If you had told me 30 years ago when I was still in seminary that I would have staff members waiting for me to give them a part of my sermon in 140 characters or less, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. None of us would have. The digital and social media revolution that has developed in the span of three decades is overwhelming.
Now, people don’t live without social media; more importantly, they don’t know how. Social media is where most of your congregation lives. If you’re not part of that conversation, you’re missing out on a major opportunity to engage your congregation and the larger communities in which members live.
That’s our first point. Social media no longer is an optional add-on but a way of life. More than that, it’s here to stay. Tools, apps, platforms and digital gadgets will morph and change, but social media is here to stay.
So, similar to any missionary, pastors will have to learn to work and speak in this world of social media. If we do, we’ll be able to deepen our conversations with our members and the greater community where they live.
So, how do you get started? First, decide to start. Make the decision to be engaged in social media. Write it into your schedule. Just as you plan to call members who are recovering from illness, make social media something you do every day.
Second, choose your platform. Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and all the other platforms have their strengths and weaknesses. Each reaches a different demographic and target audience. Once you choose, take the time to learn how to work the app you’ve chosen. There are tutorials on YouTube for most of these apps, and usually there’s a teenager in your church who’d love to help you get started.
Third, be yourself. Remember, this generation has seen more advertisements and come-ons than any other generation in history. Subsequently, this generation has developed a very strong ability to detect inauthentic behavior. If you’re not being who you are, social media will reveal the inauthenticity, and your efforts will fail.
Fourth, use social media to extend the life of your sermon. Keep the conversation going from Sunday’s message, and ask questions to tease the idea of the upcoming sermon you’re preparing. You also can start a dialogue to involve your congregation in your sermon preparation.
Fifth, let congregants see your life away from the pulpit. One reason our sermons have impact and credibility is that they are preached in the context of our own lives. For instance, I recently moved my mother to Nashville due to health concerns. That move hasn’t been easy. So, I started a Twitter feed called “Coffee with Mom.” It’s a way of talking about my journey with my mom, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Sixth, be consistent. Social media doesn’t have to consume you, but you need to be engaged on a regular basis. Remember, not being on social media doesn’t mean you don’t want to be involved in social media. For a lot of people, if you aren’t engaged in social media, you don’t exist at all.
Seventh, stay positive. Snarky shots at politicians, celebrities and random events may be momentarily fulfilling, but there’s really no reason to add to the negative climate of our culture. Plus, they really don’t work. What do I mean by that? They don’t bring change to anyone or anything.
Eighth, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Social media is a very different world with its own language and rules. You only have to scan the recent news stories to find a story about a politician or business leader who sent an inappropriate message through social media and then couldn’t live it down.
Ninth, remember once it’s out there, you can’t get it back. The Internet is forever. If you sent a message, somebody somewhere at some time will find it. Be sure to send out only those things you’d be proud for your grandchildren (or future pulpit committee) to find.
Tenth, great social media has a life of its own. An interesting or thought-provoking post can be sent around the world to countless numbers of other people. Think about it—your largest congregation may be your followers on social media. It’s not unusual for an interesting post to be read by thousands, sometimes millions, of people.
For a lot of us, this may not be a natural inclination, but social media is where the people are. Effective proclaimers will be those who learn to use every tool available to communicate the gospel in a meaningful and transformative way.