It’s a question that’s been nagging me for some time. Businesses everywhere have for some time now worked hard on investing in their social media presence. Of course, businesses recognize that there’s a lot at stake, including market positioning, attracting new clients, solidifying relationships with existing customers, and smoothing over issues with their products and services. Businesses realize that they must have a vital and engaging social media presence in order to compete in the marketplace.
Many churches just don’t see things this way. Of course, there are huge differences between the business world and the world of the church, so the analogy isn’t perfect, I realize. But in terms of recognizing the basic value of social media, there should be a good deal of overlap with the nonprofits and businesses using it to great effect, right?
Maybe churches don’t feel like they should have to “compete” for new church members. The theological emphases of some denominations would certainly uphold a “hands off” approach to attracting new members. Yes, a reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit to awaken in people a desire to become a part of a particular Christian community shouldn’t be abandoned.
But on the other hand, since our society and our world is completely dominated by a capitalistic marketplace-oriented mindset, doesn’t it make sense that the church should engage the world on its own terms through social media? The phrase “church-shopping” is popular for a reason. People are literally shopping the marketplace for churches that best meet their consumer-oriented needs. There can be endless debates about whether or not this is “right” (I lean towards no, that it represents a shallow understanding of the meaning of Christian community), but that doesn’t change its prevailing reality. Sometimes being “in the world but not of it” means becoming a part of the conversations of others through social media. It doesn’t condone the ways of the world; instead it invites the world to imagine another way of thinking, living, and being in terms it can understand.
I also think that many churches are afraid of giving up “control” over the conversations about them. They fear that using social media will open up a whole can of worms they aren’t prepared to deal with. And that might be true. It’s really important to monitor what people are saying about your church on your own social media channels and elsewhere. But consider how businesses think about it: people are already talking about us, about our products and services, how they are good and bad. So why not take control of the conversations that are already happening instead of letting others say whatever they want about us?
It turns out that in that light, using social media is actually a very conservative approach, not progressive. It means helping shape the way people talk and think about you. That’s pretty valuable. Not recognizing that value is the same as saying, “we don’t really care what people say about our church, good or bad. It doesn’t really matter to us. We’re going to do what we do anyways whether people like it or not, whether they are blessed by it or not.”
What kind of approach is that?
Share your thoughts on these differences in the comments below.