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Local Religious Leaders Gain Followers Using Social Media

By Karen Borta, CBS 11 News
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Rabbi Oren Hayon from Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. (credit: CBSDFW.COM)

Rabbi Oren Hayon from Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. (credit: CBSDFW.COM)

Karen Borta-2013 Karen Borta
Karen is a veteran journalist who joined CBS 11 News in 1995. Prior to...
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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – For years, religious leaders have been trying to figure out how to bring younger generations back to their congregations. Now in the age of hashtags, fan pages, and flash mobs, some North Texas clergymen are turning to new technology to gain more followers.

A Rabbi, a Catholic Bishop, and a Lutheran Minister… it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but the three North Texas religious leaders are all embracing social media as a way to re-engage younger generations in their faith.

“Any new innovative way to get people to experience these foundational stories of our spiritual lives is I think a win,” said Rabbi Oren Hayon from Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. Rabbi Hayon uses Twitter every day to connect with younger congregants at the temple.

“I think that’s one of the goals of the religious life, though, is to use the best most sophisticated, most modern tools at our disposal to make stories relevant real and immediate for people,” he said.

Last year, he recruited tweeting Rabbis from all over the country to bring the biblical story of the Jews flight from Egypt to life. They Tweeted the entire book of Exodus in the two weeks leading up to the Passover Holiday .

“I imagined people going through their day receiving tweets on their smartphone during their day of work, and they’d get a little note that Moses had just unleashed the plague of darkness,” said Rabbi Hayon. “Just for a second there, in their otherwise mundane workday, they got just a moment of religious reflection.”

Pastor Kyle Rouze from Calvary Lutheran Church in Richland Hills wanted to create a younger community within his church. He came up with “Flash Mob”-style bible studies.

“I sent out about 20 text messages I think to start off with, and suddenly we had 12 people show up our first night at a coffee shop,” Pastor Rouze said.

Each week, Pastor Rouze picks a different location, sends a message with a topic, and then waits to see who will show up. He says it’s important to honor and keep the old traditions of the religion, but leaders need to embrace the newer ways of life.

“Use it in ways that are effective and helpful, not letting go of the things that are orthodox and solid, but also being who we are in 2011,” he said. “It’s filling a need. It’s creating this community.”

In Fort Worth, Bishop Kevin Vann didn’t even want e-mail when he first came to the Diocese there. Now, he’s joined the blogosphere.

I think it’s seen as a new field of mission work of outreach, of preaching the gospel,” Bishop Vann said. “This blog is a real help to me to preach the gospel, to write and reach a lot of folks.”

The Bishop writes his blog, sometimes on his iPad, about every other day. He says even the Pope himself is interested in blogging.

“The Holy See wants to learn first-hand the needs of the blogging community and how to use that effectively,” said Bishop Vann.

All three clergymen say social media has opened doors for more personal religious and spiritual discussion, and they all hope it helps younger generations connect better with their faith.

What made me feel really great is that all of a sudden, there’s this new crop of people who found the bible engaging and meaningful and inspiring again,” said Rabbi Hayon. “I think we’ve just begun to scratch the surface in terms of what these technologies can offer us as spiritual people.”

Tell us what you think. Comment here, or go to the CBS 11 Facebook Page and let us know if you think social media can help bring today’s youth back to religion.

Click here to check out the Lifeway Research on Churches on Facebook.

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