When I surveyed (non-scientific) sister congregations (Mainline/Oldline Protestant) in the Pacific Northwest, I discovered that social media use was often spotty, lacking intention or strategy. What gives?
From personal experience and interaction with colleagues, I see that congregations have overworked and underpaid staff and clergy. Volunteers have limited time resources. Social media seems like just another thing to do. Many programs, ideas and fads have come along; "Church Revitalization In A Box" inspires initial excitement, only to sit on a shelf and gather dust. The church rummage sale comes along years later, people look at the box and wonder for a few moments about what could have been. Then they attempt to sell or give away something where thousands of dollars worth of time, resources and dreams invested.
The big difference with social media is that it represents a shift in communication method. We're not dealing with technique or infrastructure in the classical sense. We are dealing with basic communication of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Though social media will continue to change, its place in history will look like the telephone or personal computer.
At this point, you may think I am preaching to the choir. If you're reading a blog, it's likely you already place value in social media. From the perspective of a small or medium-sized congregation (for discussion purposes, 400 or less in worship) social media may look like anything else that has been marketed to a congregations for decades. Buy this, or do this, get trained in this and it will change your church.
I don't make any promises with social media. Social media can only reflect the basic practices of connecting with God and building community that are already present in congregational life. But the scars of the church growth movement for smaller congregations reveal that trying a new thing leads only to disappointment and envy; smaller congregations don't often have the resources to make an investment mistake.
The blessing of social media lies in that the infrastructure to participate is likely present. The gap that needs to be bridged is that small and medium sized congregations not already using social media can focus on specific "best" practices that can amplify what ministry is already being shared in that context. Without using the tools that are available, we lose our ability to participate in the public sphere in the name of Christ. It is my hope that I can share conversations with my fellow small and medium sized congregations about how we can collectively leverage social media to share what God is already doing among us. We need to be adept at language in order to do that. Language was a pillar of the Reformation, and that pillar remains just as important today.
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