Well, should they? Coming from me, the answer may surprise you. The best answer is, it depends. Yes, Twitter is a great tool for churches and individuals, as I’ve said. But even a cursory glance at recent news reveals that misusing Twitter has dire consequences for one’s personal life and reputation. On the flip side, many pastors are on Twitter and use it very successfully to interact with their followers and share important information. So we need to look at both sides of the issue in order to judge whether or not a pastor should use Twitter.
Let’s start out with the negative side, and consider why a pastor shouldn’t personally use Twitter.
- A general account for a church may be enough. If a pastor is at a church that already has a main Twitter account and uses it well, that may be all the interaction your particular congregation and other followers would need. Yes, it’s somewhat impersonal to only communicate through a general account, but depending on the social media strategy of your church, additional accounts by others on the pastoral staff may confuse matters unnecessarily.
- Confidentiality and pastoral care issues. It can be great to interact with followers, especially those within your church, in a very personal way. Twitter can be used to reach out and minister to people publicly. But in those interactions, it’s definitely possible to run the risk of trampling on someone’s privacy and even breaching pastoral confidentiality. Of course, this may be completely accidental, and the information best kept private might come from a follower communicating with you and not the other way around, but it would still be out there for all to see. For some reason, people forget that everything (outside of Direct Messages, but caution still needs to be taken there as well) on Twitter is completely public. And “the internet never forgets”. It’s possible to avoid any such issues by only interacting through the general church account.
- Time spent tweeting could mean missed opportunities for ministry. The key to a great Twitter account is tweeting interesting content often. A pastor may decide that all that time could be spent engaging in ministry in other ways. Plus, an active personal Twitter account might leave a pastor open to criticism: “What do you do, just sit around and tweet all day?”
Now reasons why a pastor should consider using Twitter.
- Insight into the congregation. There may be situations in which a person might not be interested in following a general church account, but would be interested in following a pastor’s personal account. Whether or not a person from the congregation follows one or both accounts, it’s possible to learn a great deal about them just through Twitter. A pastor can come to learn what’s important to people based on what they tweet: sharing personal stories, where they hang out, what their interests are based on who they follow, and much more. This can give a pastor valuable insight and improve the way they minister to a person, and it may give access to information they wouldn’t have learned in any other way.
- Twitter is personal, after all. There’s a reason that Twitter has been so embraced by celebrities and other movers and shakers: it’s about real people connecting with other real people. Twitter’s tagline, “Join the Conversation”, is important because conversations happen between actual people, not organizations generally. There’s always someone behind a Twitter account, even if it’s being used on an organizational level. Your congregation is genuinely interested in you, not only as a pastor, but as a person. You might have more success engaging people in your church and ministry by having a personal account.
- Easier to set up than a general church account. Now, I don’t mean this from a technical perspective, but from a bureaucratic and practical standpoint. It may be necessary to gain the approval, either formally or informally, of your church’s governing board before establishing a general church account. And depending on that board’s familiarity with social media, this might be a very difficult task (you can always direct them to my blog for user-friendly explanations of the benefits of social media for churches). However, with a personal account, you don’t need anyone’s approval, as long as you make it clear there is some distinction between that personal account and the church itself.
So as you can see, whether or not a pastor should use Twitter really depends on the unique needs and social media strategy of an individual church and the individual pastor. It can be a great tool for ministry, but it can also cause trouble, even if by accident. The most important thing in deciding whether or not to have a personal account is to be absolutely clear on the purpose of the account, and to always remember that everything is public.
Leave a comment below with your thoughts on pastors using Twitter, and any other tips related to this issue. And if you’re interested in having your church’s Twitter account professionally managed for a low monthly fee, contact me today to start the process!