Geo-socialization was an emerging trend five years ago when I urged local churches to consider and embrace it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it a reality for the majority of churches.
“Geo-socialization, in its simplest terms, may be described as social geography – socializing with those in your geographical area through the tool of social media,” I explained in that 2015 article.
“Connecting to your primary audience within a certain radius of where your business is located is the goal of geo-socialization. It connects people to businesses and events that show a common interest based on what they have shared in social media profiles.”
My original focus was on using the trend of geo-socialization to encourage local churches to think creatively in connecting with the surrounding community.
I argued that geo-socialization helps the local church connect with residents searching for specific ministries by creating what Richard Hamm calls adaptive change in his book “Recreating Church.”
Adaptive changes are those that address core values and that demand innovation, learning and fundamental revisions to the system itself.
In the past five years, I’ve observed little change in the local church as a whole. While some congregations have embraced geo-socialization, most churches still function on an older model of doing church and have ignored the need to be innovative or dismissed it outright.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the local church’s hand, compelling even the most reluctant congregations to lean into the digital age of connectivity and community. As a result, geo-socialization is no longer an emerging trend but a global reality.
With so many congregations forced to stream services online, individuals are now connecting to communities of faith within their communities they had not visited in person previously.
While geo-socialization primarily focuses on using social media to connect with others in the local community, the concept could be expanded to include all digital engagement – something we are seeing in real time during the pandemic.
People from around the world are viewing live-streamed services of congregations they would never likely connect with otherwise.
On a given Sunday, my church has worshippers view our live feed from Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and even Europe.
Christians are now connecting with churches who engage their interests or their beliefs because everyone has been forced to embrace the concept of digital community during this time of physical distancing.
At the time of my initial research, I noted the unique challenge is finding a way to adjust church systems in order to create organically the adaptive change geo-socialization requires.
That adaptive change referred specifically to what Sarwant Singh predicted in his book, “New Mega Trends: Implications for our Future Lives.”
Singh wrote, “Most interestingly, we will find the young will teach the old, with the mature world learning and adapting to the new [Millennial / Gen Z] lifestyle and products.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is the organic force causing churches to lean into the knowledge and ingenuity of the Millennial and Generation Z members to stay connected and thrive.
With geo-socialization now a reality, I believe the important questions to ask are:
- How will the local church incorporate these adaptive changes into their daily practices when the church reopens for in-person worship?
- Will church leadership continue to embrace and lean into the ingenuity of their Millennial or Generation Z members?
- Will younger generations be given a seat at the decision-making table? Or will things eventually return to as they always were?
We are entering into a new normal, a new frontier, which will require a full embrace of the Millennial / Generation Z lifestyle.
Based on the reality of geo-socialization, I predict churches leaning into the ingenuity of their Millennial and Generation Z leadership will become thriving churches, expanding the church’s life span.
It is time for church leadership to say to their Millennial and Generation Z leadership, “The ship is yours, captain. Take us out.”
Joe Kendrick serves as Associate Pastor for Youth and Community Engagement at Spring Creek Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.