The Pastor and Social Media
The Word a Pastor brings from the Bible is timeless. Yet, the media through which a pastor communicates are constantly changing. The pulpit is still the most powerful tool in his arsenal. Dr. Merritt also teaches through broadcast media (television), and joins many pastors in distributing teaching through podcasts, CD audio, DVD video and regular communication via email.
Social media—especially Facebook and Twitter—are two broadly utilized communications mediums that are prevalent now. Even as I write this, Google+ is rising, and MySpace is dying a quick death—so social media itself, while broadly used, is also a shifting medium. How can a pastor be most successful in social media?
Be real. A pastor in the social media realm represents himself probably more than his church or larger organization. There’s a place for a “church page” on Facebook, but I’ve found the popularity of Dr. Merritt as a person is what draws people to him in social media circles. Facebook is a place to be a real guy—to share news and notes about family and friendships, passions, what God is teaching you, life challenges and celebrations. Don’t be afraid to open the door to your life, at least a little, in social media circles. The days of the strictly private man outside the pulpit are long gone.
Be positive. One of the most frequent mistakes pastors make in social media is letting it be a place to rant or complain about things they don’t like. Despite seeing this in many friendships on Facebook and Twitter, I would admonish a pastor to keep it positive online. Your congregation and friends will be less accepting of your negativity online than you realize. They expect to be challenged and inspired by you when you preach on the weekends—and that same expectation, to some extent, is there when they friend you on Facebook. Look at social media relationships as opportunities for you to speak optimism and joy into the lives of others.
Be present. Social media is a time commitment. Post at least once a day if not more to your social networks. For Dr. Merritt, who is like most pastors tremendously busy, we employ a dual-post strategy. A staff member at his church schedules a daily posting of a sermon quote or two, and the pastor himself supplements that with his own posts when he has time. The worst thing you can do when entering the social media realm as a pastor is to not devote any time to it. We use hootsuite.com to manage and schedule posts for Dr. Merritt as well as our other church feeds—it’s one of many great tools for doing this.
Be careful. Social media is a “stream of life” medium—catching days and moments as they happen. And here’s the catch: that history is stored and indexed and can be recalled later on. What you say today on Facebook will be seen in a year or more by others. Ask yourself as you post whether or not you would want this read by others a year or more down the road. Be very sure you understand this fact: Social media is not a private forum for friends. It is a public medium on the internet. Never forget this or it is to your peril.
Be purposeful. Finally, remember to make your posts worthwhile. Frankly, people are not interested in seeing your comments on traffic and flight delays, pictures of your plate of food, or that you’re on the way to the mall to get new slacks. Those kinds of posts don’t “humanize” you, they just make you look like you have no idea how to use social media. Think of your posts as a conversation. Say something worth saying. If you don’t have something worth saying, quote a Scripture verse or say something nice about someone else. No pastor ever went wrong quoting God or complimenting a friend. When posting to social media, ask yourself, “Is this worth reading?” Many times, it just isn’t, and you need to give your posts a second thought.
Social media is not going away. It is growing and a large segment if not the majority of your congregation is getting engaged in it. Urban churches experience this more readily now, but it is only a matter of time—a few months at most—before the trickle-down hits most areas of our culture. You can’t ignore it or avoid it, so enter social media with a plan to make the most of it for your church, your ministry and the Kingdom.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.