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Vincent van Gogh [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”  (Mark 4:3-9)

Social media is modern-day seed planting. But like the farmer’s seeds in the parable of the sower, the conversation begins with threat analysis. Some seeds are lost to the birds, swallowed up by other stories that swoop up all the attention. Some seeds fall underfoot and always stay close to home never travelling beyond a small circle of friends. Some worthy seeds are choked out by an unruly and seemingly unlimited outpouring of frivolity – endless cat videos and perfectly posed shots of someone’s indulgence at lunch, or relentless and insidious advertising. Other seeds are poisoned by blatant comments from known and unknown sources cultivating only hate and ignorance. ;Some seeds, although they look good at first glance, turn out to be weeds not the true harvest after all. With all this to contend with, why go there? Why not stay in our trusted and true channels where we have more familiar ways of working and more control over the content? While I agree that there is a lot of distraction to contend with and some downright bad stuff on the internet, social media a field worth sowing in any contemporary ministry.

What is Social Media?
There are more forms of social media than any one person can describe, never mind use, which makes it hard to introduce. Here’s my version of a one sentence definition: Social media is an umbrella term including many different kinds of electronic communication – created using computers, cell phones, tablets or even watches—including words, pictures, video and audio. 

Here are some of the most familiar platforms:

  • Facebook a social networking program with over 2 billion people using it in 2017 (Source)
  • Instagram a photo/video sharing program, owned by Facebook, with over 700 million monthly active users (Source)
  • YouTube a video-sharing website with 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute and over 30 million visitors a day (Source)
  • Snapchat a photo-sharing application, more popular among young people, reported 166 million daily active users. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snapchat

What is the connection between social media and ministry?
These numbers tempt us to approach social media as the answer to draw people back to church. But the wittiest Twitter feed or the most beautiful stream of photos on Instagram will not be the magic formula to draw people back to the pews. Social media will not save the church.  I wouldn’t believe anyone selling that pack of seeds. 

More than a marketing tool, the gift of social media to the church is the possibility of interaction with people who may never come through the door.  This is the present day village square where conversations are happening, where diverse voices are heard, where people are connecting with each other based on what matters to them.  Social media presents an opportunity for meaningful engagement with people with whom we may never encounter otherwise. 

In addition to reaching beyond borders, be they church walls or otherwise, social media also presents the possibility of engaging more fully with the circle of folks who are already in our midst.  Social media invites conversation, commentary, sharing and networking –all interactive forms of communication.   Beyond our own agendas, there is great potential here to listen, to lift up, to express gratitude, to offer support, to benefit from another’s view. 

There are more reasons, but I think these two expanding the breadth of conversation and deepening existing relationships through interaction are the strongest reasons to build social media strategies into ministry.

Free-casting seed as our sower does in the parable is a risky way to farm, admittedly low tech.  But the reach is intentionally wide.  Not every seed bears fruit, but the farmer sets out with the hope of connecting with good soil. I offer this blog as a way to listen and learn about how people are engaging social media in ministry – seeds planted, weeds pulled, thorns avoided, soil nurtured, and God-willing a harvest every once in a while.  

Comments, questions, alternative points of view, ideas for future topics, stories to share — are most welcome.  

Susie Henderson
Conference Minister for Communication and Community Engagement