When it comes to 21st century America, many pastors and church leaders feel like foreigners in a foreign land. Why? The internet.
In 2001, Marc Pensky, a thought leader in the education and technology space, coined the term "Digital Native," in his journal article entitled, "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants."
Digital Natives are those born after 1980people who do not know a world without video games, computers, the internet, and more.
What that means is, if you are not a Millennial (born 1980-1995ish) or a Gen Zer (born 1995ish-Present), you are a "Digital Immigrant," not a Digital Native.
When it comes to the internet and social media, you likely feel a bit like a foreigner in a foreign land.
Well, let me be the Digital Native that guides you through the foreign land of the internet and social media. Because, pastors and church leaders, I believe it is critically important for you to establish a presence social media if you care deeply about the future of your church and its ministry to the world.
SOCIAL MEDIA BY THE NUMBERS FOR CHURCHES
"Social media is a fad."
"I don't need to get on Twitter or Facebook and tell the world what I'm having for lunch or what color my socks are."
Social media isn't a fad, and it is most certainly not just for sharing about food or footwear. Social media is big business. More importantly, social media is the 21st century town squarea commonplace in our lives where people exchange ideas and opinions about civic life, pop culture, and yes, even faith.
In November of 2016, the Pew Research Center published its newest data on social media usage in the United States, and the figures are staggering. Here are just a few that demonstrate the breadth of social media use throughout the country:
68(%) of all U.S. adults use Facebook.
79(%) of adults who use the internet use Facebook.
76(%) of people who use Facebook use it daily.
55(%) of people who use Facebook visit it several times per day.
59(%)of 18-29-year-olds (Millennials) use Instagram.
The study is full of more data like this, but the point is clear: social media is here to stay, and it is a major sociological force in 21st century America.
DON'T LET SOCIAL MEDIA INTIMIDATION KEEP YOU FROM MINISTRY
This reality is intimidating to many pastors I know who did not grow up using MySpace and AOL Instant Messenger like didand I completely understand it. I have no doubt that by the time I'm 40-years-old (I'm 26 now), I will be intimidated by the latest iterations of social media my kids are usingI already feel a bit intimidated by Snapchat.
But, pastors and church leaders, you cannot let your intimidation keep you off of social media.
It is the 21st century town square where you friends, family, and neighbors are exchanging their thoughts and beliefs, not just about inconsequential matters, but about eternal matters of faith and life after death.
Facebook pages have been set up for entire towns where people can post about happenings or newcomers can ask for restaurant or school recommendations. I am a member of a couple of pages for my town, and routinely, new people move to town and post to the Facebook page asking for church recommendations. I am able to send them to my church's Facebook page without them ever having to leave the site.
This is just one example, but truly, I beg you to not avoid social media simply because you don't understand it, or because you think it is a waste of time.
Your community is on Facebook, which means you have the ability to minister through Facebook. Skip out on Facebook, and you may miss dozens of key opportunities to make connections that lead to life change.
GET STARTED ON A COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY FOR YOUR CHURCH
Sometimes, when I talk to pastors and church leaders about social media, they aren't intimidated by the concept, they simply don't know where to start, and they end up being paralyzed by the options.
This is understandable, as it feels there is a new social media platform popping up every day.
So, how do you get started? Facebook is the most prolific social media platform, so it's a great place to begin.
Here are three basic steps to get engaged on social media.
First, figure out what platforms are best for you.
Literally dozens of social media platforms exist today, but only a handful are used by millions of people. How do you decide which social media platform is best for you? It's simple: join the social media platforms that the people you want to connect with use.
Are the people in your church and community primarily on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or some combination? Facebook is probably the default one you should join, as most people have a Facebook account. But perhaps you can explore other options, too.
Second, connect with the people in your community.
The purpose of social media is to connect with people! This is why it's important for you to join whatever social media platform your community tends to use. Add neighbors as Facebook friends, follow church members on Twitter, and connect with the people you know in real life on social media.
Third, post content you think is helpful, relevant, funny, or otherwise beneficial to the people to whom you're connected.
Today, it is tempting to flood social media with political opinions, negative rants, and all kinds of other anger-filled content. Don't give into this temptation. As a pastor or church leader, you are representing the body of Christ to any unbelieving friends on social mediaact like it.
There is plenty of humorous social media content you can find on Facebook pages designed to share funny content. For example, The Babylon Bee is a site ran by Christians that pokes fun at Christian culture. It's great.
Pastors: Three Social Media Rules to Keep in Mind
Plenty of social media rules are simple common sense: don't use foul language or otherwise be mean, don't share your login information, and more. But here are a few rules that are sometimes forgotten.
First, stay away from unnecessary controversy.
Social media is not a good place to argue because communicating nuance is nearly impossible. Using your church's social media platform to engage in internet fights is not good stewardship.
Second, watch how much you post.
Every social media platform is different, but it is usually good to post to Facebook just once or twice per day and to Twitter three to five times per day. You don't want to inundate people with Facebook posts to the point of annoying them.
Third, see your social media presence as more than just a bulletin board.
Too many times, churches use social media just to post what programs are coming up or other church scheduling items. Social media is socialit is meant for people to engage and interact with each other. Do not hesitate to start conversations or ask questions that get a discussion going.
Social media may be intimidating if you are not a Digital Native, but do not let intimidation keep you from ministering to people in your community through social media.
Venture outside of your comfort zone, or hire a Digital Native to help you. Your church has the ability to have a seat in the town squaredon't turn it down.