Churches aren't the first organizations that come to mind when you think about intelligent adoption and incorporation of social media. Nevertheless, many feel that if there was ever an organization in need of modern relevance, the Christian church in America is it.
One denomination, the United Methodist Church, has opted for a boldly redesigned web presence to ask users, "What if church wasn't just a building, but thousands of doors? Each of them opening up to a different concept or experience of church - and a journey that could change our world. Would you come?"
10ThousandDoors.org goes far beyond a Facebook page or Twitter account. It pulls in information scraped from the web to track trending topics, then curates collections of articles on those subjects. It allows users to login using Google Friend Connect. The site gathers social video content about "people making a positive difference in our world," and its GO/DO page uses a Google Earth plugin to get users to make connections between the online and the offline.
Apart from being remarkably aesthetically pleasing and entirely modern, the site also blows the lid off of traditional expectations of static church websites. Even non-Methodists or non-Christians would get a kick out of the rich interactivity: The TALK page that allows users to respond to simple questions, the FIND page that directs users to the closest churches with programs most relevant to users' interests, the LISTEN page with audio news features and an iLike music player.
We caught up with one of the minds behind the site, Miiacom's Bayard Saunders, in Nashville, Tennessee. "The big idea," he said, "was to serve the content of the home page like a giant tag cloud based on feeds from news sources, blogs (including Twitter), keyword searches, site paths and referring pages. So by design, the site is constantly refreshed and always highlighting the most relevant content based on the most current topics relevant to seekers."
Saunders also revealed that an ad buy-fueled partnership with Google has allowed for additional relevant innovations, including a Methodist layer on Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Friend Connect, and content fed by individual UMC churches from Google Apps.
"It is ground-breaking, certainly for an official religious denomination's website," he said. "And it's been quite an interesting experience, designing a web presence for 'the God account.'"