Discussions about social media — and, specifically in our case, social media in preaching — are important for the contemporary church. Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, we live in a digital age.
To be effective, however, we need to understand some basics about social media. And to begin with, we need to determine how conversant we are with social media.
Anyone, if they are willing, can use social media effectively. The issue is whether we are willing to admit our “user level.” To figure this out, how do you respond to the following statement?
All social media is relational.
Debate over the purpose of social media continues to rage in face-to-face discussions, print journals and online blogs. Yet, the argument itself is why we are so confused about what social media is and how we can use it effectively.
Most media experts lump users into one of three categories:
- Digital natives are people who use technology fluidly. They embrace new applications and operate with a sense of responsibility and stewardship. Although their ability to work fluidly is often confused as being anti-social, they demonstrate how technology can be effectively integrated into our lives. Digital natives believe that the purpose of social media is relational (to connect people and ideas).
- Digital immigrants are people who use technology although not fluidly. They have accepted that we live in a wired world, although the use of technology does not come easy for them. However, they are willing to learn and do make valuable contributions to the technology world. Digital immigrants believe that the purpose of social media is functional (to work smarter).
- Digital aliens are people who do not use technology unless it is absolutely necessary (i.e., email for work, text-messaging only with select people). Opinions range from isolationist (If we ignore Facebook it will go away … just look at MySpace!) to apocalyptic (Didn’t we learn anything from Huxley and Orwell?). Digital aliens believe that the purpose of social media is divisive (to isolate and segregate).
Each of us falls into one of these categories. That’s the bad news, especially for those who believe that rotary phones are on the comeback. Yet, as I mentioned above, even the digital alien (if he or she is willing) can learn how to use social media and use it effectively.
There are three basic ideas about social media. First, social media is relational. All media is social because the function of social media is to connect people in relationships where life is shared through status updates, selfies and research documents.1 The avenues through which we can connect with others are almost limitless. Yes it can be overwhelming if you try to use all of them. That is not the point. The point is that there are many ways to engage this wonderful world in which we live.
Second, social media is influential. The purpose of social media is to expand our capacity for doing good. The idea is to expand our influence not our image. When this happens, when image trumps influence, social media has been hijacked. Consequently, when thinking about how to use social media responsibly, we must learn to build a platform for, in the words of Seth Godin, our “tribes.”2 I decided to develop a platform that focuses on theological education. As a result, I find myself in conversations with preachers from Texas, college educators in England and social scientists in India. I am influencing people across the globe as they are influencing me.
Third, social media is generous. Michael Hyatt developed the concept of the “platform” a couple of years ago. He says that responsible use of social media occurs when we realize that we have something to offer the world and we freely and willingly offer it.3 When I attend conferences, I often live-tweet so that those not attending can share in what I am learning. As we begin sharing our thoughts and ideas, we will connect with more people who can spread our influence.
To sum up, anything that is technological is social media because we are making a connection when we use the application. This is good news for those of us charged with sharing the Good News. We are no longer limited to Sunday sermons. Whereas Paul had the Roman roadways and Wesley had riding circuits, we have the Internet. In a follow-up article, we will look at some tips for effectively using social media in preaching.
Part 2 of this series provides dos and don’ts for the effective use of social media in preaching.
1 David T. Bourgeois, Ministry in the Digital Age: Strategies and Best-Practices for a Post-Website World (Downers Grove, IL: Praxis/IVP Books, 2013), 55.
2 Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2008), 129.