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If you do not already get emails from The Barna Group, I would highly suggest it.  About once a month they publish research relevant to the Christian community.  This week they posted on “The Rise of the @Pastor.”  You can find the complete article here.

This article talks about the rise of religious content on social media, and also the rise of churches and pastors on social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook.  In the article, they state that “the Christian community’s voice has become a substantial one in the social, digital space.”  I find that Christian influencers are becoming more and more accessible to people through the use of social media.

Twitter is gradually becoming the dominant social media.  Church leaders included are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon.  I found this statistic very interesting:  In the last 24 months, the number of “church-based” users on Twitter has increased by 77%.  Wow.

Check out this infographic from Barna to see the rise in social media.

Social media helps pastors and churches to interact with people where they are.  This used to be in the coffee shops and out in the town, but now it is on the computer.  Churches and pastors need to be where the people are and where the important conversations are happening.  A majority of these conversations are now happening over social media.

If your church does not have a presence on social media, what are you waiting for?

I have been talking a lot about social media in the church and its importance, but we also need to remember that social media is never a substitute for authentic Christian community.

With all the social media sites that you can connect with people these days (some pictured to the left), you have to be very intentional about not letting that be your only form of communication.  I recently read a blog post on this subject and I wanted to share some of the things that I took away from it.  If you would like to read the blog post, you can find it here.

The authors, Eric Geiger, Matt Chandler, and Josh Patterson start of the post by saying that our faith cannot be private.  They stated that while our faith and relationship with Christ is very personal, that does not make it private.  They go on to say that we have been “individually saved by Christ, but you are not the only individual saved.”  We were made to be in community with other Christians, to support each other, to share our highs and lows.  Geiger, Chandler, and Patterson say that “connectivity does not equate to community,” which is something we must always keep as our focused.  Just because we are connected with someone on social media does not necessarily mean that we are in community with them or have a relationship.

One of my best friends, Lauren, also writes a blog.  I can read her blog posts as soon as she publishes them, but it is not the same as hearing it from her.  It is very hard to have a strong relationship completely across the computer.  If the only communication that my husband and I had was across Twitter or Facebook, we would not have the same relationship that we have face to face.

We need to remember to be intentional in creating community with other believers.  We need to seek them out and set aside time to engage with them, face to face.  Christianity is not a journey that anyone can easily take alone.  Our communications as churches to our congregations cannot all be over social media.

The blog post closes with this thought:  “So although we are more connected then we have ever been, we also feel more alone and unknown then at any other time in human history.”  And I completely agree with this.  Communities are so much stronger when they are face to face, intentional and mutually investing in each other.

Don’t forget about creating relationships and community because Christianity is all about relationships, not just connectivity.

1I recently was at a bible study where I heard a wonderful message from the following text:

Jeremiah 29:4-7

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give you daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters.  Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Ever since Adam has been in seminary, I have seen us in a transition period.  It can sometimes seem that this is a means to an end.  Even though Adam and I have only been in this stage of our lives for less than a year, I have viewed this as a stepping stone to the future.  I have been saying “I wish…” or “I can’t wait until…”  This verse is an important reminder to be present HERE in this stage of our life.

I need to invest in my life and the community I am in NOW.  I need to be present here and now and not only think of the future after Emmanuel.  And honestly, we’ll probably be here another three or so years just so Adam can finish his degree.  And wishing my way through those years would be no way to live.

God is telling the people not to be stagnant.  Prosper.  Grow.  Exile is only for a time:  don’t become out of practice.  I think it is important to remember that I need to be an active part of this community here.  I need to do my part to see this community prosper in Christ.

This was just an important reminder to engage in your life and community wherever you may be.  Even if you feel like you are in exile or that this is just temporary, flourish and grow where you are.  Be a part of your community, be hospitable.  Don’t just sit around and wait, ACT.

This is also important to remember with our churches.  If our church is really going to grow and prosper we must pray for the church.  We must also invest in the church and set down roots.  Even if we think we are in the area temporarily we must get involved in God’s community so we can grow and flourish spiritually as well.  We also need to put away the mindset of: “things will be better when…” or “just wait until…”  We must be involved in our church right now.

Just think of the amazing, God-given growth a church would experience if we were intentional and invested in our community.

These are the easiest things that our churches can do to achieve growth and strength as a community, so why are we not applying them?  Here are some verses that I think are important helpful hints given in the Bible in order to help our churches grow, and some practical ways to implement them.

1 Corinthians 12 (ESV)

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.  You know that when you were pagans you were led astray by mute idols, however you were led.  Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is Christ.  For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?  If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts do not require.  But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Do all work miracles?  Do all possess gifts of healing?  Do all speak with tongues?  Do all interpret?  But earnestly desire the higher gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way.

As we can see from this chapter, in order for the church to grow, we need to appreciate and nurture the gifts of every person in the congregation.  Everyone has certain God-given gifts for a person to be a member of the church and have an impact on God’s family and the rest of the world.  It is our job as a church to help people realize their gifts, encourage them to embrace those gifts, and help them to grow those gifts.

This is what I picture:  Members of the church mentoring the younger people in the congregation.  If I know my gift and am working in an area where I can use that gift, then I should be looking for people who also share that gift with me.  If they do then, I can encourage and mentor them in that gift.  For me, that is an incredible picture of the potential of growth.

Here are some questions.  Do you know your gift?  Are you using it to help the church grow?  Are you practicing your gift?  Is there someone that you could be mentoring?  Are you proud of your gift or are you always wishing for someone else’s?  Are we encouraging people to know their gift and use them in the church?

I think that if we were to truly embrace our gifts and encourage others to do the same, our church would see a great growth.

Ephesians 4:1 (ESV)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

When I was first trying to figure out what I wanted to study in college I immediately thought of business and marketing.  I have always been intrigued by it and I thought I had several skills that would help me to excel in that area.  So, that is what I decided that I wanted to do.  I was telling someone about my decision and they said, “What do you think you can do for God with that?  How will that benefit God’s kingdom?”  And they went on to tell me how they did not think I was making a good decision because I would not be serving God.  So, I changed my major to something that I thought would be more…”respected”.  And I realized that I had no passion whatsoever for what I was studying, so I switched back to business and I have been so happy and satisfied with that decision, and more importantly I feel affirmation from God that I am doing what he had planned for me.

It is my belief that God needs Christians in every aspect of careers and he gives every individual a calling specific to their life.  I think that instead of discouraging people from doing what they feel called to do, churches should encourage those people who are stepping into the uncomfortable.  They should encourage them because they will need and thrive on that encouragement.  Having Christians in all career fields opens an amazing mission field possibility for Christians.  If God has given a person a passion and a skill set for a career, and has called them to that, how can we do anything but encourage them?

I know that I have only talked about one chapter and one verse, but these passages have really stood out to me throughout my college career.  I think that if churches can embrace these scriptures and truly internalize them and practice them, then amazing growth will be seen in the church.

Once you decide to use social media, you must decide how you are going to use it.  With social media being such a big trend in the world today, churches need to embrace it.  A recent “Lookout” article stated that “the mutual mission of community building makes churches and social media a natural fit.”  Where it may be seen as such an obvious fit for a church, the approach to social media must be approached like any other ministry outreach of the church.

Before entering into the ministry of social media, the church should consider a few questions in advance:

  1. What are you trying to accomplish through your social media program?  How will you measure your goals?
  2. What will your church be able to do through social media that the church would otherwise not be able to achieve?  What needs does it fulfill?
  3. What resources will you need in order to start and maintain the social media program?  Consider additional time, talent, and funds that will be needed.
  4. Most importantly, how will God be honored through your churches use of social media?

Here are some suggestions for how your church can approach social media.  Firstly, a Facebook page is becoming more and more common for all brands.  This is a good way to post information and to gain information about interest in your church.  Secondly, Twitter is now the leading “microblogging” site.  Twitter can be utilized by churches by encouraging real-time feedback, share links, blog posts, announcements, and other interesting information.  Youtube can be used to upload videos to a churches channel.  The benefits of this is wide access and interest.  Links can be sent via Twitter and Facebook to encourage traffic between all of your networks.  Churches also have the option to start a blog.  “When a blog is built into a church’s main website, it can help the site’s search engine optimization through its natural supply of keywords” (Lookout).  Finally, one platform that many more churches are using is podcasting.  Churches are using podcasts to post their sermons for many people to listen to.

So how do you start your social media plan?  It is important to remember that “social media must complement and enhance your ongoing communications and methods of outreach.”  Most churches will need a full social media team in order to successfully utilize social media.  Social media must be frequently updated.  Social media must be open to feedback.  Social media must have clear guidelines and expectations.  Ultimately social media must be simple and clear or people will get lost in the mess.  Social media should be an extension of your church and not a separate part.

Frequency is the key to effective social media.  Most people suggest these guidelines:

  • Blog once a week (200-500 words per post)
  • Update Facebook information two to three times a week (include images when possible)
  • Tweet one to two times a day (can be used more, but don’t over-do it)

I think this quote expresses the key to why a church should use social media: “It is a lot less intimidating to go online and experience a church than it is for people to walk through the doors of one.”  People often find walking into a church they know nothing about very intimidating.  A churches’ social media presence is now often a person’s “first look” into that church.  It can communicate so much to an interested person and depending on how social media is used, that message can be a positive one (“I’m interested in knowing more, maybe I’ll go see what it’s all about”) or a negative one (“I don’t think I even want to try that one”).  Ultimately, social media is simply “a very remarkable tool that when used well can bring God’s people together.”