As the Information Age barrels forward, its most significant aspect has become Social Media. Expertly tapping into the most fundamental impulses of human behavior, social media allows the mind to absorb data at the most superficial level requiring the least amount of consideration, and then to filter that information in such a way as to reinforce all of the opinions and beliefs they already hold.
The Trouble with Facebook
This has a potentially devastating effect when it comes to the Church. Through the cooperative efforts of the user and the interface, social media reinforces and rewards the short attention span inherent in the millennial culture, which leads to an inability to deeply consider any of the doctrines of the Church that otherwise require analysis and thought. It lends to the stunting of social interaction by moving what is the traditional face-to- face fellowship of the church to the digital “friending” system which has actually caused deep loneliness in the culture.
It makes it ever more common to accumulate an echo-chamber of friends and groups who simply share the user’s opinions, and never challenges the user to consider those opinions. In short, Social Media is the icon of all that is causing culture to decay when one considers the broad effects it has on society. In his article “5 Warning Signs for the Church in a ‘Facebook Culture,'” Michael Kruger warns of the steamrolling effects he sees social media having on young Christians. So the question becomes: may the church still use Facebook as an effective tool of ministry, somehow?
A full retreat from social media may be more damaging than helpful to the Church. Hovering on the edge of cultural irrelevance as it already is, the Church must beware of entirely isolating itself from a culture of young people who are less and less likely to even consider that establishment.
At the same time, the Church does not want to embrace the vices of the culture as a cheap strategy to win or sustain members. Of the various forms of social media, Facebook may be the one with the most tools to help the Church without necessarily falling prey to the dangers listed above. Unlike Twitter, it does not force the user to be terse and superficial in any given post that it makes. It also gives users significantly more tools than most other social media outlets.
How the Church can Use Facebook
Jonathan Howe lists a number of advantages Facebook gives specifically to Church Staff, including the fact that church members are already going to be on social media – it is possibly the only outlet a church has where communication with all members is almost a certainty. He says that Facebook allows members to see the Pastor and his staff as real people with a life outside of the church, allowing for a level of fellowship not always allowed. Additionally, to that, the church staff become more accessible and easier to communicate with. Marc Lambert, member of The Mentionables apologetics ministry and the senior pastor of Liberty Hill Baptist Church in Moody Texas, says: “I got on Facebook originally precisely as a ministry tool. It’s where people are, so it’s where I go.”
“It’s a useful way to get info out quickly and effectively. Not everyone will check an email or answer a phone, but they’ll glance at a social media notification.”
“Free advertising and communication with members? It’s a pretty good deal.”
What Marc says is a window into the power of Facebook as a tool for churches. (Lambert, Marc. Original Interview. 8 January 2017). First of all, it is very important to have someone dedicated to the administration of the Facebook account. Content and users must be monitored to post uplifting content and avoid junk content; and also to keep toxic posters from mixing with sincere members. Once a dedicated administrator has been assigned, the account may be used to keep church members quickly updated with regular announcements and digital versions of church bulletins.
The church can extend its educational ministry by posting regular educational items of interest. Facebook may become an almost indispensable tool for disseminating prayer requests. Possibly the most dynamic tool which Facebook allows is streaming audio and video. Churches may (and many do) livestream the sermon, and each livestream becomes a video on the page which may be watched at any time. This allows members who cannot make it to church for various reasons to never be out of the loop.
The Facebook page may also allow members access to recommended resources, such as commentaries to go along with the sermon. Many church attendees now use their tablet or phone for the Bible app to follow along with the sermon. And, of course, the temptation to check their Social Media feeds while they have their tablet out is irresistible.
A church may use this tendency to its advantage by posting the sermon outline, notes, commentaries and so forth so that a person’s checking of Facebook may actually aid in them following the sermon while it is happening.
Facebook is a threat to the Church in the same way that any other form of media has threatened the Church. Yet somehow, over the ages, the Church was able to make media such as art, books, television and internet work for it as much as against it. In the age of Social Media, the same is true. In a world where information is just a screen-click away, information about God and doctrine is equally close. And through guidance, education and shepherding of the church, a canny pastor can make his ministry all the more effective using this tool.
Joel Furches is a writer who has worked for 15 years researching and writing on topics of religion. He has a BA in psychology and an MA in education. He can be found online at hubpages.com/@bombadere
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