By Marty Duren
Social Media Strategy Manager, Lifeway
When Facebook’s membership grew beyond that of a few colleges and universities across America, millions of people piled on. A common refrain from those days was the formerly unwatched student who’s status, “Ugh. My mom’s on Facebook,” indicated a perceived loss of freedom.
It wasn’t long before pastors and other leaders began to warn about flirtation and the role Facebook (and eventually all social media) might play in harming marriage. A story was passed around claiming a certain percentage of divorce filings mentioned Facebook as a problem. One pastor forbade the members of his staff from having social media accounts.
Of course we should always be concerned about the potential abuse of any technology but we should remember Moses didn’t receive “You shall not commit adultery” because of Classmates.com, and David didn’t spy on Bathsheba on Periscope.
Tools don’t create immorality, but they sometimes reveal it.
Thankfully, in the years following, churches have realized productive ways to utilize social media. Every church, for example, should have a Facebook page frequently updated with address and time of services. Not having a Facebook page is like not having a website or (in another era) not being in the phone book. People look for churches on Facebook, so make sure yours has one. The page also allows event promotion. It’s always better to use the event feature rather than creating a new page for every event. This keeps all the events connected to your church.
Another great way to use Facebook is the groups feature. Every Sunday School class/small group can create a group for communication, encouragement, prayer requests, lesson previews, and more. Small groups I have been part of have used groups very effectively for these purposes. Facebook’s privacy settings are very effective for using groups. For middle and high school groups, membership approval can be required before someone can be added.
A recently added feature on Facebook is the ability to check-in “safe” after a natural disaster. Last week, following the Ecuadoran earthquake, two of my friends were asked by Facebook to verify their safety. They did, and I was notified they were both okay. This is a great tool for churches. When church members “friend” missionaries, or have missions teams check-in while in other countries, the members stateside can know in short order (assuming the Internet remains accessible) whether their missionary friend or contact is safe.
Some have asked whether Facebook or other social media can really be effective in sharing the gospel. I think the answer to that question is yes.
A couple of years ago I “friended” a man from an Middle Eastern country. Our only connection is through Facebook. He speaks Arabic and very good English. I often have asked his opinion on world events — especially those involving his country, which is predominantly Muslim. We have talked about Christianity and freedom of religion.
We also have messaged back and forth, and eventually exchanged e-mail addresses. One morning I awoke to find an e-mail from him informing me that he’d become a Christian. He thanked me for the role I played in helping him come to know Christ. To this day I’ve never seen him face-to-face or had a spoken conversation with him. Our only connection for the gospel is social media.
Churches should embrace social media in the same way they did the telephone, microphone, and printed page. It’s a low cost to entry, and the rewards are incalculable.