Loving Our Digital Sheep: Ministry Opportunities And Mistakes In Social Media
The currency of our time is connection. This is an assertion we can validate by the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in all things digital. Social media is the vehicle of this currency, how connections are made, sustained, and cultivated. For marketers, social media is a tool to leverage connections for the purposes of profit and building brand loyalty. But it is so much more than that.
The digital world is not a pseudo-world or an escape from the “real world.” It’s a part of what it means to be human now. The digital world of connections is just as real as a smile and touch from a loved one, a hard conversation with a friend over coffee, or the old game night with the family around the Monopoly game board. All things online are a part of the real human experience and social media is, in fact, the primary vehicle through which these human experiences are now being played out.
If you walk into any library, waiting room, or even scan across a concert or church service, you’ll see the “posture” of our times. Nearly every head bowed and eye open, peering into glistening screens. Many are shopping, checking sports scores, or playing Candy Crush. But all of these distractions are what we do in-between the true lure of our screens— to connect with other human beings on social media platforms.
From lobbing bombs at each other’s political ideology, to heated exchanges about human sexuality, to envying someone’s superior Insta-body/house/baby/vacation— just like the real world—social media is another place where we act out our sin. It’s the place where the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life are expressed. This doesn’t mean that social media is evil, but it is the vehicle where we express all our beautiful and grotesque realities. Yet our digital platforms can also be a place where we share funds with widows and orphans, greet each other with a holy kiss through encouraging words and emojis, and spur one another on towards love and good deeds.
Social media is not a fad, or a part of some ‘false world,’ nor is it inherently evil. Regardless of what you think about it, it’s definitely not going away. Social media is now an enduring part of our human experience. The following are four guidelines to follow and mistakes to avoid for social media in ministry:
Authentically Engage Toward Transformation
Unlike marketers who only want to transition leads into purchases, those in ministry need to enter into engagement with people through social media platforms with an aim towards their spiritual transformation. This means being authentic and transparent above all.
Mistake to Avoid: Seeing human connections online as an asset to market books, events, or some other product to people rather than helping them grow as disciples of Jesus. Aim toward transformation.
Build A Tribe, Not A Customer Base
If social media trends are teaching us anything at all it is that we long to be heard and seen. Regardless of a person’s love language, human beings want to be affirmed, known, touched, and heard. Digital platforms give us a way to do all of this. Ministries need to consider that “followers and fans” are real women and men who have these same desires. Build a tribe that puts Jesus at the center of the community rather than just the ministry objectives or organizational mission— as important as these are.
Mistake to Avoid: Using your online tribe as a substitute for a customer database. Social media should not replace CSV’s or customer distribution lists— the two should be thought of very differently.
Grow A Sustained Presence
Live events, concerts, rallies, Sunday services are all important, but they are not all we have. Now, we can maintain a kind of on-going, moment-by-moment experience with people through social media. Cultivating conversations that are meaningful and valuable can now extend long after the tour has left town, the event is over, and into the Tuesday morning temptations at school. Home and work are leading people away from the moment they had at a live event. Sustained presence in ministry is the golden ticket of social media, perhaps the one greatest contribution social media has for ministries.
Mistake to Avoid: Using social media merely to coordinate events or to make announcements. Social media is an opportunity to build relationships, not just invite people to live events.
Social media has value because it’s naturally bi-directional. People use social media to peer into the lives and events of others but the significant difference between social media and static sites is the possibility to contribute. Posting comments, emojis, sharing, liking, and loving is social media’s lure in bi-directional interaction. No media before this has given us this ability— not radio or television. We can now be seen and heard and be present in a way that was not possible before.
Mistake to Avoid: Using digital platforms to merely influence, inform, and coordinate instead of listening. Social media is a powerful tool for ministry because truly listening and demonstrating that you hear and see people is one of the most powerful expressions of love we can make in a world that is overflowing with many one-way conversations.