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Is Social Media Bad for You? Or Are You Just Bad with Social Media?

Networking Socially

When I wrote Rewired, I argued that there is really nothing new about “social media” except the term itself. Media (truth, information) has been around since the world began, and God made us to be social from the start. It was always his idea that truth and information, especially the good news about God, be spread relationally, from person to person. What is new is the set of tools we have at our disposal to create and join conversations online.

So I love social media. I believe it’s a force for good. People use it to raise money for good causes, to teach good things, to form good relationships, and to have good conversations. But I also hate it, because people also use it to spread hate, to turn conversations into fights, and to pursue unhealthy and destructive habits. But here’s the thing – it isn’t the fault of social media, it’s the fault of sinful human beings.

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How to Grow Your Sunday Attendance Using Social Media

Blog GraphicWhen I was a kid, my grandparents owned a small, community store in Browning, Kentucky where I grew up. It was the hub of social activity a the end of each workday. Commuters from town would stop for gas and maybe an ice cream cone and would catch up on life with one another before driving on home.

That store, along with multitudes of others like it across the country, is closed now. But I’m convinced the social aspect of the community store lives on in the form of online social networking. People hang out in community with each other on Facebook, sharing about life and tuning into the lives of others, discussing news and culture, and sharing their faith.

It’s that final aspect of online social networking that intrigues me the most. When we started Grace Hills Church, we didn’t have a bunch of money to drop on mass mailers or newspaper ads. So we turned to Facebook. Most of the first 35 people who showed up at our very first public meeting heard about us through Facebook, either directly from one of our posts, or from seeing something about us on their newsfeed from a friend. And more than two thirds of the people who are now a part of us found out about us either from Facebook or Google.

Social media works. And it works because it connects us with God’s original intent for us. He always wanted us to share media (truth and information) socially (person-to-person). So for any church leader still on the fence, or who may be ready to jump in, here are my five big challenges for you…

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Before Your Church Starts Using Social Media…

Blog GraphicShould 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.

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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:

The 3 Big Questions of this Social, Digital Age

3 DialsI’ve decided to connect with a lot of people in a lot of different ways. I also read a lot of stuff, mostly online but also in print. And I try to write and share great content along the way. The problem is, each of these is never-ending. In other words, there will always be something else to read, someone else with whom to connect, and more to write. Especially now.

I’ve managed to boil my own approach to this new content-driven, socially-connected age down to three big questions. These three questions determine what I do the whole time I’m “working,” which rarely fits into an eight hour work schedule in the traditional sense.

Question #1: What Content Do I Need to Consume Today?

The answer to this question is a tough one. If I’m not careful, I can sit in front of the screen reading things all day long. The stream of information available never stops. Even the stream of good, useful content is overwhelming and too much for any one man army to keep up with. So there are some tools and approaches that help, and often our job is to decide which approach is most valuable today…

  • Read the hundreds of RSS feeds I read every day using Feedly. The pro is that I don’t miss anything from my sources, but the downside is I only read what I’ve been reading and only discover something new via recommendations by those whom I’m already reading.
  • Check Twitter, but especially my Twitter lists. Twitter, itself, is over-run with spammers, but I’ve carefully selected people for lists in a variety of niches. I’m exposed to much more content this way, but can’t even begin to read it all, and I sometimes miss my regular sources.
  • Read books. Real ones. With spines and the smell of paper and glue. I’ll read research-oriented books with my Kindle app, but I still love actual books.

Content gets spread and consumed in ways that are constantly developing. Some of you who are reading this had no idea those tools existed, so I chose not to overwhelm you with the other couple of dozen that I also use.

Here’s the problem with question #1: consuming content doesn’t actually accomplish anything. It makes me aware of what’s out there, but being aware is useless without the next two questions…

Question #2: With Whom Should I Connect Today?

You can read all day long. You’ll be smarter, but it won’t do you or anyone else any good. You need to connect with people. Everybody longs to be known and loved, and what I love about the social web is that the content we’ve been reading and consuming provides points of connection with people. By “content” I might mean a great article on something, or I might just mean Bob’s tweet about the big fish he caught.

So from the content I’m consuming, I’m doing two things. One is research – I’m building a library of ideas. But the other thing I’m doing is connecting. How?

  • By sharing someone’s content with someone else. Someone appreciates the promotion, and someone else appreciates receiving useful information. And someone (me, in particular) is in the middle of those other two someone’s connecting with both of them.
  • By discussing the content I’m reading. That discussion takes place through blog comments, on Twitter, or via a note in my Google Reader shared items. Or it takes place as I sort of “re-blog” it with a twist of my own put on it.
  • By contacting people. Most of us choose to stay behind the screen at a safe and somewhat anonymous distance. If that’s you, you’ve missed the point of “social.”

The social web opens the communication lines. We have access to new people. We are noticeable in ways never possible before. And we’re conversing with strangers who seem a little less strange with each point of contact.

Hyperlinks should lead us to photographs of faces, which should lead us to real people, which should provide a basis for knowing and being known.

The third big question is optional. It depends on your focus and your career path, but for a rapidly growing number of people, it’s becoming the crucial third question of this social, digital age…

Question #3: What Should I Write, Create, or Produce Today?

You don’t have to go down this road. You can be content to consume and connect and your world will be just fine. But we live in an age in which anyone and everyone can be a creator, writer, musician, journalist, reporter, connector, producer, prognosticator, teacher, or prophet. Yes, there are enormous risks with this, but there is no stopping it.

The tools that John and Jane Doe needed to have a voice are not only available and accessible now, they are improving every day. So having answered the other two questions – having consumed, having connected – I need to answer the question of what I’m going to create, write, or produce today.

  • I can write a blog.
  • I can post to Facebook.
  • I can tweet.
  • I can compose a symphony and share it with the world.
  • I can create art and post it up.
  • I can design a website and let it frame someone’s ideas.
  • I can challenge thinking.
  • I can comment on all the news that’s happening.
  • I can criticize.
  • I can praise.
  • I can state loudly and clearly that I’m going to be silent.

Here’s the problem with these three questions… I can’t ever chase all of the possibilities that result from all three. I’ll become a consumer who never produces and never connects, or a producer who never listens.

The essence of our current social media conundrum is that I have to find a way to hold these three big questions in tension every day. I’m going to miss something. I’m going to miss someone. But I can connect with someone too. I can seize the opportunity to do something worthwhile that contributes in some way to how everyone else is answering these same three questions.

This is social media. Actually, this is just life. We’re just calling it “social media” because that’s the thing to call it right now. Soon, it will just be “media” and “social” will be assumed.

Is Social Media Really THAT Important?

Your Brand Represents the GospelNo.

Oh, did you expect me to say yes? To sell you on the undeniable need for developing a social media platform? To convince you that if you don’t start tweeting, your influence is going down in flames? Let me elaborate.

Social media is important. It matters so much that I wrote a book about using social media to share the gospel. I think you should buy it, read it, and pass it along. And yes, people, businesses, churches, and other organizations that ignore it are certainly in jeopardy of becoming obsolete. But it’s not all-important.

As a Pastor, I sometimes find myself lamenting my own emphasis on it. Unhealthy churches that use social media well will probably remain unhealthy unless they dig into some much deeper factors. And leaders who get sucked into the celebrity culture of social media without a firmly grounded character will lose their passion for Jesus and for real friendship and instead give into their addiction to the applause of mere acquaintances.

I want to help churches and organizations in the area of social media. I really do. I’m working through my blog here, through, and with Lifeword Media to offer help, especially to fellow pastors who see the need to grow in this area. But sometimes, I must admit, I feel a little drowned by it. I’m a big believer in the power of personal branding, and I’ve managed to do a good job of branding myself as that Pastor who knows about social media. And on some days, I regret this.

Why? Because social media isn’t my first love or my greatest passion. So let me open up for a minute about some things I’m way more passionate about than being successful in the online world.

I love Jesus. I love walking with Jesus and deepening my walk with Him. Some of my best days are days when I don’t tweet or post or host an online discussion. They are days when I have an unusually large amount of time alone with the Father, where no one sees and no one follows me.

I can look back at a season of my life when I woke up in the morning and checked email and Twitter, then had a quiet time with God. I’ll just say I don’t ever want to go back there again. Let my testimony be a warning to you – seek the King first.

I love my family. On a recent trip to Chicago with my bride of 17 years, I didn’t work. And other than a few photos of interesting things, I just spent large amounts of time talking to the love of my life. And tucking my kids in at night and saying prayers with and over them is not a moment that my social media following is privy to.

There have been moments when social media has been too large a focus for me. While there’s a place for it, my family should never have to compete with it for my attention.

I love the church. I love to see churches get healthy, become purpose driven, and reach new people. Social media helps, but it doesn’t fix a broken church. If I had just one hour with the average Pastor to discuss the question, “why isn’t my church growing?,” social media would occupy the last ten minutes of that conversation.

We would spend most of that time on having a biblical ecclesiology, a scriptural and healthy leadership structure, a process for disciple-making, and well-defined core values. Every church should be using Facebook, but it’s a near-the-surface relational tool that must be supported by a healthy body.

I love preaching. And I believe that preaching is WAY more important to the life and health of the church than social media. Before offering tips for using Twitter to reach out to community leaders, I’d rather talk about preparing and delivering Christ-centered, gospel-saturated, relevant sermons that move the church and its people forward in their faith.

God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to shape the life of the church for two millennia. Just as the printing press, radio, and television help to extend the ministry of the pulpit, so can social media. But none of these mediums will ever replace the power of a well-delivered sermon.

I love theology and church history. One of the problems that we, who love social media, hesitate to admit is that when we are soaking in the world of social media, we are giving undue emphasis to contemporary thinking while often neglecting to nurture our connection with our roots.

In other words, there is so much being written and published right now that we forget all the stuff written back then. Right now, I’m reading through Calvin’s Institutes (and I’m not even a Calvinist) as I seek to understand the theology of one of church history’s most prominent influencers.

Social media makes leaders overnight, like mushrooms, whether they deserve the voice it provides or not. But theology and church history makes leaders over the long haul, with character and deep roots and rich fruits.

Chances are, if you know me only by virtue of the “online” me, you know I’m pretty into church communications and organizational effectiveness. But you who want to know the real me, need to know that my love lies elsewhere in things that are timeless and meaningful and can’t be praised enough in 140 characters or less. And if you’re just getting into the world of social media, heed my warning, don’t let it consume your love, your attention, or your affection more than the things that matter most deeply to the heart of God.