No one can deny the popularity of social networking. It's everywhere. It's the cloud we breathe all the time without even thinking about it. If you're like most people, you get anxious when you're more than eight steps from your phone, and you think you feel it buzzing in your pocket even when it's quietly lying on the table. But is social media useful for small groups?
I believe you can't have a healthy small group without being about social media. Apps, gadgets, and social networking websites are optional, but social media is a phrase that captures the very reason why small-group ministry exists. Let me explain.
Media simply means information or data. Media is content—the message. Social is merely a word we use to describe the way media travels: from person to person, relationally. Small groups are all about people getting together in relationships around a message. So social media is the very DNA of small-group ministry, with or without the Internet.
If you believe that both content and relationships are at the core of any great small-group ministry, you're already well on your way to using social media more effectively for ministry. We just need to establish a good philosophy of how technology relates to ministry.
I believe that modern social networking tools have the power to unite us around causes, connect us with new people, and extend the reach of important messages people need to hear—including the gospel. And I'm convinced that social media has tremendous potential to improve group life and small-group ministry. Here's how:
Connect with the Disconnected
When my wife, Angie, and I started planting Grace Hills Church, we decided that we would share the gospel in highly relational ways from the start. While there's nothing wrong with reaching masses of people with the gospel, we knew that what would work better for us was starting with a few families and praying for the good news to go viral. So we spent a couple hundred bucks on Facebook advertising.
At our first public information meeting, we met about 30 new people with whom we had connected on Facebook. When 6 months had gone by, we had a core of about 75 people who took on the work of spreading the word of our launch. There were 176 for our grand opening service in a local movie theater. We've grown steadily since that day, a few people and a few families at a time. We now have close to 20 small groups and 80 percent of the people in them were initially made aware of our church through social media.
How do you reach the disconnected with social media? Challenge people to tell their life change stories in creative ways online, with special emphasis given to the meaningful experiences they've had with their small group. Befriend those on the fringe, people who may not look or talk quite like the average church member. Be willing to engage in conversation with people who come from a completely different worldview without getting angry. And invite people into your small-group community just as you would in your typical offline relationships.
Creating Virtual Spaces for Actual Community
We live in a highly connected age, right? Sort of. We're connected in a general sense—we get news faster, and we're more aware of what's happening around the world. On the other hand, we're less aware of what's happening next door. We lack intimate friendships, and we tend to wonder if deep friendship is even possible.
We need to take our offline relationships online so that we stay in touch more often. As we see their posts on our feed, we're reminded of the people in our small groups, and we build relationships that extend beyond our weekly meetings.