Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Social Media Matters to Church - part 1

I fell backwards into social media. When I started blogging years ago - and I mean years - not too many Episcopal priests were blogging, Facebook was just beginning, and Twitter didn't exist. I didn't even start blogging with a plan. I just knew I needed to write, I needed a creative outlet because I was in a job that allowed no creative expression, and DirtySexyMinistry was born.

Well, a New Year's Eve party in the French Quarter helped with the last bit of courage, but essentially, that's how this happened.

I learned fairly quickly that social media was not the friend of those in authority. Apparently, allowing people to have a voice online gets at least a few "We need to talk" meetings with the people in (my case) ecclesiastical power. And I am the first person to recognize that many people use social media to grind axes in ways that are demeaning to others and destructive to the system.

But social media is also an amazing way to share. The numbers alone tell me people are engaging in social media, following blogs on spirituality, reading prayers shared on Twitter, and viewing videos on Facebook that share music and images.

So why are there very few bishops on Twitter? Why are most diocesan and church websites woefully outdated? Why are exciting online learning opportunities regarding Christian education still the domain of a few? Why are we as a Church, quite honestly, NOT engaging social media?

I wonder if the Church's slow embrace of social media has anything to do with that people in power bit. Social media, in so many ways, is the opposing force to the top-down structure of authority. There is not a media person controlling the news stories or offering a pre-written and edited position statements. New ideas don't need seven months of committee work to go forward. A few clicks and…action! Social media, is, in many way, a very egalitarian way to communicate.

What a fearful thing for those who embrace control as a virtue.

I live near Cane Ridge, which is the site of what is traditionally considered the birthplace of the Second Great Awakening in the American religious life. In a rather small structure in a small Kentucky community, tens of thousands of people gathered to hear days of preaching. Accounts tell that the people nearest the preacher would pass his words back to the masses attending, like a holy game of "telephone." I think we may be wise to see Twitter and other forms of social media in this model.

Do I think that every word the preacher said made it perfectly to the back rows, a mile or so away? No. Do I think the Holy Spirit engaged those who heard, inviting them to be part of a faith community, even without a verbatim account of the preacher's sermon? Yes.

And did the Great Awakening make those in control of the Churches in that time a bit nervous? By historical accounts, yes.

But the Holy Spirit is not known as a Spirit of control.

We can't (and never have been) able to contain the Holy Spirit with a task force or discern our way into safety. She just isn't that safe. The Holy Spirit moves us, loosens our tongues, strengthens our voices, and frees our imaginations to spread and live the Gospel. She awakens us from our dullness, from our languid ways of doing things.

Yes, social media is new (to the Church way of doing things, anyway).

Yes, we should be engaging it, experimenting with ways to use it to share the wonderful message of God's love.

And yes, using social media will take a bit of time to learn.

Jesus said, "Go forth into all the world and proclaim the Gospel."

We have some new ways to do that now.

Part 2 will be some ideas for getting started and/or engaging social media in a better way- stay tuned.


6 comments:

Sarah SSM said...

My current theory is related: that people in the church (and out of it, too, no doubt) are often far too afraid of how they'll present themselves. How will it look? If they can't do it perfectly, they won't do it at all. Especially if it's open to comment.

Meredith Gould said...

What blows whatever is left of my mind, is why anyone is still debating whether social media is of any value for church. Really, mind blown by these convos.

Emily said...

I think you've just given me a Pentecost sermon! I look forward to part 2...

Dirty Sexy Ministry said...

Sarah - yes, that's another piece of the resistance puzzle and Meredith - I think the debate is cover for "But we've never done it this way before." No debate, just fear of the new and unfolding.

Daniel said...

Sarah's theory is correct IMHO. I think Bishops and clergy are terrified of social media because they run the risk of sharing too much, being too personal and essentially "letting the mask drop". Its funny how most of the conversations in my diocese around social media have less to do with "using it" and more to do with "how to protect yourself from using it incorrectly". Fear seems to rule everything in the church these days.

Jon said...

Part of the resistance to social media is about fear of change and part of it is about fear of how we'll present ourselves, but another significant piece is a lack of time and writing ability. It's also worth pointing out that there are a lot of things social media (as opposed to Web 1.0) is really not good for, like boosting Sunday attendance or boosting gifts to the church. Really, social media is only essential for speakers (especially inspirational speakers), comedians, actors, artists, and writers. Most everyone else can get by with just a website of one sort or another and an email address.