By Justin Lathrop
I’ve written before about why I believe pastors need to be on social media (I’m a big believer in pastors, and a big believer in social media, so it’s a natural connection). But recently someone asked me if I think churches need to be on social media and the answer I gave surprised me a little.
For whatever reason, in the moment the question was asked, the word “no” popped out of my mouth. No with conditions, but no just the same.
Churches don’t have to be on social media.
I know that probably surprises you to hear me say that (I surprised myself a little) but let me explain.
When people ask me this question, for some reason all I can think about is what happens when I tell my kids they need to clean their room. “Do we have to, Dad?” is inevitably the response (I have great kids, but what kid likes to clean their room?) Usually, I tell them yes, they do have to.
But when a grown adult asks me, “do I have to?” I guess I just want to say, “Well, no, you don’t. You don’t have to be on social media but if you don’t—just like if you don’t clean your room—you will have to live with the consequences.”
In one case, your room will be messy, you might not know where to find things, you might lose things or break something.
In the other case, you might miss the opportunity to reach people, minister to people or invite people into your community. If you’re willing to accept those risks, to accept the potential consequences, you don’t have to be on social media. (To my kids, if they’re reading this: you do still have to clean your room).
What is it that makes us resist?
I guess the next logical question for me is, if we know that being on social media is good for churches, what is it that makes us resist? There must be something else going on that makes us feel like we don’t want to get started. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be asking the question (do we have to?)
From all my conversations with pastors and my experience working with churches, I would say the obstacles boil down to a few things:
- Time—it takes so much time to start your social media accounts, manage them and keep them functioning.
- Expertise—we don’t know how to use Twitter, and although we could learn, please refer to problem #1.
- Risk—what if we invest all of that time and energy and we don’t see a return for our investment? Won’t that be a waste?
Let me speak to each of these problems or obstacles individually; if at the end of that explanation, you and your church still don’t want to be on social media, I won’t make you.
“We don’t have time to be on social media.”
It’s true being on social media takes a considerable amount of time. It’s also true churches (and the people who run them) are busy. But it might not take as much time to build your social media presence as you think it will.
Think about it like anything else that is good for you or for your organization—a little bit is better than none at all.
Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by all of the possibilities when it comes to social media. Instead, focus on taking one step at a time. Take one platform, for example, and get started. Use it to the best of your ability. Learn more about it, little by little. Implement, as you learn, the new insight you gain.
“We don’t know how to use social media.”
You yourself might not know how to use social media. But as social media becomes more and more the norm for communication in our culture, chances are, there are people in your church who do know how to use it. They are essentially “natives” to this information.
They were basically born into a culture that requires them to know it.
If you look around your church (or your church staff) and don’t see anyone young enough to be a native to the new way of communication, ask yourself honestly: how long can your church function without generational diversity?
“What if social media doesn’t do for us what we hope it will?”
I think one thing we need to do is set realistic expectations for what social media can do for your church.
Setting those expectations will keep you from suffering unnecessary disappointment.
Social media is not the golden ticket to church growth (any more than anything else you do at your church is a golden ticket). It will not immediately make you online famous or change the way your community sees you. It will not fix all of your problems—with money, with people, or with anything else.
What social media can do is give you another tool to connect with people, to resource people, to support people, to care for them. It can give your church another way to express the love and compassion of Christ in your community—and wider. It can be a way to provide people with much-needed information.
Is that worth it to you?
The way I think about it, being on social media is the modern-day equivalent to being in the phone book. Do you need to be in the phone book? No. Definitely not. But if you want to be found by people looking for churches in the phone book, it’s good to be accessible there.
If we’re all about spreading the gospel and want to invite people into what we’re doing as a church, I don’t know why we wouldn’t embrace an opportunity to do that on a large scale.
* photo credit: Jason A. Howie