Editor's Note: Use this article to strike up a group conversation about using social media. You'll find helpful questions at the end to guide your conversation.
On a few occasions, I have addressed the topic of church leaders on social media. I obviously have a fascination with this form of communication. Indeed, I see it as one of the great modern-day vehicles for good or harm.
Today, I address eight trends related to church members who use social media, specifically in relation to the churches where they are members. As a note of clarification, most of my data comes from Twitter and Facebook. There are, obviously, many other types of social media.
Here, then, are eight of the trends I see:
- More church members use social media to encourage others in their churches. These words of encouragement are typically directed toward pastors and church staff. The good news is that these tweets and posts seem to be more frequent and pervasive.
- Church members increasingly use social media to point others to interesting articles related to Christianity and church life. Indeed, I am encouraged to see many such visits to my blog and to other sites that include information on faith and church life.
- Though in the minority, an increasing number of church members use social media to attack and criticize church leaders. I recently read a scathing attack on a pastor. It was filled with venom and vitriol.
- More non-Christians are viewing such attacks as normative for Christians. They thus have no desire to associate with Christians or come to our churches. I have heard from many of these non-Christians myself.
- A number of church members are using social media wisely to share the gospel. I have been greatly encouraged to read many tweets and posts that point readers to articulate and loving presentations of the gospel. May their numbers increase!
- Church members are using social media with increasing frequency to share prayer requests. On more than one occasion, I have seen a prayer request spread virally. It is very encouraging to see the power of prayer on this modern medium.
- Some church members use social media as means to share activities and ministries in the church. Indeed, social media has become one of the primary forums to invite others to the church by letting people know what is taking place in their congregations.
- While the use of social media by church members is overwhelmingly positive, the toxic users of these forums still get an inordinate amount of attention. It's the "car accident syndrome." Traffic slows down to see the havoc created by the accident.
Like most vehicles or instruments, church members can use social media for good or harm. The caution we all should heed is that social media tends to magnify our voices in unprecedented ways.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on October 14, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at Facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
Questions for Group Discussion
- How do you use social media? If you don't use social media, why not?
- How have you seen social media used for good? How have you seen it used for harm?
- How can social media "magnify our voices in unprecedented ways"?
- When have you been tempted to share a "retouched" version of your life on social media? What is the effect of sharing a not-completely-accurate portrayal of your life?
- How does your social media usage affect your "real life" relationships?
- What guidelines do you think Christians should use when they post, tweet, or pin?