The advent of social media has been received in different ways by Christian churches. One can easily get the idea from Sunday sermons that facebook, twitter, and smart phones are ruining the family unit and thus destroying the world. At the same time, pastors all realize that the church should be using social media to get out the message of the gospel. Churches are getting on to twitter, making pintrest boards, publishing blogs, and casting pods to the ends of the internet. This dualism is confusing, and shows that we Christians are not exactly sure how to fit into this brave new social world.
As a social media man who has become derelict without cellular reception, I do admit that I see the drawbacks that my elders often preach against. The more I use technology, the more it feels like my friendships are all third party entities, all mediated through a snazzy touch screen interface. I was just recently in Peru doing mission work in an undeveloped city where phones were only for the fabulously rich and where boys and girls spent their time playing outside. I found myself deeply envious of the simplicity of their lives. They you have no tv, no x box, no blogs to read or facebooks to check, and so they spent their time having long lunches, dancing, and playing soccer.
However, as much as this cleaned up life felt very seductive, the pandora’s box has been opened. It is online, and has about 150,000,000 users, and it is not going away.
I might have been tempted to come back and just toss out my phone and go back to the old ways. But this is not how Christians should engage the world. What good is a light under a bushel basket? The way towards finding our place on the internet has to start with changing how we see it. If we live as if it were a threat, we won’t ever find a home there. The early church saw Rome as opportunity. What roman roads were to the Christians of the first century, and the guttenburg press was to the reformers, the advent of social media is to our age.
Why is it important for churches to understand social media? Well, I want start by bat down an idea that I hear a lot. Ready? Here it is: SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT AWESOME BECAUSE WE HAVE A FREE ACCESS TO LOTS OF PEOPLE! HASLDFK@#)I!)@O#. BOOOM
Whew. That felt good. To see social media as a free “advertizing” leads lots of pastors and churches to use their facebook profiles like a constant infomercial. Look- the internet and television have always provided a massive amount of access to people. It would be better to say that now we have LESS access to people and LESS ability to mass market. The movement that took place in social media was that now the power to publish information was taken from large, top down companies (news casters, news papers, magazines, tv shows… PASTORS *coughcough) and vested in individuals. Now, a person can publish and share information that they think is interesting or relevant with their friends- who also have their own personal site by which they can publish and share that information with their friends. What people like gets shared, and what they don’t like gets snowed over by the content that they do like. In essence, now the “press” is owned by individuals in the form of their social networks.
“Why is it so good for us pastors then?” you may ask? Doesn’t it make everything harder?
Yes and no. It is hard if you aren’t posting what people like. It is a cinche if you are. And (here is the good news… wait for it… wait for it…) the things that get “republished” –i.e. the content that people like and share on facebook, youtube, twitter, etc—fits in with Christianity hand in hand.
But, you say, no one cares about my hundred posts of scripture passages and no one shares my sermons. NO ONE LIKES MY JESUS SMILING POSTERS. How can social media fit with Christianity if no one likes the Jesus with a lamb picture?
Guys. People may not like your Jesus posts, but that does not mean that they don’t like the gospel. What social media has shown us is that the OPPOSITE is true. The gospel is all about redemption, about self sacrifice and love. We as a church have the very best stories of love and redemption and self sacrifice. Participating in these stories is we are best at- literally what we exist for. And, as it turns out, they are social media gold, because they are really what every single person cares about most. Better than sarcasm, sexiness, skateboarding, or skydiving, love will get shared. Want to see what I mean? Take a look at this video from TED and get ready to cry:
That’s right. Social media favors Christianity over any corporation. Companies can’t just make commercials for how good their product is anymore. They have to do cool things or make cool things that make us want to listen. What we are seeing is that- they are beginning to try and act more like nonprofits. The experts are also writing about it. Take TOMS for example. This company made its name, not because of its shoes, but because that for every shoe it sells, it donates a pair to children in underdeveloped countries. Instead of tossing its money towards marketing, TOMS put money towards helping people and then just let their customers spread the word.
So the good news here is that the “good news” is actually very at home on the internet. What we must do as Christians is refine ourselves- lose the preachy ideology, and show our faith by our works. If you want to bless people and use social media effectively, stop focusing your efforts on making sure that your Sunday sermons are on facebook. Don’t waste your time posting pictures of your church or bible verses. Ask yourself- what is our church DOING in our community? What stories of redemption have come out of our ministry? Believe it or not, the mission of every church to make a difference in people’s lives makes the church a perfect storm. Do you want to get the gospel out on social media? Do it in real life, put a video camera on it, and then post away. Then sit and watch as it is shared over and over and over and over. This is why we at www.1800churches.com have started our #thechurchinaction campaign- to encourage churches to start sharing their stories. You can read more about it here.
To end, I will leave you with a final call to action. Christians might be frustrated about how we are depicted on the history channel or on cnn- but those goliaths are being killed by the little guy. With social media, we now get to chose how to depict ourselves. Let’s start to be, as Paul exhorted to us –conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). If we become his face, rather than posting pictures of his face, then we will conquer the internet in the same way that the early Christians conquered the west.