The Blessings of the New Media
by Ed Stetzer
Popular and emerging forms of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogging are all around us. Yet many pastors and church leaders have been reluctant to embrace them. These new forms of media have become a very present part of our culture, and while abuses and misuses are often pointed out, I would like to suggest that when used in the best ways, the new media are a blessing and aid to our churches, pastors, and church planters.
As I see it, social media assist churches and Christian leaders in at least four ways:
Social Media Assist in Community
No, Twitter is not biblical community. And I don’t believe there is such a thing as an “internet church.” Social media itself cannot create enough community for us to live as God intends, but they can be a part of it.
Those who attempt to find community exclusively online will miss out on the fullness and authenticity of relationships God intends for us to have face to face. Gathering together (Heb. 10:25) requires feet and faces, not just electrons and avatars. Therefore, when a Christian seeks to be a part of a local church only by live streaming the worship service and conversing on message boards, he is short-circuiting the fellowship of the saints and his own spiritual growth. Yet, I do not believe that virtual community and real community are enemies. I see them more as friends, the former as a help to the latter. Unfortunately, for too many theologically-minded pastors, their aversion to the abuses of social media has distracted them from the opportunity they provide.
While social media cannot replace real-life interpersonal relationships, they can assist in building real community by connecting people in ways that allow them to share both the big and small things of life. Web services such as Facebook allow people who might see one another only during church on Sunday, or midweek in smaller community groups, to continue to share aspects of life they would not otherwise. This allows friends to look into the parts of life we share and respond with encouragement or exhortation.
Social Media Assist in Communication
The age of the bulletin (or worship guide) may not have completely passed, but these days few read it care fully to stay abreast of current events and news within the church. Instead, many rely on email blasts, Twitter, and texting for communication. These forms of communication can’t be left in the pews or forgotten in Bibles. They pop up in our email inboxes or on our phones, and can be easily passed on to others.
Social Media Assist in Inspiration
I get that most of us don’t need to waste time with some Twitter or Facebook comments when people are just sharing the mundane aspects of life. But many are choosing to share quotes from classic and modern authors, or insights they glean from Scripture. One leader recently gathered summations of the gospel via Twitter. Many of those 140-character responses were quite good. Therefore, this medium can serve as a means of introducing participants to theologians, pastors, writers, musicians, books, conferences, events, and so on. While services such as Twitter do not really allow for deep conversations, they can at least bring some great influences and inspiration into our lives.
Social Media Allow Better Introductions
Admittedly, people who use social networking choose to share more of themselves. However, in doing so, they have the opportunity to show the work of the gospel in their thinking, family, and lives.
On countless occasions, young pastors have thanked me for blogging and tweeting about my family and how I prioritize them. Many listen more readily to me because they feel they know me already.
Like all good things common to man, social media can be either a distraction or a blessing. It depends on what we do with them. Some say they take too much time — which tells me they may not be familiar with tools such as Twitter or Facebook.
Resisting social media and being unengaged in online community is safe but unwise. The gospel was not lost in the move from the scroll to the book, and it won’t be lost in the move from the page to hypertext. Social media are helpful tools that many in your congregation are already using — and your church (including its leadership) needs to be a part of that.
As I consider social media in the twenty-first century, I can’t help but think of the spread of the gospel and the church’s growth in the first century. Communication was greatly aided then by the common language of Koine Greek. Since the New Testament was written in a language accessible to so many, the Word of God was able to penetrate different cultures rapidly. Perhaps today the new media will be the “common language” for the masses to hear the gospel.