Religious rap: Fargo-area churches look online to reach youths

FARGO -- The video opens with three elderly men with their arms crossed, striking a pose. With a driving electronic beat behind them, they rap -- about Metamucil, cereal, their take on social media and other things men of their age might talk about.

FARGO -- The video opens with three elderly men with their arms crossed, striking a pose.

With a driving electronic beat behind them, they rap -- about Metamucil, cereal, their take on social media and other things men of their age might talk about.

Called "Old Guys Rule," the video is a product of the communications team at Bethel Lutheran Church in Fargo. On, it has racked up nearly 75,000 views since it was released nearly seven months ago.

The video featuring old men rapping is an example of how area churches are turning more to multimedia and social media as a means to reach a larger part of their congregations, especially a younger population not typically at church on Sundays.

Larry Wohlrabe, bishop of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said the ELCA sees great potential in using media to reach youths.


Young adults are, on average, much less religious than older populations. A 2010 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 33 percent of those ages 18 to 29 attend church weekly, compared to 41 percent of adults ages 30 or older.

The same demographic is more likely to use sites like Facebook. A 2011 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 83 percent of adults in the 18 to 29 age group who use the Internet use social networking sites, compared to 70 percent of online adults aged 30 to 49.

"If we care about the young adult part of our population, we just have to be there," Wohlrabe said of social media. "We know we need to be in this world, so we're working at it."

Online credibility

Becky Broschat, one of the area directors of Campus Crusades for Christ, a non- denominational organization on all three Fargo-area college campuses, said an online presence can make a church more credible in the eyes of a college student.

Students, she said, "don't think twice about using (Facebook) when it comes to checking out churches."

Bethel Lutheran is one of the churches in the area that has created that kind of an online presence. There, worship director Andy Kvernen said even though a video like "Old Guys Rule" might be relatable for the entire congregation, the church is aware of how it can act as outreach to young Christians.

"We care desperately about reaching young people," he said. "Media is a part of that process."


Bob Lind, 79, a columnist for The Forum who was enlisted by Kvernen and Bethel to participate in the "Old Guys Rule" video, said he probably thought the idea was a little crazy at first.

But, after seeing the final product, he gets how video and other media can be used to spread the church's message.

"I don't care whether (the message) is in music, or in drama, or videos or whatever, as long as it stays true to scripture, then I don't think there's anything wrong with it," he said.

Though Bethel's videos might be the most creative in the area, Hope Lutheran Church in Fargo, with a six-person communications team, also has a heavy media presence aimed, in part, at youth engagement, said Krystal Zimmerman, communications director. The church's well-updated website includes podcasts of online sermons.

"If you aren't online, you are going to miss a huge demographic," she said.

For example, "the younger generation prefers to make appointments online," she said.

Mixed usage

Not all churches are on board with the digital age, though. A review of church websites around the Fargo-Moorhead area shows a wide range of media usage, ranging from updated websites and Facebook pages to simple sites with only dates or information.


Some churches don't have the resources necessary to maintain an active online presence, Wohlrabe said.

"To keep (a website) fresh is really important," he said. "Thinking about churches of all different sizes and compositions, the ones that are not maybe as resource-rich have trouble keeping a website up well if they don't have a good plan to do that."

That's the challenge that churches like Salem Evangelical Free Church in Fargo face. Nikki Conley, a database manager at Salem, said the church has stepped up its efforts over the last few years to make sure that its website is up-to-date, but the added responsibilities of social media pile up.

The church has a Facebook group, she said, but has not done as much with it as they'd like. "It's something we have the desire to do more with," she said.

Even churches that are online struggle with that.

"Online media is such a changing field," Zimmerman said. "It's a challenge for churches to keep up."

But Wohlrabe thinks local ELCA churches have made definite strides online.

"I would say in the last five years we've swung from maybe a minority of our churches having websites to now more than half," he said.

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