Lecture 7: The Social Media Maven

Lecture 7 – The Social Media Maven: A Man with a Smartphone

“If the leader is not leading in the digital world, his leadership is, by definition, limited to those who also ignore or neglect that world, and that population is shrinking every minute. The clock is ticking…, if you are not present on the Internet, you simply do not exist, as far as anyone under 30 is concerned.”[footnote]Al Mohler, “The Christian Leader In the Digital Age,” AlbertMohler.com, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/02/26/the-christian-leader-in-the-digital-age/[/footnote] I’m not going to waste your time with statistics to prove the pervasiveness and penetration of social media in all age ranges. I’m working on the assumption that 90% of people are using social media to some extent.
Neither am I going to speak about church websites, which are generally static shop windows. There’s much that could be said about how to design and use church websites better, but these digital assets are not social, they do not involve interaction or relationship. I want to look at how the Christian leader uses social media to communicate and interact with his flock.
I’m assuming that my task is to provide guidance for local church leader especially as they interact with their local church and local community. Of course, it’s entirely possible that your social media contributions might gain a wider, even a national or international, audience from time to time. However, my main focus is on ministering to the local church and community that God has called you to. If God opens a wider door of witness and service, then yes, you may decide to walk through it and take advantage of it for wider kingdom usefulness. However, I think it’s important that local pastors do not aim for that and even when given such opportunity, do not make that wider audience the priority at the expense of ministering to their own flock.

1. Take a positive approach

a. Be positive about technology and social media

Don’t be a digital dooms-dayer. Yes we must be aware of the dangers in social media, and as pastors we must alert and protect our sheep. But if the church only or largely communicates condemnation and warning about social media and other modern technology, then most people, especially young people, will just turn off. As Al Mohler said:

The digital world did not exist a generation ago, and now it is a fundamental fact of life. The world spawned by the personal computer, the Internet, social media, and the smart phone now constitutes the greatest arena of public discussion and debate the world has ever known.[footnote]Al Mohler, “The Christian Leader In the Digital Age,” AlbertMohler.com, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/02/26/the-christian-leader-in-the-digital-age/[/footnote]

If you want to be where people are, then you need to be in social media. The opportunities to connect and communicate there for the advance and benefit of the Gospel are unparalleled. Social Media is carrying the Gospel into China and North Korea, into schools and universities, into the public square and our local communities. There are personal benefits too, though. A while back, I wrote a blog post: “How technology made me a better Christian.” Among the benefits I listed were:

  • Links to valuable ministry resources
  • Better communication: by helping me compress, clarify, and simplify my language
  • Immediate Christian comment on current issues: breaking the mainstream media’s stranglehold
  • Christian fellowship: millions of Christians sharing their faith more publicly
  • Christian diversity: learning about other Christians from other backgrounds and cultures.
  • Outreach and Mission: inexpensive resources sent everywhere at click of mouse.
  • Multiplied influence

The digital revolution has increased our theological knowledge, our cultural engagement, our ministry reach, effectiveness, our evangelism, our apologetics, and our love for one another. Yes, social media can build community, especially for people who are more timid and nervous socially. Ed Stetzer wrote:

I do not believe that virtual community and real community are enemies. I see them more as friends, the former as a help to the latter….While social media cannot replace real-life interpersonal relationships, they can assist in building real community by connecting people in ways that allow them to share both the big and small things of life. Web services such as Facebook allow people who might see one another only during church on Sunday, or midweek in smaller community groups, to continue to share aspects of life they would not otherwise. This allows friends to look into the parts of life we share and respond with encouragement or exhortation.[footnote]Ed Stetzer, “The Blessings of the New Media,” www.ligonier.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/blessings-new-media/http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/blessings-new-media/[/footnote]

Yes, social media is associated with lots of problems, but it’s important to remember that the problem is not so much social media but our hearts (Matthew 15:17-19). Technology journalist, Paul Miller, was recently paid by Verge magazine to spend a year offline. Initially he found that many of his bad habits were suddenly broken. However, by the end of the year, he said:

I’d learned how to make a new style of wrong choices off the internet. I abandoned my positive offline habits, and discovered new offline vices. Instead of taking boredom and lack of stimulation and turning them into learning and creativity, I turned toward passive consumption and social retreat…

A year in, I don’t ride my bike so much. My frisbee gathers dust. Most weeks I don’t go out with people even once. My favorite place is the couch. I prop my feet up on the coffee table, play a video game, and listen to an audiobook. I pick a mindless game, like Borderlands 2 or Skate 3, and absently thumb the sticks through the game-world while my mind rests on the audiobook, or maybe just on nothing.[footnote]Paul Miller, “I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet,” the verge.com, accessed 5.28.14[/footnote]

b. Be positive in your online communications

As a baseline, the average person complains 15-30 times per day, with a ratio of 1 to 6 in terms  of encouragement to criticism. We don’t want to translate that to social media. Social Media guru, Erik Qualman, wrote:

We don’t want a trail littered with complaints and negative comments…If you habitually complain you will either a) have your followers leave you since people like to follow individuals that inspire hope, or b) have a legion of chronic complainers. Neither of these resulting scenarios will benefit you and you will cease being an effective digital leader.[footnote]Erik Qualman, Digital Leader, (McGraw-Hill, 2011), Kindle Location 639-677.[/footnote]

Make Philippians 4:8 the general banner of all your online work. It’s been demonstrated that the ideal positive:negative ratio on a team is 6 to 1, the reverse of most people’s experience!

2. Ask yourself the “Why?” question

Having decided to get involved in the world of social media, the first and most important question you need to answer is: “Why?” Why do I want to do social media? What’s my motive and aim? Is it for myself, is it for the church, is it for unbelievers? Is it to evangelize unbelievers? Is it to disciple my flock? Is it to draw attention to resources? Is it to serve the Christian community?
Once you answer the “Why?” question, you will find it easier to answer the “How?” question. How do I go about this? What’s the best social media to use for these purposes?
Ligonier’s social media guru, Nathan Bingham, illustrates this point by describing three churches who each have answered the why question differently and hence the how question has been approached differently.

a. Church One – Information

Their goal for social media is “to target existing members of their church and supplement, if not replace, the bulk of their weekly bulletin.”
If that’s they “why” the “how” is quite easy. The pastor or a volunteer spends an hour or more a week scheduling this information and encouraging the congregation to check in.

b. Church Two – Edification

Their goal is “to target the wider body of Christ as well as existing members of their church. They want to build up and encourage Christians in the digital realm—sharing edifying sermons, challenging quotes, and links to resources that are helpful to the wider body.”
The “how” needs more thought and time to gather the content, to post it, to respond to interaction, etc.

c. Church Three – Connection

Their goal is “to reach out to those who live locally and are not a part of the body of Christ. Knowing that much of the community around their four walls is engaging daily in many conversations on social media, they want to join the fray and provide a voice for the Christian worldview. In addition to providing a gospel saturated response to today’s issues and asking the difficult questions when appropriate, they’ll be introducing themselves to a community who may not of otherwise known of their existence.”

One way to take advantage of Facebook search is to get every person in your church to like your church’s page, then encourage them to suggest liking your church page to their friends.

Think of it like this: When a person moves to your town, they may use Google or Bing to find a church. But after they have been in the community for a while, have made friends and have connections on Facebook, they may use Facebook search instead. The number of people who have liked your church’s Facebook page can influence the search results.[footnote]Marty Duren, “Using Social Media In Your Church,” christianitytoday.com , accessed 5.28.14, http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/february/using-social-media-in-your-church.html[/footnote]

This is the most demanding choice in terms of time and thought. You need to be listening, following local trends, etc., and clear guidelines given as to what and how to engage with the public on behalf of the church.
The “why” question helps you to decide what level of time and people investment is required. It also helps you decide which social media channel to use. If you’re trying to improve your communication skills, and you want people to read what you write, then blogging is the way to go. If you want to reach unbelievers in your community, probably Facebook is your tool. If you want to find and share links to Christian news items, great articles, and pithy quotes, Twitter may be your best option, etc.

3. Prioritize one social media channel

You will never be able to do all kinds of social media: blogging, Google +, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. At least, you will never be able to do them all well. I’d recommend picking one or two and focusing your efforts on these. 90% of my social media time is spent on blogging. Twitter gets about 9% and the other 1% is not much more than posting links to my blog articles on Facebook and Google+. One factor that you should consider is “Where do most of your church people spend time online?”
While we’re on the topic of prioritizing, you also need to make two other decisions.

a. Daily Time?

First, how much time will you spend on this each day. You should pray about this, discuss it with your wife, and probably your elders too. Explain your motives and aims and ask for guidance. I probably spend about 2 hours each day on social media, and most of that is in my downtime. About half of that is spent reading others’ blogs and Tweets and the other half is spent on writing blogs and linking to good articles. Although I call this my “hobby” and I do it in “downtime” there is of course much personal edification, education, and training going on also as I’m exposed to multiple thinkers and doers in Christian ministry.

b. Time of the Day?

Second, what times of each day will you devote to this? The three biggest mistakes you can make are:
(i) To do this first thing in the morning, diverting your attention and running down your brain fuel before your main ministry work.
(ii) To do it during what should be family time. If you’re doing social media when you should be with your wife and family, you’ve prioritized the wrong community.
(iii) To do it non-stop throughout the day. Students, and ministers too, are discovering that their non-stop social media habits are making deep and long study increasingly difficult as the brain keeps demanding the short-term buzz of adrenaline that’s squirted into the body with every “like,” “Retweet,” and “comment.”
Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics and The Digital Leader, says “multitasking is junk food for the brain.”

A study at The British Institute of Psychiatry showed that checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment by 10 points. This decrease is the equivalent of the effects from not sleeping for 36 hours—and exhibits more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana. In a study of 1,000 of its employees, Basex, an information-technology research firm, found striking data showcasing inefficiency. It was determined that 2.1 hours per day is lost to interruptions. This figure indicates over 26 percent of the average workday is wasted due to multitasking and unwanted interruptions. Jordan Grafman, chief of the cognitive neuroscience section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, explains, “There’s substantial literature on how the brain handles multitasking. And basically, it doesn’t …what’s really going on is a rapid toggling among tasks rather than simultaneous processing.” [footnote]Erik Qualman, Digital Leader, (McGraw-Hill, 2011), Kindle Location 250-257[/footnote]

And if you are posting stuff throughout the day, don’t be surprised if hard-working people in your congregation begin to resent this and think that this is all you are doing.

4. Be Sociable

a. Make it two-way

Don’t be a social media loudmouth – Promote the truth not yourself. Help others, serve others, follow others, comment on others, reply to others, encourage others. Don’t be just a broadcaster.

You will attract more followers digitally in two days than you will in two months if you show interest in them versus trying to get them interested in you.[footnote]Erik Qualman, Digital Leader, (McGraw-Hill, 2011), Kindle Location 3814-3818.[/footnote]

b. Reveal

One area that requires a bit of trial and error is how much to reveal about your own church life or personal life. Some let it all hang out, while others prefer to be a “Reformed Robot,” a stoical humanoid like Dr. Spock. This is something I’ve found very hard to get right, and I’ve tended to err on the privacy side of things. However, remember that in some ways, there’s nothing private. Erik Qualman warned:

Rather than becoming an expert on privacy policies, the best approach is to assume that everything you do digitally will be found out by the person you least want to find out. Taking that one step further, everything that you do offline will be digitally discoverable as well.[footnote]Erik Qualman, Digital Leader, (McGraw-Hill, 2011), Kindle Location 880-881.[/footnote]

But we have to remember this is about social media. It’s not very sociable just to talk theology all the time. In face-to-face conversation, we will usually reveal a bit about ourselves and expect others to do the same. That builds relationship and trust. Be real and transparent. Be emotionally honest. Erik Qualman writes:

Personal is powerful. For many of us, the thought of having others know more about our passions and personal lives can be daunting, especially in the digital, online realm. If you become comfortable with this form of sharing, however, it can be powerful for anything you are trying to accomplish…Remember that personal isn’t about revealing that you have a tattoo on your left shoulder, it’s about letting people know about the passions and principles in your life that you stand by. When they know this information about you, personal becomes powerful.[footnote]Erik Qualman, Digital Leader, (McGraw-Hill, 2011), Kindle Location 1988-1990.[/footnote]

However, also consider the impact on your family. Not just baby scans, but pregnancy tests, nappy and potty pictures are now routinely shared online. Jen Wilkin suggests “imagine a 13-year-old version of them reading over your shoulder.” “Ask yourself,” she says, “Does it provide short-term gratification for you or honor long-term relationship with them?”[footnote] Jen Wilkin, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/parents-do-you-think-before-you-post[/footnote] Tell your story without compromising theirs. Same goes for your congregational details. Not everything is for everyone.

On countless occasions, young pastors have thanked me for blogging and tweeting about my family and how I prioritize them. Many listen more readily to me because they feel they know me already.[footnote]Ed Stetzer, “The Blessings of the New Media,” www.ligonier.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/blessings-new-media/http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/blessings-new-media/[/footnote]

c. Add value.

What can I add to people’s lives rather than just adding to the hub-bub?
Some easy options to get started are sermon summaries, sermon snippets, or sermon discussions. You could try a reading plan where you work through a book in an online community. You could write historical or theological articles. Or you could make it more practical, evangelistic, or topical. Even if you find your niche, it’s a good idea to vary and break the mold from time to time.
Facebook posts should usually be no longer than 140-160 characters. Blog posts should be less that 500 words on average. Questions increase interaction by 20%.

d. Learn from experts

Erik Qualman says:

Determine a digital leader you admire. Spend at least 20 minutes a day watching his or her activity. Pay attention to: Who is he conversing with? What topics does she post and in what tone? Why does he post? When does she post? Where does he post and what tools or sites does he use? The best digital mentor is generally someone that is in your industry or shares similar interests—someone that you find intriguing. Learn from these mentors and practice what they are doing.[footnote]Erik Qualman, Digital Leader, (McGraw-Hill, 2011), Kindle Location, 3231-3240.[/footnote]

e. Mix it up

Vary frequency, length, and subjects of posts. Experiment to see what works and what doesn’t.

f. Be patient

The blogosphere and the Twitterverse and not just waiting for you. You will not have more than 10-20 regular readers initially. Like almost everything in life, it takes a lot of time and effort to make a success of it.

g. Be accountable

Tim Challies has an article called “A Social Media Heart Check.” [footnote]Tim Challies, “A Social Media Heart Check,” Challies.com, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.challies.com/christian-living/a-social-media-heart-check[/footnote] He explains how you can access all your Facebook activity at a glance – what you’ve seen, people you’ve searched for, comments left, things “liked,” etc. He suggests sitting down with your wife and reviewing this regularly.

  • Ask for input from family, friends, elders. What impression am I creating. Is it real, helpful?
  • Am I “present” when I am present?
  • Am I stoking controversy or making peace?
  • Am I using this as a diversion to avoid real problems, real people, real world?
  • Am I modeling and mentoring by my social media presence and practice?
  • Am I taking a regular digital Sabbath, a weekly time of unplugging, and maybe even a digital fast for longer periods to allow spiritual growth?

You can also check online for social media policies for churches.
Indeed better to call yourself to account before someone else does. Social media sharing can be instant, but it is best to pause and ask yourself a few questions before you post. To start: “Would I want my grandma to read this?” It sounds silly, but this question alone can save you embarrassing missteps.  Here are some other questions you might want to ask:[footnote]5 Questions to Ask Before Posting on Social Media, RelevantMagazine.com, accessed 8.26.16, http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/tech/5-questions-ask-posting-social-media[/footnote]

  • Am I seeking approval? What are the bigger needs asking to be met here?
  • Am I boasting? There’s sharing excitement and then there’s bragging. Truthfully, we each know which camp we fall in.
  • Am I discontent? Are you looking for something “better”? If so, walk away. Nothing you will read, write or see is going to solve this one.
  • Is this a moment to protect? Not every great moment needs to be shared. In fact, some of the best times are most enjoyed privately. . . We also rob each other of something that has been lost in our digital age—keeping a handful of memories between us and those we are closest to, or even just between us and God.
  • Is it kind? We have been given covered space from which to throw grenades, without requiring us to take responsibility for the weight of our words, their effect on other people and their reflection on the Church. Jesus said the world would recognize us by our love. What messages are we sending?

h. Delegate

Just as churches have a greeter, it’s well worth considering having a similar person to work with the church’s social media so that they can welcome “visitors.” That may be the deciding factor in whether they will physically go to your church.
Encourage members to share sermons, blog posts, etc.

5. Learn the Lingo

In his first book, Socialnomics, Erik Qualman argued that companies, institutions, and even individuals who did not adapt to and harness the new world of social media would severely limit their usefulness and effectiveness.
In his later book, Digital Leader, Erik calls leaders to face and harness the changes that digital technology has brought into their workplaces and businesses. If you’re familiar with leadership books, you’ll probably already be familiar with some of what Erik writes about. However, his unique emphasis on the technological challenges and opportunities of leading in the digital age make the book a valuable, even vital, read.
I’ve gone through the book and picked out key phrases, a digital vocabulary if you like, that challenge us to understand and harness the new world we live and work in:

  • Digital footprints: the information we post about ourselves online
  • Digital shadows: what others post about us online
  • Digital legacy: what people will find online when they search for you 100 years from now
  • Digital celebrities: people who become famous for what they are and do online
  • Digital realm: the merged public and private world that means we can no longer have both a private and public life—they have become one and the same
  • Digital profile: 81% of children under the age of two have images of them posted online. 25% have an online presence before they are even born!
  • Digital tools: whatever technology simplifies life rather than complicates it
  • Digital native: grew up with technology as part of their world (opposite of a digital immigrant)
  • Digital mining: collecting of all online information about someone
  • Digital bouquets: the passing on of encouragement using technology
  • Digital therapy: counseling given online or over the phone rather than face-to-face
  • Digital peer pressure: works the same way as the flesh version
  • Digital deputies: using Facebook and Youtube videos to catch looters and rioters (I remember a Scottish policeman telling me how many criminals he caught using Facebook!)
  • Digital oysters: the multiple online wealth-making opportunities
  • Digital log: posting online of daily goals to increase accountability and motivation
  • Digital currency: connections (the more friends, followers, etc., you have, the richer you are)
  •  Digital drain: the amount of time a company devotes to responding to negative online publicity
  • Digital hugs: responding to customers and connections that post positive feedback and comments
  • Digital voice/tone: What your online communications say about you

6. Take a Break

Starting now, pick one day during the week when you will completely unplug from technology. That’s right, no email, mobile phone, texting, tweets, etc. If this seems impossible, then you need this even more! If you can’t go cold turkey, even for a day per week, start slow by selecting one day per month.[footnote]Erik Qualman, Digital Leader, (McGraw-Hill, 2011), Kindle Location, 2736-2738.[/footnote]

7. Never let it become a substitute

Not a substitute for church, not a substitute for personal interaction, not a substitute for pastoral visitation, not a substitute for evangelism. As Collin Hansen said:

I respect church leaders who abstain from social media. Yet I see no reason we should neglect the remarkable possibilities for teaching and leadership offered by instant, unrestricted communication to willing audiences. Still, I expect over the long term that tweets, status updates, and blog posts will pale in influence compared to our everyday, tangible pursuit of holiness and love with the support of our local church.[footnote]Collin Hansen, “The Perils and Promise of Social Media,” Ligonier.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/perils-and-promise-social-media/[/footnote]


As I consider social media in the twenty-first century, I can’t help but think of the spread of the gospel and the church’s growth in the first century. Communication was greatly aided then by the common language of Koine Greek. Since the New Testament was written in a language accessible to so many, the Word of God was able to penetrate different cultures rapidly. Perhaps today the new media will be the “common language” for the masses to hear the gospel.[footnote]Ed Stetzer, “The Blessings of the New Media,” www.ligonier.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/blessings-new-media/[/footnote]