Social Media and the Church
I discovered a website not long ago, dedicated to people who still believe the earth is flat (The Flat Earth Society.com). I did not know that people still believed in a flat earth. However, I do know some Christians that believe that the old time religion is the best religion—I believe them. Some believe that preaching the gospel can only be done from the pulpit—I believe them. Some believe that using social media to present the gospel is too impersonal—I believe them. Unfortunately, what I believe is not the issue. The real issue is the millions of people who do not believe and how the church can connect their message to them.
With over 200 social media sites on the Internet, it is virtually impossible to ignore the potential these sites have on how the church can influence the global culture with the gospel. Can the church benefit by using social media sites to reach its missional mandate? In what ways can the church engage the culture through social media? Are there dangers that lurk behind the social media craze? One thing is certain, social media sites are here to stay. That is, until the next new technology is developed.
The Growth of Social Media
To wrap ones mind around the vast influence social media has on this culture consider this, it took radio 38 years to reach 50 million listeners. It only took television 13 years to reach 50 million viewers. However, it took Facebook less than 9 months to reach 100 million users, and one IPhone application reached 1 billion users in only 9 months (Patel, 2010). Presently, Facebook has over 800 million active users in 127 of the 136 countries in the world. If Facebook were a country, it would be third largest in the world. When the social media boom began there were 16 social media sites that dominated the market share of the population. As of 2011, there are only 6 and Facebook is number 1. Do not even get me started on how many blog sites there are on the web. And now, the newest addition to connecting via the web is the use of hand held devices such as cell phones, IPads, and tablets, which are enabling people to connect to social media sites from any place they can get an internet connection.
The Benefits of Social Media to the Church
At first glance, it would appear that using social media is a no brainer for the church community. After all, Jesus gave us a command to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15) this is the global mandate. Those who believe that the church should reach the masses, look at social media as the way to accomplish this. In fact, some now call Facebook the new mission field, as thousands search to find meaning and purpose in life (Smith, 2011). This can be a great benefit to a local church, especially when the median church in the U.S. has 75 or less regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings (National Congregational Study, 2011) A church with a small community presence can have a larger than life influence though social media. It is not surprising that 78% of churches have a web presence, 47% have a Facebook account, and 40% of churches are using a social media site. (Lifeway Research.com). Scott McConnell said. “Congregations are rapidly adopting social networking, not only to speed their own communication, but also to interact with people outside their church (Lifeway Research, 2010).”
With this being said, having a presence on the web and having an impact on your community are not the same. In his eBook, The Social Media Handbook for Churches, Matt McKee (2012) shares that social media is supposed to be social, personal, and intentional. He sees the church seizing an opportunity to influence the culture if they can see the need and recognize the potential of establishing personal connections. In order for that to happen, churches need to leverage social media. They cannot just blast their message out there like a shotgun blast, hoping to hit the target. The church must do so on purpose.
Social media sites are great tools that can make the job of reaching the lost easier. Just as a mechanic uses tools, church leaders need to consider social media as a tool they can use to accomplish specific goals they set to connect people to their ministry and each other. For example, sites like Facebook and Twitter are connection sites where people can express what is on their mind and what they are doing at a given moment. Facebook allows a church ministry to build and connect people to a community with the hope of moving them off-line to connect and form real relationships. A church ministry can give play-by-play accounts of the church and its mission on Twitter or Instant messaging (IM), but remember, once you start them, they will need to be maintained daily, even hourly, to keep people connected. If a church leader enjoys writing, then perhaps a blog can be a mainstay for an online personal presence. A blog allows individuals to be creative and tell stories, share victories, and personal struggles. A person can even link the blog to a Facebook or Twitter account. Creative presentations can utilize YouTube, Vimeo, and GodTube. These are great places to post video messages. It is important to remember that each social media site is a tool to be used for specific jobs. Fulfilling the missional mandate requires the use of different methods and conveying the message can be accomplished through these sites. There is no denying it; social media sites can be a great benefit to a church ministry if used properly.
Dangers for the Church who uses Social Media
An article from USA today (June 21, 2010) stated that the boundaries are shifting in the church. “Religious vitality requires a balancing act between private contemplation and public conversation, and both practices require the establishment of trust.” The danger that lurks within the social media frenzy is in the content. Social media sites are to be stewarded like any other gift given to the church, as it is possible to misuse and misrepresent the message. It is too easy to write what is on ones mind without filtering it; all in the name of truth. This can pose dangers that the church community has yet to fully realize. The early church had its issue with communicating the wrong message and at times, it caused division among the body (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). The same can be true today. A church leader or church ministry that uses social media must use caution regarding the content that appears on their site. Sadly, many relationships are lost over the lack of “word stewardship.” The truth is, one can write anything and everything on a social media site, but that does not eliminate the responsibility Christians have concerning the words they write and speak (Matthew 12:36-37). One can cast off all restraint and write or post a video of something without thinking ahead of what damage it can cause to the body of Christ. I would caution anyone to make sure they find a balance in the content of what they present on a Facebook or Twitter page.
Social media sites are here to stay, at least until some new technology takes its place. But while they are still here, every church should take advantage of the opportunity to share their message with the world. If done correctly and with caution, social media sites can help a church ministry in its quest to be culturally relevant and missional in its mandate. If a church ministry desires to effectively connect people to the gospel message, social media sites can help. The method may be different, but the message remains the same.
Fasol, A. (1991). Mass media religion: The social sources of the electronic church. Southwestern Journal of Theology, 34(1), 88-22. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.library.gcu.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=A TLA0000603516&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Lifeway Research (2010). Retrieved from http://www.lifewayresearch.com
Mckee, Matt (2011). Be social, the social media handbook for churches. Retrieved from http://churchm.ag/roarapp-besocial-handbook/
Patel, L. (2010). The rise of social media. T + D, 64(7), 60-61,8. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/608037080?accountid=7374
National Congregational Study (2011). Retrieved from http://www.soc.duke.edu/natcong.
Written by: Bishop Dale P. Combs, MA
Lead Pastor for Jubilee Worship Center in Hobart Indiana, 46342
Church office: 219-947-0301 ext 101