Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest. Tumblr. Ten years ago, using these words in casual conversation would have earned you a concerned look and a question about whether you often find yourself creating strange word salads. Nowadays, these word are casual conversation–that is, they are among the most popular social media platforms, and are now the means through which most of America has casual conversation.
The Internet, and in particular its manifestation in social media, is the new Roman Road (a parallel I am shamelessly drawing from Andrew Careaga’s book eMinistry ). That Roman road system that the apostle Paul traveled on, the one that made it possible for him to spread the gospel, found churches, and stay in touch with them in absentia. Sure, that wasn’t all the Roman road did–by connecting the Roman territories, it facilitated commerce. In much the same way that you can buy lobsters from Amazon (thanks, Big Bang Theory) or porn from any of the willing marketers in my spam box, the Roman road made it possible to purchase anything from dyed cloth from Lydia in Thyatira to a human being from a conquered territory. The road systems wasn’t evil, but evil sure as sugar found travel easier thanks to it. But you know what? Without the Roman road, the church as we know it just wouldn’t exist today. Paul wouldn’t have traveled as extensively, certainly not as much to inland cities like Derbe, Lystra, and Antioch (Galatia).
So, dude. We know, the Internet makes it easier to access porn, to get addicted to online gaming, to create an existence in which you never actually need to leave your apartment. But it is ALSO the native language of a significant chunk of the populaton, and it is more accessible than ever because it is just so darn portable.
“For people my age (in their 40s), technology is a tool. For kids, technology is the air they breathe. It’s social glue.”
Quoted in Amy C.Thoren. 2010. “The pastor on Facebook: boldly going where everyone else goes.” Word & World 30, no. 3: 272-280.
So when you tell members of your congregation, especially youth, that their smartphones don’t belong in church, you are effectively telling them that they will need to culturally commute in order to come to your church. And if that’s the overriding impression that they have–that their culture doesn’t have a home in your church–then what are you saying about them?
But introducing social media into the life of your church need not be scary. It need not be overwhelming. It need not involve installing a large white screen that will block your beautiful stained glass. Here are 7 really easy ways to incorporate the gifts of social media into the life of your church:
- Use your Facebook news feed to form a prayer list every morning. If your church has a Facebook page, then invite people to post prayer concerns there, and encourage the community to pray over them daily. (If your church does not have a Facebook page, for the love of tennis shoes, get one. My three-year old nephew has figured out how to upload videos to Youtube. You can do this.)
- Get acquainted with Twitter, a social media platform that invites short “tweets” to create a news feed. You can create Twitter handles (labels that will group tweets from different users under a single feed) for special events, and invite people to post updates in real time using that handle. The ELCA started doing this with synodical meetings and with the National Youth Gathering this past year, and it was very enjoyable for those of us at home. Possible idea to get your youth involved in your preaching? Invite them to tweet about your sermon as you preach.
- Create a blog for your church that integrates scripture with contemporary media (news stories, songs and videos on Youtube, articles suddenly becoming popular on Facebook). Invite members of your church to post reflections there. Use those reflections to feed bible studies, retreats, worship services and so on. Here’s a great example of a congregational blog from a youth-focused congregation in New Hampshire.
- Try doing a midweek compline with your congregation using Google Hangout or Skype, letting you all connect from your homes just before you hit the hay.
- Sign up at prayerontwitter.net to receive tweeted prayers on the hour, taken from the Book of Common Prayer and other sources.
- Use Pinterest, an online bulletin board that will let you pin images/articles/etc. from just about anywhere on the Web, to create a board where people can pin images that remind them of God. Great for a Bible study.
- Ask youth to send you their favorite Christian song/your choir to send you their favorite hymns/your Bible group to send you their favorite verses and use them to create a Wordle. This is a Wordle on 1 Cor. 4-8:
Curious about more possibilities offered by social media? Check out this great article (and blog) by Lutheran pastor Keith Anderson. Also take a gander at the Best of Breed tools for learning put together by this incredibly helpful website. It will introduce you to some of the more popular electronic platforms for doing all kinds of different things, from storing your files in the cloud (online, where they can’t crash along with your computer), to using an online whiteboard. While accessing the detailed information on each listing will require a subscription, I find simply seeing the popular tools broken down by section really helpful.
Got more ideas on how to integrate social media into church life? Please share in the comments section!!