Dear Social Media Consultant

Social media is not going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. And more importantly, social media represents something much bigger regarding communication shifts.

By Natalie Aho

I am very aware of the switch to social media and the need to use the tools available to connect with people. Yet I am old-school and don't like computer-mediated relationships.

I feel like I should know how to use Facebook and (between gritted teeth) Twitter, but I don't want to spend a lot of time on either.

Do I just need to suck it up and do it, or are there some quick and easy ways for me to get with the program?

Frustrated Pastor

The Internet began as a way to share information, an improved mail service, if you will. But as all great revolutions do, it has become the means to a great shift in societal, even global, interactions.

The Internet is about engaging, interacting, collaborating, connecting and sharing life. Historically, it will be regarded as profound an invention as the printing press, marking a time when eras changed.

So, where does that leave us -- and more specifically the church -- struggling to find the balance between a "time suck" and an effective tool?

Do not think of online communication as just another gimmick, program opportunity or fundraiser that churches should share and use to meet an end goal. Rather think of it as evangelism, relationship and community. It is spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth, which now means someone's living room just as much as a remote tribe in Africa.

Maybe I haven't told you anything you don't already know, frustrated pastor, or maybe I've said what you couldn't name but already sensed was true. You know something has changed and there is no going back, but you're struggling with how to fit it into an already too busy, over-demanding life without having to drop something else or go crazy.

Ultimately, it's not worth moving forward until you decide how important it is to you, your church and your community. Why do people want you to be on Facebook or to have a blog? Is it because they want to share life with you? Will this replace an interaction and/or enhance it?

Does your church need to connect internally? Do your members need to do a better job at sharing life with one another? Do you struggle to communicate within the congregation/staff?

What about your community? Does your church need to reach people in a new way? Is there a group your church is not reaching? Are there ways your church could communicate its mission and love better?

The answers to these questions can and do lie in social media and the broader area of what I call "interactive communication," which includes Facebook and Twitter but also websites, e-newsletters, blogs -- anything you'd use the Internet for.
The best way is to start with you. You will be a much more effective tool for your church if you know how to use the platforms personally.

Yes, they do take up time. You may have to schedule it into your day, like literally “at 9 o’clock on Tuesday morning, I'm spending 30 minutes on Facebook.” You can count this engaging in new or deeper relationships on Facebook as “people time” in the same way you would schedule coffee with a visitor. 

It's also important to learn that each platform has a different audience and purpose. For example, only about 13 percent of the population is using Twitter. You do not have to do them all. Find the ones that fit you best.

After you begin observing and using online tools, start talking about it -- in person and online -- with your congregation. Ask: What are you concerned about (privacy, bullying, misunderstandings, discernment, etc)? How can the congregation be more involved and engaged with one another and the community? How is your website (a MUST and KEY platform for connection with the community)? What permissions and freedoms do the congregation need to give to the ministers? How can we set guidelines and boundaries for ourselves, our youth and our children while also being accessible and loving?

It’s not an easy time to be the church, for sure. But now, more than at any other point in recent history, we have been given a gift and tool that gives us immediate and intimate access to the world. It’s time we embrace it.

Blessings on your digital journey.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.