Foursquare is a relatively new social media platform for mobile devices that launched in 2009 and just jumped past the 1.3 million users mark last month. It leverages the GPS technology in your smart-phone and operates with a game-type interface. Like other social-media tools, you are connected to your “friends”. It operates on geolocation – as a user, you “check-in” to places (any venue) and the system then alerts your friends where you are. The game aspect incorporates the accumulation of points for check-ins, badges for multiple location check-ins, and the status of “mayor” for any venue where you are the individual that has checked in there the most.
Like any social media platform, when you look at it from the “outside” it can be hard to tell why on earth you would ever consider investing your time and energy in it. I never like to pass judgement on any tool until I have tried it. So last January, I decided to give it a run to see if there was an application for churches to use Foursquare for ministry.
In my early testing I quickly preferred to have my network of friends be small and primarily real people that I was actually friends with in real life. So after a few weeks I limited my “friends” to a core group of five people (all newly connected Christians in the past 3 years) that attend my church in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This group proved to be my ideal experimental group for the ministry application. Our group (four guys, one gal, ages 30-40ish) implemented Foursquare checkins into our daily lives for four months. Every day, wherever we went, we checked in so our friends could keep tabs on each other and have some healthy competition collecting points and badges in the process.
Here are my Foursquare Focus Group results:
- Ministry Circle – To use Foursquare for ministry it has to enhance real relationships that you already have in person – preferably people that are going to your church or that you are trying to connect to your church. My experience creating the group of five “friends” had some great relationship building dynamics. The entire group started as church acquaintances – only two of the five really were “close friends” prior to this focus group. Foursquare began to build and deepen the relational dynamic for all of us. This could not have happened as effectively if my collection of Foursquare friends had been too large.
- I Know Where You Are – As I said, the relational aspect exceeded my expectations. As the weeks passed, we all got glimpses into each-others day-to-day travel patterns. We learned about restaurants, coffee shops, and retail stores that were favorites. Recommendations were shared on great food, good movies, and fun places to visit. It was a neat glimpse in to the daily lives of four other people that prior to this were mostly just acquaintances. Now we are all friends – good friends!
- Authentic, Practical Spirituality – Foursquare, when utilized this way, presents some very authentic ways to invest spiritually in people’s lives. As an example, one day, I noticed that one of our group was at the walk-in clinic at the hospital. This “alert” prompted me to pick up the phone and call them afterwards to check-in voice-to-voice to make sure they were OK. I had a chance to pray for them and their family. It was not a serious issue, but it was a real-time ministry opportunity to genuinely care for someone who needed to be encouraged spiritually and physically.
- Fun, Friendly Competition – the game aspect of Foursquare – accumulation of points and badges – generated more competition than I would ever have expected and I have to admit it was fun. Having fun with new believers (with the exception of me, the other four members of the group have all been Christians for less than three years) showed them that you could actually live out your faith and grow in maturity all while having fun – what a novel concept!
As a church leader, this experiment for me, was very fulfilling. It enhanced spiritual mentorship opportunities, built stronger relationships, and ultimately enhanced my ministry within the church. In a strange way, it even motivated me to make purposeful real-life connections with each of these new believers that may not have happened as easily otherwise. Sometimes it was a couple, or all of us meeting up together for lunch, other-times, I connected one-on-one at local coffee shops (where I was the mayor ) to invest in their lives and counsel them on growing deeper in their faith.
As I write this out, it amazes me this experiment turned out as well as it did. I certainly will not take the credit as being a social media master. I think, in this case, God allowed me (and us) to utilize technology to have fun making disciples. I think that’s pretty cool.
So, that’s my focus group story with Foursquare – what do you think? Have you tried it? What was your experience? Maybe this could encourage you to create a Foursquare focus group of your own!