On a hot summer Friday night, 30 millennials, a few seasoned saints and a couple of kids gathered in the basement of Faith Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Typically, open mics are held in the back of a sports bar where the audience is more into the game on the big screen than the show. But on this night, these artists chose a church, trusting it would be a safer space to share their material.
As the host of the event, I didn’t know if anyone would come. I worried there would be an audience of three — my two daughters and me. I worried that my church session would not see this event as appropriate. I worried that this idea would fail, that I would fail. But, as each guest came through the door – some solo, some in pairs, others in groups – my heart leapt. It was the first time I saw that many people in the fellowship hall who were not there to attend a funeral.
Friday Night Flow became a forum for spoken word artists, singers, musicians, actors and even rappers. During my five years of hosting, I witnessed how the event helped people learn to pray out loud, to express themselves artistically and to worship in new and creative ways. I learned how to use social media to find talent and encourage new artists to perform. Looking back, I laugh about how I needed my best friend to create pages for me on Myspace (when that was a thing) and Facebook. Now, that same friend is asking me about algorithms and digital ads.
Despite the negativity social media can breed, it can help you reach an unlimited canvas of people. When an artist came to Faith for our open mic, we would take their picture, tag them and each other, promote the show, give God glory and repeat the cycle over and over. One friend would connect another friend, and before I could blink twice, I would have a thousand friends.
Here are some practical lessons I’ve learned about using social media for ministry. As you build your platform, remember that it’s important to stay consistent. If you are going to post every Tuesday, try to do it every Tuesday at the same time. You want followers to get used to hearing from you. You also need to be consistent with your content. As with any type of marketing, you can’t reach everyone. Focus on your gifts. Stay true to the things that you know you do well and don’t compare your ministry to others. Also, keep in mind that your audience wants to feel like they know you. This means sharing small pieces of yourself. Audience building will be difficult if you’re not willing to put yourself out there. Remember that your faith journey, while personal, should never be private. As a follower of Christ, we should always be ready to tell our story. When used creatively, social media can be part of the harvest that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 9.
Shani E. McIlwain is a ruling elder from Washington, D.C., who leads transparent conversations about dismantling racism and white supremacy. Connect with her at shanimcilwain.com.