Explore our recommendations regarding the general
world of social media, especially if getting into it for the first time. Or return to the Recommendations page for more. Explore the Findings tab for more information about the rest of our work.
The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact email@example.com.
- The best
social media practices arise organically from a community and its leadership.
This means the practices are consistent with
the mission, purpose, personality, and culture of the community. As one case study subject, Tony Lee, says, it has to “fit the flow.” Use forms of
media that are part of the daily lives of members and pastors, incorporating
them naturally as they come up. Wait if you have to; no need to be first. And don’t
think you have to do everything (Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.). Rather evaluate
your ministry context, your goals and purpose, and the theological
underpinnings of your mission, and intentionally choose tools that fit.
is still king. It may seem like all the “glitter” in popular culture is
coming from social media these days. However, without good content, there is
not much to share via social media. It
still matters what the message
and character of conversations are. Look for good content to curate. Create good content yourself … and then share
- Because so much about new media and social media
is still experimental, it is helpful to be
open to the gray areas of human life. Things do not exist in a strict duality
of “good” and “evil” online. It’s
much more difficult to evaluate because so much is new. Use the ethical tools you would use on any
other situation to evaluate, but remember
the nuance and complexity of human life, too.
attention to boundaries. They exist everywhere for the sake of healthy and
faithful relationships and basic civil life. They exist online as well. If
something is not appropriate in face-to-face relationships, then it’s probably
not appropriate online either. The same
moral and ethical boundaries you abide by in your daily life apply online as
social media with an eye to the personal. Social media is called such
because, at its best, it is social in character. People want to hear from you,
not from your organization or church. They may still want to know about your organization or church, but they
want to hear from you, not from an
unnamed loudspeaker. Eugene Peterson
advises preachers to learn to be “transparent, but not naked.” Aim for that balance in what you share. One
writer says show
your human side to achieve success in social media.
spiritual direction be done online? One of our guest bloggers thinks so and shares
his story. Don’t miss the comment
thread on this blog post.
race, gender, and class dynamics when putting social media to use.
If social media is social, then its social
cues are going to be culturally specific. Explore some of the research
on this topic and consider the question of whether Black
churches should use social media differently.
rather than avoid the gift of humanity on display in social media. Think
about this theologically and help the
church to think about what we learn about humanity through social media.
- Explore our theological essays for some of our best thinking on doctrines such as Incarnation,
and the Trinity,
and on historical trends and theological practices.
Some practical advice
- Learn from the practitioners. Studies,
including our own, reveal pervasive use of social media among young clergy and young people. Not all of them love social
media, but many do. If they don’t love
use the tools anyway. If you are not
young, talk about social media with people who are. And regardless of your age, or theirs, talk
to people who really understand social media and can help you.
- Ask friends to show you what they do
and share with you their favorite apps. There
are not a lot of classes out there that teach social media. If social media are about relationships, then
use your relationships to learn about social media. And share what you are
doing with others. Getting into a social
media mindset means you have to share, too.
- Experiment with applications and devices.
Step into the social media mindset by just
trying something. The social media world can be forgiving because many folks in
it just learned how to do it themselves and probably made the same mistakes you
did. Someone will help you if you misstep. Experiment
with metaphors and images as well. Be brave.
religious circles, mixing media can be
very appropriate. Because religious
communities tend to be intergenerational and economically diverse, you won’t be
able to go all digital all at once. Keep print while adding digital. And don’t
forget that kids still like to color with crayons! Remember that effective
communication requires repetition, using a multiplicity of channels and
media. In other words, you don’t have to travel a linear path of technology
progress. Do what works, when it works.
- What you choose to do does not have to be
Many social media tools
are free. With a cheap flip camera you
can make a video and post it to YouTube and become a viral sensation overnight.
Facebook is free, and it’s where people tend
to spend a lot of time. Some website and blog template suppliers are also quite
affordable these days.
- Be open to being changed by the media
you use, and be sure to evaluate that change as you go along. Maintain a posture
of curiosity rather than fear. You may
find that you have a knack for visual images that you never imagined you had before trying
Pinterest. You may discover that you are really good at offering
encouraging words to friends in need on Facebook. Or you may discover that you
really like the new
sounds of church.
- Don’t force your use of social media.
Allow yourself to get into it at your own
pace. Find your voice and your rhythm. If
you are too “false” in the world of social media, others will pick up in it
immediately and then your credibility takes a hit. Don’t try to hide behind social
media. Be yourself. You can play
with “persona” online, but be careful.
- Think about the audience you want to
engage. If you are reaching out to your own parishioners, a closed Facebook
Group might be a platform for you. If
you want to reach new people in geographically dispersed locations, a website
with changing content, interactive features, and strong publicity channels
might be the way to go. Explore platforms
and learn what they best enable so that you can make wise decisions about where
to invest your time and energy.
they say in the business world, “most of the smart people work for someone
else.” Much of the best
sermon/programming/ministry/social justice ideas are in someone else’s
head. Social media give you a way to draw out some of those ideas that you
wouldn’t have otherwise. Use social
media to tease others into communicating with you rather than simply broadcasting
your own message at them. Within your
church community, social media can also help bring out the spiritual
gifts of members.
- Use social media to offer invitation rather
Bring friends along
with you to an event; don’t just tell them about it. Share information that you think people want
to know, not just what you think they ought to know. Remember that these media are social. Getting
out your church’s information will be much more effective if you can remember
- When you write online, think about
storytelling in new ways.
invitational and see how your story might change with the comments and
responses of others. Follow some of
their leads as well as you own. Write in
an accessible way (but please don’t completely abandon good grammar!). This may take some practice. Ask people to
help you find the right voice or tone for this kind of writing. Be creative.
- Use social media tools for clergy support
networks. Clergy peer support is
increasingly recognized as an essential element for successful ministry. In incredibly large numbers, younger clergy
(under 40) use social media to tap into their clergy peer groups—for sharing,
friendship, Bible study, and ideas. Check
out these numbers and ideas.
- Consider using social media to listen well.
Facebook and Twitter can offer a window into the worlds of people in your
church community. Let people know you
are listening and paying attention. It
can be an important ministry
of presence. Our case studies are full of stories about pastors and lay leaders using social media
for pastoral care.