What is your relationship to social media? What about the congregation’s use of social media? I confess to having a love/hate relationship with it. In exasperation after one too many hurtful comments, I deleted my Facebook account and felt utter relief as a result. While I occasionally miss seeing pictures of friends and their families, never once have I wanted to reengage with the platform. I do, however, have Instagram and Twitter accounts. I suppose I am more than ambivalent but less than enthusiastic about social media. However, I do recognize the importance of using every medium available to us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. I also recognize that digital forms of communication are here to stay. I am utterly convinced that we need to use these channels with intention and skill and not cede them to those who wish to spread false, sinister or hate-filled narratives.
To that end I try to educate myself and seek out people not in my normal spheres of influence. I listen to podcasts of church leaders with an entrepreneurial bent, some of whom work in Canada in what they recognize as a post-Christian culture. (“The Redemptive Edge” and “Word Made Digital” are two I listen to regularly.) I tune in to folks in the Pacific Northwest (“Weird Religion”) and also enjoy one podcast with a more Methodist bent (“Crackers and Grape Juice”). I follow an Anglican priest on Instagram (@revchris7), who lives in England. He has more followers than the Church of England’s official account and targets his content to seekers. He does 30-second sermons and critiques the theology in contemporary popular music. I tune in regularly to tweets from secular people from backgrounds different than my own. I read the articles they write or share, getting exposure to content I would never otherwise see. I want to know what people are talking about in circles I do not travel, but where God most certainly is present.
I got introduced by a Boomer church communications director to a millennial faith leader, Brady Shearer, who says he is “helping churches navigate the biggest communication shift in 500 years.” He produces a lot of content, much of it on YouTube. These are “how to” and “7 tips for” kinds of videos. He uses terms like “stage” instead of “chancel.” Clearly, his tradition is different than mine, yet I find myself watching his videos in succession, having multiple a-ha! moments throughout. Simple, seemingly obvious things resonate loudly, such as: social media is about inspiration, not information. Different generations use different platforms and use those platforms differently. Use social media to do ministry, not just promote programs. These shifts in perspective help me to think differently and look at all forms of media not as an end to themselves but as tools with which to proclaim the gospel.
One of the challenges around all forms of media is that the means must match the ends. A particular temptation on social media is to sink to the level of the lowest comments and act in kind. It is all too easy to forget that real people exist on the other side of the screen and increase divisions rather than demonstrate mutual forbearance. This danger should perhaps call us not to less participation, but rather to greater and more thoughtful engagement.
The pandemic has accelerated our reliance on technology, social media and virtual forms of community. While I do not foresee these channels replacing our face-to-face gatherings, we would be utterly naïve to think they are unimportant or going away. As Shearer notes, there are some things digital cannot do that in-person gatherings can, but also some things digital community can do that in-person meetings cannot. We exist in a hybrid world and our ministry must reflect a both/and attitude rather than an either/or one. Not everyone in the church must be a champion for using technology and social media to do ministry. Not everyone needs to be an expert or digital native. But it is imperative that some people are and those who are not must support them, even if they have deleted their own Facebook account.
Grace and peace,