Though social media has been around for years, churches are still learning the ins and outs of using it for ministry. But more and more pastors are jumping on board, even in just the last few years. Barna recently reported that 80 percent of pastors are now using the Internet to keep up with relationships, compared with only 64 percent just 15 years ago.
And it makes sense. The Pew Research Center has reported that 74 percent of online adults are using social media. Facebook is the obvious winner: 71 percent of online adults have an account. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn all fall somewhere between 20 and 30 percent, and over 52 percent of all online adults use multiple social media platforms.
Social media use cuts across lines of age, gender, and ethnicity, too—though usage among young adults (18-29) is higher. It's also interesting that different groups use different platforms. For instance, over half (53%) of young adults use Instagram, a platform not used as widely by older generations.
Despite the popularity of social media, church leaders are asking: What's the benefit of using social media for ministry? It's a valid question. After all, popularity doesn't always mean positive, helpful, or beneficial.
How Can My Ministry Benefit from Social Media?
We've all seen the power of social media for good and bad, but let's focus on the positive for a moment. The fact is that most of the people in your ministry are already using social media, and there are lots of benefits to connecting with them where they are.
Your small group only meets once a week, but relationships and conversations can continue every day through Facebook. This allows for deepening relationships, knowledge of prayer requests, and even encouragement throughout the week.
This also works for teams of leaders. Your entire team probably meets together only a few times a year. Social media interactions can help foster a team feel even when you're not together often.
Small groups and whole ministries can use social media for communication, as well. Organize your next training event, group outreach project, or small group sign up day. The bonus is that people can then share the event with their friends, widening the church's reach.
As a church leader, you can use social media to virtually collaborate with leaders around the world. I like to follow small-group pastors and leaders to learn about new resources and methods. In the same way, you can share your favorite finds with other leaders. I recently bought a book when someone I follow recommended it and let me know it was on sale. Plus, I've learned important ministry tips from diverse leaders I follow online yet have never met in person. Their wisdom has taught me things I wouldn't have learned looking at ministry through my own lens.
Leading a small-group ministry can feel pretty lonely, but social media can help you feel like you're not alone. You can connect with others in small-group ministry and be reminded that others are facing similar issues. (Did you know that leaders who purchase a multi-user subscription to SmallGroups.com are invited to an exclusive Facebook group with other leaders?)
A Discipleship Opportunity
For all the positive benefits of using social media to connect with people in your ministry, there are some important warnings. After all, typing behind a screen can make people pretty brave—brave enough to say things they'd never say in person. And that can lead to some sticky situations.
But for those of us in small groups, social media usage can become a discipleship opportunity. We need to talk about the ethics of social media, conflict resolution, and the importance of patience in an "on demand" culture. Rather than sit by and hope our group members apply the values of God's Word to their posts, tweets, and pins, we need to take a proactive approach.
For instance, many present "retouched" versions of their lives on social media, only sharing the best and the prettiest. The term "humble brag" has even been coined to refer to posts like "I'm so blessed! My beautiful wife took me out to the best restaurant for our anniversary!"
We showcase filtered photos of clean kids, blurring out (or even cropping out) the sink full of dirty dishes in the background. These posts show an unrealistic view of real life, and can be discouraging to others. Discipleship is about what God is doing right here, right now, right in the midst of the mess and chaos of our real lives. And that's the picture we could be presenting on social media.
It's not just what we post, either. For many, social media has become the new time suck, pushing even TV down the list. The Bible is clear that we need rest, and we can help our group members discover healthy ways to engage social media—especially knowing when to turn it off.
While it may feel overwhelming to begin using social media for ministry, I encourage you to jump in. If you personally use Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms, start there—you already know how to use it. The key will be thinking about social media through a ministry lens.
We're here to help you make the most of social media for ministry. Will Johnston offers an incredible overview of the different platforms, Brandon Cox offers 4 ways to use social media for good , and Thom Rainer offers wisdom on how the people in your ministry are already using social media , which can serve as a great way to talk to your group members about their social media usage.
—Amy Jackson is managing editor of SmallGroups.com.
For specific training, we recommend Social Media for Small-Group Ministry.