At its best, social media is all about establishing connections and building community. At its worst, social media is all about gaining followers and wasting time. Whatever way you spin it, social media is still the most popular and pervasive mode of communication. That leaves churches with a dilemma – to invest in an environment that can easily put promotion above people or to avoid the pitfalls by steering clear of social media all together.
As with everything – even in such a modern, technologically driven communication construct – we have a great model in Jesus and His ministry.The way Jesus interacted with everyone He encountered spoke to the way God designed His most precious creation – people – to live. Jesus prioritized people because He valued relationship over rules and regulations.
We were created in the image of a God who lives in community with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Just like Jesus was in community with the rest of the Trinity, so also were we created to do life in community. The Incarnation took Jesus out of His heavenly home and placed Him on earth. Jesus gave up that heavenly position to be present with us – to dwell among us, to live among us, to walk among us – all to reveal truth through relationship.
WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH SOCIAL MEDIA?
I think Jesus adhered to a ministry model that would welcome, not reject, any opportunity to develop relationships and build community, even if it was over the interwebs. We, as Christ followers, are called to be stewards of our resources, and social media is just that – a resource perfect for developing community and building connections.
Even though social media is an extremely valuable resource for churches and ministries, there are dangers behind the relational benefits.
The focus of any social media network can easily shift from people to numbers. Watching your follower count rise can be a heady feeling. It’s tempting to assign worth and define value based on the number of Facebook “likes” a status update gets or the number of Instagram followers you retain.
While numbers are a way to evaluate the effectiveness of your social media strategies (and when you’re investing resources into a project, it’s important to routinely assess the impact your efforts are having), they can be a source of comparison, pride, and discouragement.
Motivation is the key to your church having a healthy relationship with social media. Is the church on social media to gain a following or to add value to whatever following you have? Is your church on Instagram to get attention for all the programs it has or to draw attention to the work God is doing through those programs? Is your church on Facebook to engage a clique or to reach a community? With the right motivation propelling involvement, social media can be an important part of your church’s mission.
Jesus stepped over every line the religious folks of His day created. He pushed boundaries and shattered stereotypes – all in an effort to reach out to others. A church can similarly break down barriers between themselves and the un-churched by their presence on social media. If just one person sees, hears, or feels the love of Christ through these outlets, that is a win.
Social networks provide one more avenue for non-believers and believers alike to connect, engage, and share. That alone makes them a worthwhile tool for churches. And with intentionality and prayer, churches can avoid the temptation to focus on clout and start harnessing the power of social media to connect with people inside and outside of the church in meaningful and lasting ways.