I have spent much of the past year incorporating social media into my ministry toolbox. Initially I had a very academic approach to social media tool, assessing how, why and when to use Facebook, Twitter and my blog Signs Along the way… at the intersection of grace + reality. What I found was that these tools have become incorporated into the cadence of daily ministry for me and I cannot imagine ministry without them.
Facebook was my first foray into social media. I went from connecting to seminary friends to finding long lost high school and undergraduate friends and playing with many silly applications. From there I worked with groups for fun and communicating events and strengthening community of ministry teams. Youth groups live in a Facebook, IM, text world, but I learned that groups, fan pages + blogs work across generational lines.
Blogging came next, followed by moving into the Twittersphere. What started as “playing” with new ministry tools has become a part of my ministry toolbox as well as my pastoral identity. What follows are my top ten reasons social media has become some of my favorite and most used tool in ministry for me….
10. Transparency: What is going on in the church and the ministries I am engaged in, and what is my role/perspective is important for people to see and know. I’ve used status updates and tweeted from meetings to open the window into my pastoral perspective. One parishioner said that she had never felt so connected to what was going on at church since I incorporated these tools.
9. Engagement: Through a presence in the web 2.0 world people connected to your ministry (and many who are not) will engage in discussion, dialog and get to know you and your ministry work, passion and gifts virtually. For the tech savvy and the introverts you serve, social media opens possibilities to engage those who communicate or are more comfortable utilizing these means.
8. Efficiency: Beyond e-communication tools like traditional e-mail and e-news blasts like Constant Contact, the communication shared about the personal, professional and faith joys + concerns as well as where people are (key for folks who travel for a living) via status updates can aid your communication strategy + efficiency. I know much more by being plugged in that making home visits (not that one should replace the other).
7. Evangelism: Sharing the Good News through status updates, blog posts and re-tweets is as St. Francis is quoted as saying sharing the gospel, using words if necessary. Social media requires words, even if it is a link to music or a YouTube video but can share the good news in subtle (or very direct) ways beyond a sermon or bible study. I have re-tweeted a blog post link, to have it come back to me and to hear it referenced in worship.
6. Teaching: In my prior life as a university professor and dean, I carefully utilized multi-media so as not to distract from “traditional teaching.” In social media however, these tools, written words, images, links, music, and video appeal to a variety of learning styles and take your message beyond a face to face sermon, Sunday School lesson, adult forum presentation, or newsletter article.
5. Preaching: Posting sermons on a church website or on a blog are helpful for people with busy schedules and for those who learn best from the written word. I have experienced more engagement following preaching through online means than I have face to face. It allows people to think and talk about a sermon on the way home or chew on it and then hare their reaction with you and others.
4. Learning: I love links and recommendations I encounter through Facebook, Twitter and blogs. There are many tools to gather and bookmark these, but my favorites are igoogle + Google reader + digg + delicious + mahalo. If I did not utilize these tools I would be on information overload, but if I did not engage in these feeds my learning wouldn’t be as timely, dynamic, or contextual.
3. Authenticity: As a saint + sinner saved by grace through faith, it is important to me that this minister not be placed on any pedestals. Being the “me” that God has given both gifts and free will (which I sometimes use in selfish ways) allows the priesthood of all believers to see me as I am. Social media offers people the chance to get to know me on their terms and see that underneath that collar and alb are blue jeans and sneakers.
2. Relationships: Okay you’ve been there in line ready to shake the preachers hand after worship… what to say, how to get to know this person? Facebook and Twitter have allowed me and those who I engage in ministry to get beyond the “nice sermon Vicar Bill” stage. We open windows into our lives and doors to relationship by getting to know one another through both passive + active virtual encounters that strengthen relationships.
1. Pastoral Care: Being a listening presence is traditionally done in face to face pastoral care. I have experienced a more profound prayer life by using status updates to identify prayer and care needs related to my ministry, friends + followers. From posting public prayers, to direct messaging, to the act of “friending” someone in need have all been powerful ways to be a comforting presence and care provider.
I have much to learn and more to do in terms of social media. I would like to try live tweeting during a sermon, incorporate podcasting into my repertoire and use original video/photography to round out my virtual presence. If you have other “top ten items” or use social media in other ways, let me know. If you haven’t incorporated social media into your ministry toolbox, jump in… the virtual water is fine!