The phenomenon that is now known as Social Media is less than twenty years old. Webster’s defines it as “forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content.” It all began when Al Gore invented the internet …. Seriously, as the internet developed there was a series of inventions that were connected and built upon each other. Here are some highlights, “TheGlobe.com” was a social networking service conceived by Cornell students Stephen Paternot and Todd Krizelman that went public in 1998. Instant messaging was popularized in 1996 by free IM software developed by the Israeli company Mirabilis. AOL later acquired the company. A company named “Geosites” provided customizable “home pages” for anyone who wanted them in 1994.
“SixDegrees.com” used a series of contact lists where users who, agreed to hand over an email list, could communicate with friends via bulletin boards, e-mail and online messaging. “Friendster” built on “SixDegrees” and invented “friends.” “LiveJournal” was an online diary, later acquired by Google as a blog-hosting platform. “MySpace.com” was started in 2003 and was the king homepage, messaging and photo-sharing site until the easier to use “Facebook” came along in 2004. “Facebook” now has one billion uses worldwide. In 2006 “Twitter” capitalized on the idea that people like to keep a blog, but don’t like to write them. So they came up with the 140-character limit. “Twitter” is growing and has an estimated 500 million users. To top all this off, the “I-phone” came along with a “smartphone” that allowed people to be social rather than tied to a computer. Now we can do all of the above regardless of where we are!
There is an overabundance of invaluable information on the Church and Social Media available, and I am convinced that the church must not only learn how use social media, but more importantly learn to understand the culture that has developed around it. I have inserted a helpful chart from a recent BuzzPlant survey that should be helpful. My focus today however is on the Pastor and Social Media.
First, let’s take a look at the value of the benefits of living in a Social Media World.
- It is a great way to connect. Social Media allows us to keep up with people inside and outside our church. It is powerful tool to keep people informed on what is going on.
- It transcends geography. Social Media is not restricted to the small geographic area where you live. You can interact with anyone, just about anywhere. As a child in Africa, the fasted letter was an “air form” and it took at least two weeks to get from the United States to Tanzania. If you were near a phone that worked you had to yell to be heard across the Atlantic. The fastest and cheapest way to get information was a “telegram.” That was only 35 years ago! Through Social Media I can reach my brother in Kenya, instantly and practically free!
- It is not bound by time. In other words, you don’t have to actually “reach a person” in real time to communicate to them. Now you can text or Facebook someone you need to communicate with.
- It provides a broader ministry opportunity. It used to be that ministry was tied to live communication, recorded media, or printed materials. Twenty years ago sermons were recorded on cassette tape and through tedious duplication distributed accordingly. Printed materials were photocopied, or printed. Distributing information beyond the worship service or the class was cumbersome and costly. Through the use of Social Media we have the ability to teach and disciple an enormous amount of people almost instantaneously, for practically free.
With the all the benefits of ministry in a Social Media world, come the need to be cautious.
- What gets out stays out. Whether it is a picture, video, tweet, blog or e-mail, once the information is out it cannot be retrieved. As pastors, you need to be attuned to this reality and to be careful.
- It distorts reality.
a. You can come to believe you are more important than you are. Having your own website, Blog, or high count in Facebook friends or Twitter followers, can make you think that all these people are actually paying attention to what you are communicating. We all know that besides “nickels and noses” we find additional affirmation by the number of social media followers we have. One Christian leader’s bio states that he “reaches 70,000,000 potential households each week.” “Potential” is the key word. Just be careful when you start thinking that way! Our hearts are indeed idol factories! How many of you regularly check your followers or visitors to your blog?
b. You can present yourself as someone different that you are. One of the reasons social media has become so popular is because we only have to reveal the parts of us we like, and can hide what we don’t. Thus what is often presented is very different than who really are. Don’t make yourself out to be Mr. extroverted people person, when you are really an introvert. If you want to be a messenger of the Gospel you have to authentic.
c. You can make yourself look more important that you are. A sad aspect of social media is the “hey look at me” factor. To stand out in the virtual world we have promote ourselves. Sadly, most pastor types end up revealing their narcissistic tendencies. Remember it is about the Message, not the messenger!
d. It can make people think they have a closer relationship with you than they really do. Like counselors, pastors need to be aware of people who use social media to have access to you. There will be people who just because you “befriend” them will really think they are your friend. Be careful to not make yourself look more available than you are!
- It can clutter your world. I don’t believe this one needs to be explained. However, to prove my point, try to go one day without accessing social media.
- It can distract you from what really matters. Along the same line, the primary role of the pastor or teaching elder is prayer and preaching – in that order (Acts 6). Personally, the more cluttered my world gets, the less I pray, and the less time I spend in Scripture. When that happens, it hurts me, my family and my ministry. Don’t let social media rob you of the means of Grace given to us! Make sure there is ample social media free to be still in the presence of the Father!