A pastor friend asked me recently, “So, when is all this Tweet-MyFace-Spacebook fad going to come to an end?” The reality is that Facebook and other social media are not just fads, but have completely changed the way millions of people now communicate around the world. Whether we want to accept it or not, our churches should embrace this reality and use social media to better connect to our congregations and the community around us.
For those still trying to catch up, let’s start with a basic definition of social media. “Social media are media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media use web-based technologies to transform and broadcast media monologues into social media dialogues” (Wikipedia).
In a nutshell, this means we all get tired of listening to the radio, watching television, and reading the newspaper and not being able to answer back. Interaction is what drives social media.
So, why is it important for the local church to use social media? I mean, really, this is just a thing for the young people, right? The fastest growing group on Facebook is 55-65 year olds. But really, who takes this thing seriously? Soon, you will be able to book your flights on Delta Airlines through Facebook. Companies are now spending $858 million dollars on Facebook in the U.S. alone. It seems the corporate world is taking it very seriously. Social media can benefit the local church in two main areas: 1) by helping to build community and relationships, and 2) by facilitating better communication.
Building Community & Relationships
Social media is by no means a replacement for community and/or relationships, but an aid to assist our pastors and churches in building community. I don’t believe in the Internet-only church; God wants our relationships to be face to face. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (NIV). God truly wants us to come together as a physical community. However, social media helps facilitate community by connecting people in new ways that allow them to share their lives with others. We share our “lives” through social media at our pace. This gives the new visitor to your church the opportunity to connect with the pastor or fellow attendees in a non-threatening environment, giving them time to build up trust in these new relationships.
Social media is also a great tool for the pastor to use to draw the congregation more closely together.
Social media is also a great tool for the pastor to use to draw the congregation more closely together. Your congregation is sharing photos from recent events in their lives; they are sharing their victories and their struggles in a way that they might not share with you in the few moments together on Sunday, between Sunday School and morning worship. This presents you with opportunities to connect to their expressed needs, showing them you care about the small things they share.
Besides building relationships among our diverse populations, another of the most difficult things in any group, organization, or church is communication. We print bulletins each week, the announcements are on pre-service slides, and we even share straight from the pulpit, but still there are those who “didn’t know about it.” Social media can be a tremendous tool to enhance your communication in the local church.
The key to the success of social media is its ability to be interactive. By using social media, you are opening the door of dialogue to your congregation. What better way to understand the needs of your people? How many of you have a stated or unstated rule of turning off cell phones in your sanctuary? Instead of stifling their communication, why not give them the opportunity to dialogue during your sermon. As you are preaching
Have someone track the questions and do a response time at the close of your sermon. Dialogical sermons!
(and hopefully using PowerPoint and video), run your cell phone number at the bottom of your screen. Invite your congregation to text any questions they might have during the sermon to your cell. Have someone track the questions and do a response time at the close of your sermon. Dialogical sermons!
Another social media you may consider is Twitter. Many don’t see the importance of Twitter in communicating. Why do I want to read about so-and-so eating an ice cream at such-and-such place? Don’t waste your time reading those sorts of tweets. Find what is relevant to share via Twitter as a pastor. Twitter in many ways is a form of text messaging. Did you know that members of your congregation can receive your tweets directly to their cell phones? Think about the possibilities of blasting your message via cell to everyone at one time.
One important factor to consider in this discussion is the integration of media. There are ways to automatically update your Facebook from your Twitter, to update your Facebook from your website’s pastoral blog, to tweet a link, photo, or video directly to your blog. Social media integration allows for seamless communication through all media forms.
Another great use for Twitter and your pastoral blog is carrying your Sunday sermon through the week. As pastors, you must also teach, share vision, and encourage your flock. Use these tools for additional teaching or further study based on Sunday’s sermon. Don’t cut and paste your Sunday sermon notes, but challenge your people to think deeper on the subject. Use social media as an extension of your sermon.
Email is still the largest social network that exists in the local church.
Email is still the largest social network that exists in the local church. There are many great email services that can manage your church’s email lists and email blasts. One free service to churches is called Mail Chimp. Their software program does more than just manage the address list. They help you design visually appealing emails. They can track the response from the readers. They also integrate their email with your church’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Important Things to Remember
Finally, remember these important issues when using social media:
1. You want to make sure you are using the forms of social media that your congregation is using. Should they all be on Facebook, you will most definitely want a Facebook page for your church. However, if the majority does not use Twitter, you might want to consider it unimportant to your strategy. Your goal is to maximize your visibility and connectiveness.
If you are not giving your people a new reason to return to your site everyday, they will soon forget about you.
2. People expect their social media to be very dynamic. The golden rule in media also applies to social media—content is king! If you are not giving your people a new reason to return to your site everyday, they will soon forget about you. It is important to create a ministry team with the sole purpose of creating and updating new content everyday.
3. The purpose of social media is not one-way communication. This isn’t your personal soapbox. Strive to engage members of your congregation in conversation and develop dialogue.
Social media can be an effective tool in the overall communication strategy of your local congregation. At the same time, it can devour too much of your already busy schedule. Work to develop a local media team who can manage different aspects of your strategy. Remember, many in your congregation are already heavily using social media and love it. Why not use them to make a difference in your congregation and local community?
BRIAN UTTER serves as the Global Ministry Coordinator for World Mission Broadcast