A few weeks ago, I sat at a lovely dinner and listened as the folks talked about how they had met. Most had found each other through social media groups; in fact, very few of us had actually initially met in a traditional, “in-person” setting. Everyone at the table was actively involved in local church fellowships in various communities, yet I noticed something was missing in their conversation. As they praised the power of the newest social platform, the message loudly proclaimed that night was this: We are so in need of community, and nothing before has given us such instant community.
I listened and thought, “Why are we still so hungry for real community? What’s missing?”
Now, if you’ve read any of my articles, you know what a cheerleader I am when it comes to social media. I believe every platform is an opportunity to connect, share stories, learn, advocate, be stretched beyond what makes us comfortable, and gain understanding of both what is good and what is troubling about the world around us. Every platform is an invitation and a conversation waiting to be given breath.
I’ve heard many church leaders say that social media is best used for promoting sermon series and youth camps and podcasts—but that real ministry needs are met on Sunday mornings or at revivals or in a small group Bible study. As a former church communications director, I still remember the fear on the face of a pastor when it was suggested we begin asking questions on Facebook and Twitter to invite conversation. “But what if someone responds in a way that doesn’t align with what we believe? What if the conversation goes in a direction we hadn’t intended? And who has time to respond—we need to focus on what happens here, in real life.”
And it’s that thinking that keeps many churches afraid of using social media for anything more than advertising. We still expect people to come to us. We preach community, and then define it as “Sunday mornings at 10 a.m.” or “down the street from you on Monday nights at 7—no childcare provided.”
We should never stop inviting. Ever. But perhaps it’s time for us to turn those social media invitations upside down and begin inviting ourselves into the lives of others. Maybe it’s time to create community instead of simply using social media to tell people about the one we already have.
What if we used social media as an invitation to invest, get out of the chair, drive down the road, sit at the table and talk for a bit about anything and everything? What if Periscope became the invitation into our vulnerable lives as ministers and leaders? What if Facebook became the place where questions could be asked without judgment? What if Twitter became our opportunity to cheer for others and pray for others, and Instagram images showed us with a pie, ready for delivery in exchange for coffee and good conversation? And Snapchat, what if Snapchat became a spontaneous greeting card to those we call our family?
What would happen if churches stopped fearing social media or saying it’s not worth the time, and began embracing it as a way to invest in the very community those people around that table at dinner said they longed for—community that is needed on a Tuesday morning or a Thursday night when the church building is locked and no small groups are meeting?
In talking about the future of the local church, Orange Conference speaker Carey Nieuwhof says, “The church that figures out how to bring old and young together at the table, Christian and non-Christian together in backyards, and the mature and the just-starting-out together in friendship will become a light to many in their community. Naturally, the churches or groups of churches that figure out how to do this well for hundreds, and even for thousands or tens of thousands, will be able to see communities and regions transformed. Community has been the hallmark of the church at its best for years. It will continue to be the hallmark of the church for the future.”
I believe social media is a key to that community. And it’s waiting for you to connect.