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A Better Way For Pastors And Churches To Use Social Media

by Sam Hoover

Years ago, while sitting in a church staff meeting, our pastor confided to us that he’d like to write a book, and title it: “Confessions Of A Wanna Be Mega Church Pastor.” Despite our church being one of the largest in the city, and after years of faithfully serving the community—with a top-notch kids program to boot (we subscribe to the Orange curriculum, thankyouverymuch)—we hadn’t seen the growth we desired or expected.

There seemed to have been an elusive tipping point just out of reach that would have taken our church to the next level.

Many pastors might admit they are facing the same struggle today.

Back when I was young, the only way to hear a pastor speak was if you were planted in a pew. We didn’t have the fancy Internet with its podcasting and video streaming and its social media.

While technology is making it easier for people to go to church, the pressure is on pastors and church leaders to grow exponentially—both in attendance and finance. The ability to speak to millions of people online through social media alone is keeping many pastors awake at night trying to answer questions like, “How do I reach as many people as possible?” and “How can I get the word out about our ministry?”

“How can we become a mega church?”

I know, not because I am a pastor, but because I’m trying to do the exact same thing in my job at Compassion International. I’m trying to talk with the same people. Trying to reach as many people as possible. Trying to get the word out about our ministry. It’s exhausting. And it comes at a cost.

Social media can give pastors the mega church they want at the expense of the local church they have.

It might not be true that a pastor would spend more time thinking of his next tweet than his next sermon but you wouldn’t be surprised if it happens every now and then, right? I wouldn’t.

(Say this paragraph in your best satirical voice.) The potential to reach the masses is soooo easy. The people who come on Sunday morning will be there, just like they were last Sunday and the Sunday before that. They’ll be there again. If I could juuuust word this one tweet right, it would go viral and thousands of people will know who we are and what we do. There would be a stampede to get inside the church. We’ll hit ’em with the gospel and the kingdom will grow! Our servers will go down with the amount of traffic to our site. We can customize our 404 page to say: “Disappointed? You won’t be with Jesus.” Just like that fake money. We’ll let people give their tithes and offerings via Apple Pay. And it can all happen with one tweet. We’ll have ourselves a bona-fide church now. And it won’t be some fad or flash in the pan. We’ll change people’s lives. Of course, we’ll have to think of something even catchier to say to top our last tweet buuuuut. . . . (End satire voice.)

How exhausting. There’s got to be a better way for pastors and churches to use social media.

I think there is. And it starts by thinking local.

Here are three ways for pastors and churches to spend less time trying to go viral and more time trying to stay local:

  1. Follow businesses in your neighborhood.
    There’s a truth in business that the health of an organization can be measured by its internal culture. If morale is up, profits are likely up. The inverse is true as well. I think the same can be said for a city. The health of a city can be measured by the businesses inside it. So, if you want your city to thrive, invest in local businesses. Say something great about that coffee shop you frequent (free WiFi!). Tell people about the great haircut you got at the salon around the corner (free scalp massage!). Promoting local businesses is a win for the community and, thus, your church.
  1. Encourage your local leaders.
    Want to stand out online? Be positive. I guarantee your mayor or sheriff or city council-person is on Twitter. And they’re just as addicted to reading their at-replies as you are yours. I bet the majority of those at-replies would make your grandmother blush. Go make their day by giving them a pat on the back. They are serving the local community just like you and they might be thanked even less.
  2. Break positive news.
    Good stories are happening all around you—inside and outside of the church walls. Tell those stories. Know a family going above and beyond? Snap a picture of them and post it to Instagram with their permission. See a Good Samaritan on the street? Give them a shout-out on Twitter. Tim Keller recently tweeted, “People don’t like basic math, but in cities, you have more image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world.” Go find Him and talk about Him.

There’s a popular trend today of taking the words of Jesus a bit more literal than we have in the past. If Jesus called His disciples—and thus all His followers—a “city on a hill,” your social influence might not turn your church into the mega church you want but the local church your city needs.

Sam Hoover (@sam_hoover) runs social media for Compassion International, a global non-profit dedicated to releasing children from poverty in Jesus name.

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