet last year. Since then, he has developed the social media class specifically for graduate students because he has a desire to train those going into ministry who he said won’t have time to learn about media once they go into ministry.

Bourgeois said he has hopes to offer the course again, but the course will only be offered during the summer because the summer timing allows him to teach the non-business media in ministry class without conflicting with his regular business classes or Crowell School of Business funding.

Bourgeois said he decided to offer the class as a grad level course because he wanted to train those going into ministry who won’t have time to learn about media once they go into ministry.

“It’s a passion of mine,” Bourgeois said. “The Internet is the greatest communication tool. Christians have been behind the curve a lot. It reflects poorly when we don’t use it well. I’d love to see Biola do more in the area, [maybe] a center for online ministry. ”

With the Biola Media Conference, the recent Imagination Summit, the Christian Web Conference, the Biola iPhone App, and now a class focusing on how-to use media in ministry, Biola has become a constant friend of changing technologies. Some professors, including Talbot professor Jeffrey Volkmer, even use Twitter in class assignments.

“Social media keeps people connected to the pastoral leadership,” Volkmer said. “It allows a church to communicate its mission often. It allows for short, pithy, devotional material to be broadcast. The largest segment of people who are leaving our churches are the 18-30 year old demographic. These are the very people who are the most connected to social media.”

Mick Boersma, Talbot professor of Christian ministry and leadership, said he prefers the physical presence of people in ministry, but recognizes the major role social media plays with younger generations.

“I joke with my students that God did not ‘so love the world that he sent a text message,’” Boersma said. “I do realize, being of the baby boomer generation, that like it or not, people today connect through social media to an astonishing extent. Reaching this world simply requires that ministers and ministries know how to utilize advancing technologies in order to serve others in the church and the world.”

Talbot student Matt Wilcoxen, who will take the class this summer, agreed.

“I think the Internet is a particularly relevant way to do ministry and you can’t really have ministry that doesn’t engage people online,” Wilcoxen said. “As human beings we have a desire to go out of ourselves and encounter other people. More and more of that’s happening online. We need to be part of the encounter.”

Bourgeois said he wants students to make their own decisions on where to draw the line in communicating through technology. Ministries can use the Internet and face-to-face interaction at the same time, using the Internet as a supplement instead of a replacement, he said.

“The bottom line is all about building relationships,” Bourgeois said. “You meet and build relationships through social media. It’s rarely without face-to-face. It’s about being social, mobile. There are so many different approaches.”

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