(This article was originally published for Think Magazine in January of 2018 and is republished here with permission).
Last year, the video-streaming phone app Vine announced that it would be closing down. Vine is just another in a long list of apps and websites to eventually bite the dust (remember Myspace?), and another reminder of the ever-changing nature of the internet.
Typically articles about the church and social media address the need to be on social media and list standard practices churches should engage in online (avoid arguments, post positives, start a blog, etc.). Knowing, though, that the internet is an entity that rarely remains the same, I wanted to push this article about “Thinking Bigger” in a different direction.
There are plenty of articles out there about why your preacher should start a blog and how to be encouraging on Facebook. Instead of reiterating those practices, I’d like to discuss, generally, some theories behind internet engagement as well as talk about how to stay one step ahead of the ever-changing internet.
How Your Church Can Use Social Media
Below are some general theories behind website/social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) usage. Keep in mind that, though specific actions will be listed, the most important part of the sections below are the general principles discussed.
As a promotional tool
Though the internet (World Wide Web) is a global tool, it can just as easily be used to connect with a more localized group of people. Facebook can be used in much of the same way that billboards and newspapers were used by churches of past generations.
For example, the congregation I work with regularly posts about the various class subjects we are teaching on in a given quarter. Below are some images promoting our classes this quarter:
We’ve only just begun to post information regarding our Bible classes like this, but our congregation has already started to see the fruits of posting promotional information like this, on a regular basis.
If your congregation is not using social media to promote you’re missing out on an audience that might not know about your classes or events otherwise.
As an interactive tool
Social Media these days seems to be more media than social (unless you count hurling insults as being “social”). Still, places like Facebook and Twitter were designed with conversation in mind.
In a country that’s becoming increasingly more negative and divided, the church should be at the forefront of conversation, guiding people with wisdom and the words of Christ through the trials of life.
As long as social media is around, we have to look for ways to engage in discussion. Weekly I receive several messages from people, asking for prayers. Why? Because every week I post the question “What can I pray about for you today? (Message me)” to my Facebook page. This is a simple, yet profound, way to stay involved in the lives of a lot of Christians with whom I am friends.
Let’s take it a step further. How would outsider opinions of the church improve if every week they saw the Christians who go to your congregation post about the beautiful singing, or wonderful message preached that Sunday? What kind of effect would it have on those who do not attend church to see your members post on each other’s walls letting them that “I love you and I am praying for you”?
These little interactions are simple, but capable of having a tremendous amount of impact, not only for your members, but for those who observe them.
As a teaching tool
Lastly, social media can be used as a tool to facilitate learning. This year, my congregation is going through the daily devotional book “Five Minutes with God”. In addition to our daily reading and prayer, the preacher and I post daily on our Facebook page some additional thoughts about that day’s devotional. This is one simple way to expand the teaching outside of Sundays and Wednesdays.
A lot of preachers I know have to cut pieces from their sermons or Bible class due to any number of factors. Why not put that extra information online? Think about it, you could post on Monday some of the material you were unable to cover Sunday morning and encourage your congregation to get on and continue the study with you. Want to help your congregation grow spiritually? This is an easy way to accomplish that goal.
For those that aren’t preachers, why not post some of your additional thoughts from Sunday’s lesson or from a personal study you’re involved in? At the very least it gets people thinking, and who knows, they may just comment and help you in your study.
There’s no limit to the type of teaching that can be done online. Posting video is very easy to do these days. What if you (writing this to all Christians) filmed yourself giving a weekly devotional or praying for your Facebook friends? Alternatively, you could simply use social media as a way to invite others to Bible class with you.
There are a number of ways we can use social media to teach others. Some of that teaching comes through our example, and some of it comes from spreading what we know.
Staying Up to Date
The trouble with writing articles about social media is that they’re nearly obsolete not long after they’re sent to be published. The internet is constantly being updates and new apps are always in development. One thing we cannot do if we want to think bigger about social media is settle into a routine. If we want to be noticed in an ever-changing internet world, we have to be ever-changing our approach.
Periscope stands out as a great example of this. Periscope was an app that allowed you to live-stream yourself onto social media, from wherever you had your smart phone. For about three months it was all the rage, and then it unexpectedly died off. That being said, I remember seeing loads of preachers and churches using Periscope as a way to encourage Christians daily. One group of preachers even had what they called a Periscope Gospel Meeting. Christians from all over watched, and were encouraged by, a number of different preachers from all over the nation. That’s the kind of stuff we have to be willing to do if we want to reach people and keep reaching people with social media.
When new apps or internet services arise, ask yourself “how can we use this in our congregation?” Not everything will have a use, and some things that do may not be a good fit in your congregation. That’s okay! Just be sure that you’re always asking the question “can we use this for God’s glory?”
I strongly believe that this generation has been given the internet because we’re expected to use it. I believe that it’s capable of accomplishing some incredible things for the church, and it can be if we’re always on the lookout for ways to use it to interact with others about Christ, promote the actions of the church, and teach others about Jesus.