Using Social Media in Ministry ©

Three or four months ago, I approached Rev. David Alexander (who has been a mentor for me in using social media – the improvements are due to his coaching, the persistent errors are a reflection of his students fumbling) to write a guest blog on using social media in ministry.  There were multiple reasons for asking help in this area.  First, I am a visitor or late immigrant to this world.  My instinctive reactions are those of someone who entered ministry in the age of typewriters.  My children are early adopters.  My grandchildren are natives.  Yet, as is obvious, we live in a social media age.  To share the gospel in its full dimensions we must master the use of the Social Media.  (This is similar to the change clergy went through in Reformation moving from an oral age to a print age.)  Second, in our Cabinet work, we have run into increased communication difficulties with people placing careless and/or controversial statements on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and congregations negatively reacting.  This exposes generational miscommunication through the use of a platform of communication that is understood differently by different generations. Context and background are lost. Fragile relationships between pastors and parishioners are damaged. Trust is threatened.  Third, we (both lay and clergy) need a more coherent dialog on how we use social media. Hopefully this guest blog will be a start.  -Bishop Mike Lowry

Harnessing the power of social media in your ministry by Rev. David Alexander

Social Media platforms are powerful tools for church and ministry leaders today.

Yet, many churches and pastors fail to effectively harness the power of these modern platforms. Every church, regardless of size, should spend time intentionally developing a strategy for utilizing these resources. Equally important is for pastors to consider how they are using social media to extend the message and mission of their congregation. Here are a couple of areas to consider as you think about your social media strategy.

What is our message?

Most churches and ministries already use social media to communicate information related to upcoming events and activities. While this is a great benefit to your audience, what you may be missing is the chance to use these platforms to clearly communicate your mission, your vision and the core values of your ministry. You might start by asking,
  •   Do we know those values we want to communicate?
  •   Do we have clarity around the mission we are working to see realized through our ministry?
This is where the conversation about strategy must begin. Once you have those components identified, be intentional in every piece of your communication to help your audience connect the dots between who you are and what you do. Don’t settle for sharing the details. Tie everything back to the mission.

Where can we add value to these platforms?

Facebook is a great resource for pastors if for no other reason than it remind us what people care about and what concerns dominate their thoughts and attention. It is a window into the world in which our congregation lives each day and unfortunately what we often see is how negative and destructive that world can be. This past August we challenged our church with a very simple and straightforward idea.
In a world where it seems like everyone is tearing one another down, we are called to be builders of God’s better world.
This was a phrase we repeated again and again during the fall election season and we specifically identified social media as a place where people of faith are challenged to live into this call. I would argue that pastors would be wise to live into this ideal in the way they use social media. Facebook and Twitter are not platforms for extensive dialogue or to challenge people in their deeply held assumptions and beliefs. While social and/or political critique may at times be appropriate in the scope of your pastoral ministry, social media is not a platform well suited for this work. Instead, I would argue that social media should primarily be a place where we build, a place where we encourage, and a place where we resource our congregation with life-giving tools. If your potential content does not fit into any of those categories, I would encourage you to refrain from adding that thought to the overall “noise” that fills your congregation’s friend feed. Better yet, spend some time thinking about what you might say that would add value to these platforms that dominate so much of our thought and attention.

How can we empower members to extend our message?

Any effective social media strategy should include this final question because this is the place where your reach can grow exponentially. When pastors or churches provide an encouraging word, a prayer that people might use in response to a national tragedy, or a resource that your followers find valuable, guess what your followers are going to do with that? They are going to share that with their friends! And when they do, your message has actually penetrated into what may be a brand new community. You are providing a piece of content that may enable a member of your church to have the faith conversation with their neighbor or co-worker that they have been trying to have for months or even years. Do not miss that this is the real power of social media. It allows you to impact and reach people in your community that may not be reached in any other way. This is the one the reasons that you should make sure that your content stands out by being focused on building others up, encouraging others in their daily lives and resourcing people for life change. When you do, it puts a powerful tool in the hands of your audience that they can then use to extend your message. I hope working through these three questions will empower you and your leadership to sharpen your social media strategy. It is a powerful resource that we should all continually seek to better harness to impact God’s Kingdom.