Should churches utilize social media for the mission of carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth? Yes! But after a decade or so of helping churches and leaders utilize blogging and social networking for ministry I’ve come to a solid conclusion that every church leader needs to hear:
We don’t need to get our church involved in social media until our church’s leaders are invested in it.
Usually, when a church reaches out for help about getting started, this involves launching or redesigning the church’s website, creating a church Facebook page, and possibly creating an Instagram and/or Twitter account. But repeatedly, these efforts are wasted because of a misunderstanding about the nature of social media.
Here’s the simple explanation. Social media is media (information, truth, a message of some kind) that is social (spread person-to-person or person-to-people through relationships). But we who grew up in the age of television, radio, print, and even the early days of the Internet wish it were as simple as it was a couple of decades ago when any institution or organization could mass distribute its message and count on a decent response from the general public.
Here are the harsh realities, or the beautiful opportunities if we can see them as such, that are now facing us:
- People don’t trust institutions, including churches, to be honest about their own message.
- People don’t listen to institutional language but instead demand an authentically human voice.
- People don’t choose things based on advertising but rather based on the opinions of friends.
So having a church website, or church Facebook page, or church anything is terribly ineffective if it isn’t personal, human, and relational.
I believe that for most churches, especially smaller to medium-sized churches, it’s actually more important for the Pastor and staff to be present on social media than for the church to show up there institutionally. Marriott is just a hotel, but reading Bob Marriott’s blog makes it a knowable, relatable business. Zappos revolutionized the fashion-retail business by directly responding to customers on Twitter. And Ed Stetzer is one of evangelicalism’s most listened to voices because he’s decided that blogging and tweeting prolifically is worth the time.
So now, my first and primary question to any church leader asking for help getting into social media is this: Are you personally and professionally using social media?
Using the excuse that you don’t have time doesn’t cut it anymore. If you have time for evangelism, you have time for social media. If you have time to meet new people, research current trends, and build relationships, you have time for social media. So the time is right now.
If you’re a church leader and you’re not using social media to advance the church’s purposes, you’re simply delaying the obsolescence of your ministry impact. You can coast a while longer and relate only to fellow hold-outs, or you can decide that now is the time to engage the current culture, where it is, in the online world. Here are some tips for getting started:
- Sign up on Twitter, create a decent bio and use a current photo for your profile, then follow people that make sense – fellow church leaders, community leaders, and people on the fringes of your church’s extended family.
- Use Facebook regularly. Post something inspirational daily, open a window into your life with some photos, and encourage other people with comments, likes, and personal messages.
- Blog. Use WordPress, Tumblr, or Medium to turn your sermon notes into devotional messages that live past lunch on Sunday. And dare to share it with other people.
- Sign up for free, helpful material from Lifeword, whose goal is to help every believer become a media missionary. Or read a book about using social media for ministry.
When church leaders such as Pastors, staff members, and volunteer team leaders get excited about communicating the gospel and cultivating a healthy church community using modern tools, the church will follow. And at the end of the day, the people who sit in our pews on Sunday are far more instrumental to the spread of the gospel than the institution’s public face. It’s been that way since Jesus commissioned the apostles to take the good news to the whole world.
And for some other good follow-up reading on social media, check out these links:
- 8 Things Christians Need to Do More On Social Media, by Neal Samudre
- 15 Proverbs for Social Media Users, by Barnabas Piper
- The Anatomy of a Successful Facebook Post, by Shari Monnes
- 44 Social Media Tools Recommended by the Pros, by Cindy King