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.
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media may be new, but social relationships are not. Christians have been putting
social relationships to good use for millennia. Jesus sent out his Disciples to prepare the
way for his arrival in towns and villages. Paul used letters and networks of friends to carry the message across
the Mediterranean world. The body of
Christ is the community of followers who bear the Word of God into the
world. Social media provide us new tools
and new ways of thinking about those tools to share the good news of God’s love
with the world.
media aren’t as scary if you think about using the tools for relationship
building. Christian communities have quite a bit to say about relationships
and how important it is to build and maintain good, faithful, healthy
relationships. The world of social media is a little different, but fortunately it’s not as different as you may think. Mark
Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, says in a Time Magazine article, “At its core, what we're trying to do is map
out all of those trust relationships.” Writer Lev Grossman adds, “The fact that
people yearned not to be liberated from their daily lives but to be more deeply
embedded in them is an extraordinary insight.”
- Churches use social media to nurture community
among church members, facilitate the connections between and among members of
small groups, extend pastoral care, organize events, invoke gifts among
members, mobilize folks around social issues, and help people plug into the
work of the church, to name a few. Our case studies are full such interesting stories.
the gospel in a new age is at stake. When increasing numbers of young people do
not attend church but do use social media, then conveying the gospel
message via new patterns of communication and in new media forms becomes
essential. It is no longer optional for
a church leader to ignore social media and new media trends. Consider one pastor’s experience with
blessings, or another’s reflection on blog
comments as theological work.
media sites are like a new “public square.” If a majority of church members are on Facebook with some regularity,
then why wouldn’t religious leaders also go to be present and listen to the
people of God who are there. They can bring a word of God’s grace into that
public square for the sake of the world. One pastor talks about it as amplifying the
church’s voice in the world. Several
case studies—specifically Quest Church
in Seattle, Countryside Community Church in Omaha, and Community of Hope AME Church near Washington, D.C.—describe how they do this.
public face of a church, ministry, or organization is increasingly marked by its
online presence. More people check out
organizations online than through traditional ads or the yellow pages. Some
consider the online presence of a church its “front door” because so many
discover the church through its website or other social media platforms. Having an online public presence is no longer
optional, and it should be up-to-date and relevant.
- Getting into
a social media mindset does not mean
just mastering a new set of communication tools to send out the same message
you’ve been sending for years. It means learning how to see the world in network
patterns and then sharing information and insight through those network
connections. It’s about sharing with
your friends, not disseminating a message out to the masses. It’s about recommending something to people
you know, not just mass-producing a pitch. Information flows horizontally
instead of vertically. You go deep
through interconnectivity. Consider one
writer’s thoughts on being “in new media” without being “of new media.”
leaders can be excellent curators of content and builders of relationships
when they see the networked patterns of communication made visible by social
media and shared through those networks. Because so much information comes
through social media, people are turning to their leaders to help them sort out
what to read and believe. They don’t simply
want a pastor to generate the message; they also want the pastor to help curate
and verify (or discount) other messages.
media make storytelling visible in new forms and patterns. Stories
and narrative continue to be very important in social media. But now a
story can be told and shared and expanded, not simply in a linear
fashion—beginning, middle, and end—but sideways and backwards and around the
circle of friends or church members who remember different (sometimes conflicting)
parts of the story.
- Religious leaders differ on how they handle
the public v. private social media
questions: Should pastors “friend” their parishioners on Facebook, or keep their
profile private just for family and close friends? How much personal
information should pastors share with their congregations? How much do Facebook friends expect their
pastors to see about themselves online? How integrated do the pastors want their lives to be online? What
happens when a pastor who has many Facebook friends in a church leave that
church to serve another? Social media are
requiring us to see and evaluate boundaries in new ways. The women of The Young Clergy Women Project struggle with these questions in our case study.
- Using social media for evangelism seems
obvious. Social media tools provide
a new way to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a hurting world. However, when evangelism is thought of primarily
as increasing numbers, then those who would use social media to advance
evangelism might be disappointed. But if evangelism is understood as transformation
(transforming one’s relationship with God, with others in society, with others
in Christian community), then social media can offer a great advantage because of
their focus on relationships.
- Are online relationships any less real than
depends on whom you ask. For some, the
relationships they have online with their church community are life-lines
because those individuals may be homebound by disability, disease, or distance. For others, the
Facebook friend is secondary to the friend at church who can babysit your
kids or bring you a casserole when you are ill. Christianity is an incarnational faith requiring presence and action,
not just watching or speaking from afar. One
of our essays explores this question of “real” v. “not real” embodied
interactions from a theological and technological perspective.