By internet marketer and social media enthusiast Kaye Flack.
Larry isn’t an internet junkie. He is tech-savvy though; he checks and sends email on his mobile phone, sends pictures of his kids’ football games online to his folks, sends an SMS to his wife about dinner arrangements, connects online to the florist and orders flowers; connects to Facebook and writes on his kid’s wall, watches the TV news and then arrives home. He feels connected with the people he loves and cares about. Larry goes to church on Sunday, and is on the worship team. He sighs, “Church just isn’t like the real world. Pretty much the only way to get any information about what’s happening, to get rosters, and stuff is to call someone who may (or may not) know.” The four pages of text in the church bulletin are about as welcome as the reams of junk mail he gets every week. “ I feel disconnected from the people and the place that should have a major part in my life.” Clearly something is wrong.
Over these past few years social media has been a catalyst in how people discover, read and share news, information and content, and connect to their world.
The development of social media has been a catalyst for the rapid transition of our developed industrialised culture to an information and technology culture. Social media has reflected the transition and accelerated it. It’s interesting to observe how the distribution of knowledge and information has transformed people from being content consumers into content producers. Subtle social and cultural changes have accentuated a rampant individualism and social isolation. Many feel a developing tension that leaves us time-poor, information-overloaded, and socially lonely in a crowd. Social media can be used to create a microcosm in which we relate the same way we communicate: in byte-size chunks. The Church would be wise to carefully consider the changes this has created in our core values and belief systems.
Some may argue that the church had better “get with the times” or risk becoming irrelevant to the people it was called to minister to. Perhaps there are two issues more important for the church than relevance. The first relates to information media, the second is relationship dynamics.
In our contemporary culture, people filter information; deciding what information they want and how they want to assimilate it. When it comes to information, the church should use all forms of social media like forums, weblogs, social blogs, wikis, podcasts, picture and video sharing, vlogs, wall-postings, email, instant messaging and music-sharing (and many more) for they are communication media. The “boomer generation” witnessed the transition from hymn-books to chorus sheets, from overhead transparency projectors to multi-media projectors and wall-sized LCD screens. The text didn’t change but the media incorporated the same video techniques that TV has used to great effect. Inevitably the medium does not merely convey information, it subtly transforms the message. To not use social media to convey information would be a mistake, to use it unwisely would be an even greater mistake.
Perhaps one of the reasons why social media has become extremely popular is because it allows people to connect and relate in the online world forming relationships for personal, political and business use on their own terms. Here is the cutting edge: what will the Church be online?
In a world where people crave relationships on their own terms, will we (the Church) be solely information carriers and demand that people relate to us on our terms? If that happens, don’t be surprised if even the faithful turn off and dissociate from the Church. On their terms? How have webcasts and podcasts from some of the most influential churches world-wide affected church attendance at home? Patterns of church attendance have changed for no other reason than people are making choices on the basis of personal preferences and not necessarily on the basis of principles or priorities.
It should be reinforced at this point that social media is always a means to an end, and not an end in itself. One of the core values of any truly effective internet marketer is to be transparent, to be the real deal, a person of integrity and authenticity. The premise is that what you do online is what you are offline.
Christian ministry is about building relationships with people; to care and connect, to show an interest. The marketplace has learnt how to use social media and how to build social networks to build relationships that deliver value. The early church did some of its most profound work through letters which were copied and disseminated around the world. The Church ought to get back to its core values and discover how to use media to touch the hearts of people, meeting heartfelt needs and opening the doors to relationships.
The one thing that the early church did that had the greatest impact on their world was to demonstrate the love of God to each other and to a needy world. Many social media expedients are careful of what they post, and rightly so. That is the magic of social media – you share what you want on your own terms, with as wide an audience as you choose. But how tragic, if the best the church has to offer remains unsaid, unposted. Even worse if the church becomes so insular that it can only be friends with its own people.
Social media has been an incredible means to connect and stay connected with family, friends who we have ministered to and they have ministered to us over the years, it’s great to be still part of their lives. In the last 12 months I have connected with people I didn’t know through different methods of social media, I have cried, laughed and prayed for, talked to and have been taught by these people who are real people behind the words, screens and cameras.
This article was first published in the September 2009 glossy edition of RISE magazine. See back issues here.