Is Your Church Using Social Media…
And that matters. Because it’s not just about using social media, but using it well. That is, responding to the Digital Age isn’t just a matter of having a Facebook page or semi-lame (or even pretty good) website. Rather, it’s thinking with care about the variety of channels of communication that are available to us today in order to support our people in their Christian walk.
Of course, the very thing that makes this moment so amazing in terms of our ability to share the Gospel and equip people for lives of faith – the nearly uncountable number of communication channels available to us – is precisely that which makes it hard to get a hearing in the first place. We have so many possibilities for interacting online that, while we may find the internet a source of information, inspiration, and connection, it’s also – definitely for me and I’m guessing a few of you – one humongous distraction.
Which is why doing social media isn’t the point. It’s doing it well.
I’ve just been listening to Pastor Keith Anderson talk with us at LTSP about Ministry in the Digital Age (archived by tomorrow on the LTSP website), and here are a few of the things I learned from him.
If you’re not interacting via social media, you’re missing out. 75% of all adults online have a Facebook account, and 20-25% are on each of the other major platforms (Twitter, Instagram, etc.) About a fifth of all American have shared their faith online and nearly half have witnessed someone else sharing their faith.
The heralded “rise of the nones” (checking off the “none” box on surveys with regard to religious affiliation) a) has been heavily influenced by the ways in which we’re communicating increasingly via social media platforms and b) is a reality of our own making, as a significant proportion of “nones” grew up in the church but don’t feel engaged by it anymore.
One of the things Keith said that struck me most is that each time – in two different congregations now – he has reached out creatively to attract folks who aren’t engaged in church – theology on tap, coffee shop office hours, online Bible study – his own parishioners continue to seek him out in those spaces, only affirming that the spiritual longings of the “nones” and are own people are pretty similar.
The key, I think, from my own experience and from listening to Keith and others, is that we imagine these forms not only as ways to push out more of our information, or even to use them to provide inspiration – both of which have some value – but are far more about forming and nurturing relationships in an increasingly socially fragmented world. Social media, that is, at its best allows us to connect with each other in new ways.
Which reminded me of a friend’s reflection on how much she felt ministered to via her CaringBridge site when she was battling cancer. The meals her congregation brought her were incredibly valuable. And so was the platform which allowed her and her family to share news easily and quickly and the posts and responses of hundred of people with their thoughts and prayers.
So while a FB page might be great to post a reminder about this week’s youth lock-in, it’s far more helpful to think about how we extend care to one another, how we provide spaces where people can wrestle with questions honestly and with support, and how we can connect to each other whether we live a continent or just a few blocks away.
A participant in a DMin. preaching course I taught once shared the story of Tweeting Good Friday. It was a project in response to changing work patterns at his church. His congregation had for decades offered a noon-to-three Good Friday service, but fewer and fewer people came. Good Friday is no longer a universal work holiday and that really cut into attendance. And so they decided to have folks who could attend Tweet out their reactions to the various readings of, and reflections on, Jesus’ seven words from the cross. Creative…and effective, as many people shared how helpful and meaningful that made Good Friday for them.
Again, I’d highly recommend watching Keith’s presentation, but then also to allow it to provoke you to reflect on how you – you as an individual, you as a member or leader in a congregation – might use social media to do the things Christians have always been called to do – offer comfort, consolation, encouragement, and community in Christ. Then, maybe you can find some friends or colleagues and start brainstorming together about how the congregations you’re connected to might imagine how social media provides us with the opportunity to be the Body of Christ virtually.
In addition to reflecting on Keith’s presentation, I wanted also to share this very brief video from Verity Jones, who heads up the New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. NMP is a great resource if you want to learn more about making good use of digital resources, as they have sponsored a variety of gatherings of conversations and speakers and post most of those resources online.
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