In my previous article, I discussed digital citizenship and the essential ideas behind social media to argue for its value in contemporary preaching. To bring this conversation full circle, I would like to offer some dos and don’ts about how to use social media in preaching.
Although I am primarily using Twitter for my example social media outlet, most of these tips can be applied across the social media spectrum. Most of the ideas are mine, although some were given to me by others who responded to my offer to share their thoughts about preaching and social media.
- Do learn the parameters of the social media outlet. For example, Nathan Copeland (@nbcopeland), Assistant Professor of Business at Harding University, reminds Twitter users to leave about 10 characters at the end of their tweets so that you can be retweeted. His reminder is important due to the 140-character limit. This is not a problem with other outlets such as Facebook or Instagram where the character amount is virtually limitless. On the other hand, Michael Hyatt recommends that bloggers keep their posts under 500 words if they actually want their posts read. Thus it is important to know your outlet’s parameters.
- Don’t ask the congregation to text or tweet or message you questions during the sermon. This may sound strange, yet there is absolutely no filter for this. What if no one responds? I saw this happen once in a sermon where the preacher needed people to send in questions for his sermon to work. The outcome was embarrassing. However, do ask your people to make comments about the worship or sermon, either using a predetermined hashtag or tagging you in the comment. I encourage people to tweet comments that I make in sermons, and I diligently try to respond to everyone who makes a comment about the sermon.
- Do accept that at least some in the audience will be reading from a digital Bible and probably taking notes through something like Evernote. I often teach a course on spiritual formation where I encourage the students to download the YouVersion Bible app to their phones or tablets. Then, when speaking in chapel, I encourage them to read from their digital Bibles as I am preaching. To be honest, we prepared our people for this when we began projecting Bible passages on screens.
- Don’t simply share Bible verses (and/or quotations). While your followers will benefit greatly from your personal devotional practices, your interactions will be more meaningful if they occur after the sun rises. Also, there are some good users who see this as part of their ministry (YouVersion and Logos are the most active).
- Do make use of multiple outlets or find ways to link your multiple outlets together. For example, when I took a picture of my daughter after she won a dance competition in March, I posted the picture on Instagram. Before the picture was posted, I was given the option of posting it to other sites. I chose Twitter because my Twitter and Facebook accounts are linked. One photo was automatically posted to three social media outlets.
- Don’t construct an online personality that is different from your real personality. After all, we must be genuine in all things. Not everything you post needs to be theologically deep or spiritually rich. It’s okay to mix up your posts between profound thoughts about your faith and quirky messages about what you’re watching on television. One of my former colleagues has a bad habit of posting spoilers from what he is watching. He also posts profound thoughts on theology and classic rock, and he and I often get into debates about both.
Finally, I would like offer some advice from my friend Matt Hafer (@matthafertweets), a church planted in Portsmouth, Ohio. He recommends that we study how preachers that we follow on Facebook or Twitter or whatever communicate digitally. Facebook may be enough. Yet you may be in a highly urbanized area where maximizing your impact will require using a variety of social media outlets.
Also, you will want to consider what outlets will reach the greater number of people. I have a friend in Oregon who is planting congregations among artistic communities. Print-based outlets like Facebook and Twitter were helpful, yet people began to really take notice when his team began using more visual-based outlets like Pinterest, Vimeo, and Instagram. In short, find what works best for you and your situation. Social media is here to stay and it is up to us to use it for spreading the gospel.