You’re going to think this is creepy at first, but give me a minute to explain.
In order for us to effectively minister in any place, we must understand the community we attempt to reach with the gospel. I have written at length before about the need to do narrative mapping in the area where you plan to engage people. A good church planter or church leader will understand their community. They will know it’s story, what people think, and how people live.
Now let me be clear, you will only reach your community if you are part of it. You will only know who lives on your street if you meet them in person. You will only share life, and ultimately Christ, when you have face-to-face relationships. However, there are many tools out there that help you get an glimpse of the people in your community.
Enter the internet.
The internet provides some pretty unique, helpful, and (frankly) creepy tools that aid in understanding the area around you. In North America, we are now an online people. Most of us spend most of our day “plugged in.” People in your community have moved into the online space, a place that parallels the three dimensional, physical community where they live. And guess what, they are vocal in that online space. Honestly, they are more vocal there than in real life. A person is more likely to tell Twitter how they feel than a person they meet in a restaurant or in the checkout line at the grocery.
In the real world, people still keep up the pleasantries of social norms, at least to some extent. If you bump into someone at the gas station and they ask you how you are doing, what are you going to say? You will most likely respond the same way I do, “Oh, I’m fine. How are you?” Now, you may be fine, or you may be having a horrible day, but your will answer the socially appropriate way.
Such social norms are not present on the internet. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become the true outlets of opinion for the people in your community. This is why we all have to wade through belligerent statements, ludicrous soap boxes, and lame surveys and quizzes in our newsfeeds. People view this online space as the place where they can share their mind and tell people how they really feel.
So, what does this have to do with understanding your community?
It’s a good question, and one I intend to answer by pointing out a new online tool made available by Google Maps and an online service called Hootsuite.
Hootsuite is a social media management tool that allows you to schedule posts and organize your social media outlets. Personal accounts are free, and the service has some helpful features if you are on Twitter and Facebook. More importantly, by having a Hootsuite account, you gain access to a really powerful feature in Google Maps.
Recently, Hootsuite released an extension for your Chrome browser called Hootlet. This Hootlet allows you to easily share content you find on the web through your social media channels. But that is not all it does. It is also integrated with Google Maps in a way that will show you all of the tweets in a given area
Let that sink in. There is a tool online that will show you everything tweeted within a radius of any location you choose on Google Maps.
Church planter, if you want to know what people are like in the area where you are thinking about planting, then this is for you. Youth pastor, if you are interested in the real conversation at your local high school (which is not going to be pretty), then this is for you.
You can sign up for Hootsuite here.
You can install the Chrome Hootlet extension here.
Then, simply click on a location in a Google Maps window and you will see the “Tweets near here” button in the box to the left.
Keelan leads the Peoples Next Door project and is a Senior Church Consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, TX. He is working on a PhD in Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In previous years, he spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB.