Home ↑Social Networks: Six Mistakes Urban Churches and Ministries Should Avoid
Last week I discussed whether social networks are a friend or foe of urban churches. I believe SNS (social network sites) can be a significant asset to the church as it proclaims the gospel and grows disciples of Jesus Christ. Below are 6 mistakes churches should avoid if they are to use social networks effectively.
1. Make No Changes to the Church Website
Churches need to rethink their websites because SNS are changing the way people access websites. Churches should provide dozens of resources on their website that are designed specifically for people to link to them via their text messages, tweets, and Facebook postings. Short video clips, audio files, text documents, and graphics become powerful resources in the messages of Christians who know how to sprinkle them into their postings. Resource to introduce people to Jesus Christ as well as resources to grow disciples of Jesus should be available.
Increasingly, churches need to assume people will view and listen to these resources on smart phones and tablets. Instead of linking to the church’s main webpage, members can text a link to short story or post the link of a 60-second video, all of which are embedded into the church’s website. People will access them in the doctor’s waiting room and between meetings at the office. The time available will many times be only 2-10 minutes, so long resources should be broken down into shorter parts.
2. Fail to Instruct
Just because someone’s niece helped them set up a Facebook or Twitter account does not mean they know how to use it to proclaim the gospel. It also is no indication that the niece knows how to incorporate the gospel into her SNS. City churches need to be proactive when it comes to teaching their members how to use social networks to advance the gospel, and they should not think a general “Everyone should tweet about our Easter Service” announcement will have much of an effect.
I like the video Follow from the people at Ingniter Media. It’s a gospel-centered video that creatively illustrates ways followers of Jesus can use SNS to spread the gospel and display Jesus’ work in their lives.
Churches also need to instruct their members on the pitfalls of SNS. In last week’s post, I illustrated two danger areas as examples. I have three teenagers and have taught them about dangers associated with driving a vehicle, and in spite of the dangers, I let them drive. Social networks pose some danger, and churches that intentionally disciple their people will instruct them how to avoid these dangers. I too have instructed my teens about social networks and let them use them.
3. Stop Learning
Twitter users broke the rules. Since Jack Dorsey sent the first Twitter message at 9:50 PM (PST) on March 21, 2006, Twitter usage has been on an unending journey of development, often resulting in ways to use Twitter no one expected. Originally developed for the purpose of communicating with a small group via SMS, users are constantly finding new ways to use the service.
Twitter messages have been part of revolutionary protests in Egypt and Tunisia. The use of hastags such as #urbanministry allows users to group Twitter messages together making it possible for any user to follow along. On the horizon is social television, and Twitter is already playing a leading role in this emerging technology. Ministry opportunities using SNS are developing daily. Urban churches need to stay informed about social technology and ways people are using it.
4. Ignore Social Networks
It is true that not everyone is connected to the Internet and using social networks, but this group is moving toward extinction. According to a 2010 Pew Internet & American Life Project study, 79 percent of adults in the US use the Internet, and 95 percent of adults aged 18-29 are Internet users. Still, many churches are not using social networks as part of their ministry. Maybe if they realized almost two-thirds (61%) of adults using the Internet participate in a social network, they wouldn’t make this mistake.
5. Assume Everyone Uses Social Networks in the Same Way
While ignoring social networks is a mistake, assuming SNS usage is the same across all demographics is also a mistake. A recent study finds that blacks and English-speaking Latinos are more likely to have mobile phones than whites, and they use a wider range of their phones’ capabilities than do whites, including accessing SNS from their phones. The same is true for texting. While just over 50 percent of whites send text messages, 70 percent of African-Americans and English-speaking Latinos use text messaging.
Other differences emerge in the way various groups use social networks. Minorities are more likely to use social networks to support their political candidates and to respond positively to government outreach than do whites. While teens actively use SNS, less than 10 percent of teens aged 12-17 are using Twitter. Churches need to use social networks intentionally and thoughtfully, considering who is using them and how.
6. Think of Social Networks as Electronic Billboards
Social networks function more like virtual cafés than they do electronic billboards. Churches that simply post information and disseminate announcements will soon learn their audiences have stopped paying attention to them. SNS are communities and communities thrive on relationships not information.
SNS audiences also want dialogue, even if the communication is through text messaging. Too many churches use SNS as a one-way communication channel. In a café, not everyone speaks continually, but when they do speak, they expect someone to listen. One test of churches using Twitter accounts shows that only one out of 11 churches is replying to Twitter messages they receive. To them, SNS are simply electronic billboards on which they display information.
Social networks are relatively new forms of technology, communication, and community. It is certain we have only just begun this journey into this realm of social-technological relationships. It is also certain that urban ministry can utilize these resources to extend ministry in ways the previous generation never imagined.