I was struck by a recent blog post from Phil Cooke (http://philcooke.com/taking-the-digital-mission-field-seriously/) about the opportunity and responsibility we have through Social Media to share the gospel.
As someone who manages my local church Social Media accounts, it’s always satisfying to know that people are enjoying the content you are posting by liking, commenting and sharing posts. However, to focus on this interaction alone would be to limit the impact and vision of the content you post. As Cooke points out, the digital mission field requires a deeper thinking of how we can use Social Media to disciple others.
At my church, one way I’ve tried to do this is posting things which will matter to people for the season they’re in. In our family we have a lot of students who at the moment are undertaking end of year exams. Undoubtedly, some are feeling anxious and they are worried. To help and disciple them, we’ve been posting relevant and helpful scripture (such as below) and thought provoking quotes on Social Media to help them through this time. The mission wasn’t necessarily about the interaction (likes and shares) we can get, but focusing on the impact of the post on our audiences.
In his article, Cooke points out that with billions now on Social Media, a question for churches is which missionaries should we be sending i.e. how can we dedicate our time and energy to our online audience. To me, this requires a new way of serving our online audience.
One way some churches are doing this is regularly asking on Social Media if anyone would like prayer. Here is a post from Lifechurch.tv:
A dedicated team (as well as the Facebook community) will then view comments and acknowledge they have been prayed for by a ‘like’.
I love that the point of these prayer posts isn’t to promote the activities of the church, but actually focus the complete efforts on pastoral care for the online audience. There are people online in desperate need for someone to reach out for them, and to really embrace the opportunities of Social Media to talk to people wherever they are in the world, it’s these sort of relationship building we need to see a lot more often.
Another way we can take Social Media ‘seriously’, I think is understanding the nuances of each platform in order to understand how we can better build relationships. Twitter is a great tool for this:
Head to Twitter Advanced Search: https://twitter.com/search-advanced
In the ‘words’ section put in the search term: prayer
In the ‘places’ section put in the town/city where your church is based. Twitter will then find tweets containing the word ‘prayer’ that have been sent from your locality. If I put in my details (I live in Exeter) here’s some of the tweets listed:
Parents and staff are welcome to join the Head Teacher in a prayer meeting at 12.30 today.
— St Leonard’s Primary (@S_L_P_S) May 8, 2014
Saw a awful motorbike crash in exmouth this evening,I don’t believe in god but I say a little prayer when someone needs help! #hopehesok
Just submitted my worst essay to date… Everybody prayer for it to get at least a pass
After a quick search, as a church we have an opportunity to connect with these individuals/organisations and hear their requests. For the student who has just submitted their essay and desperate to pass their exams, how are they going to feel when a local church says they’re praying for them? Or for a school to receive a tweet to say that the local church is lifting them up to God?
By using this Twitter functionality we can connect with individuals who perhaps might not have ever come through a door of a church or even who God is. As Cooke explains in his blog, instead of ‘amp-ing’ up the likes of posts, how would it be if we thought deeply about engaging with the ‘new digital mission field’ to build relationships so people come to know our life changing God.