Even the Pope agrees. Early in 2014 he raised his cool stakes even further when he said,
“The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God. ”
Need I say any more? Not much, but just a little. As a former pastor of over 20 years, and an avid user of Social Media, I have some experience to share.
Every church pastor, and youth worker, should be using Social Media. Every church should also have an online strategy, but church strategies need to be bigger than their pastors. Pastors come and go, and for this reason, I’m a big advocate for pastors to have their own independent online presence. While pastors are in particular churches, their presence will inevitably direct traffic back to the church, but beyond that pastors will develop a non-local online tribe who will support them no matter where they are.
So this article is about the Pastor’s online presence, and not the church, although many of the same principles apply.
All the other platforms are important, but don’t currently replace having an awesome website. Your website is your hub, and other platforms are the spokes that lead back to your site. If the idea of having your own website sounds daunting, just start a one page blog.
At this time, Facebook is still THE place to be as a thought leader, with Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus and YouTube close behind. If you only do one, do Facebook.
When I had only been on Facebook for a matter of months, someone wrote to me via a Facebook direct message and told me she was contemplating suicide. We communicated back and forth for some time, and I was able to remind her that she was not alone. This was when I first became convinced that Social Media is a pastoral platform. It was the anonymity which made it possible for this woman to reach out to me.
Facebook is an AMAZING platform to support people through personal, even intimate, parts of people’s lives. I can’t tell you how often I approached someone IN church on a Sunday and said, “I saw on Facebook that your Dad is in hospital” or “Your daughter just graduated” or whatever the situation was. With non local people, who may not have their own church, you may be the only support the person has.
In terms of Facebook content, post at least once daily, and up to 3 or 4 times. Be as giving as possible. Share content that is inspirational and helpful. Include plenty of graphics, and some links back to your website. If you can afford it, include some budget for boosting posts. Your posts will only be seen by a small number of people without paying to boost them.
Reply to people who leave comments on your page. There’s nothing worse than one way communication; either way.
Twitter has been a game changer for me, not just in the ease of sharing content, but also in the discipline of honing content to its essence. If you can’t summarize your sermon in one 140 character tweet, you aren’t prepared yet.
Twitter is also THE best place to find out what other pastors and thought leaders are saying. I’ve met people on Twitter I would never otherwise have met.
Instagram is THE best place to share moments and experiences, and check in with the moments and experiences of your tribe.
YouTube is a great place to share your sermons in video form.
I’ve pastored in many places, and some of them had better support networks than others. LinkedIn is a great place to start a professional group with like minded (or unlike minded) pastors. In some cases, Linkedin may replace your local pastors support network.
Keeping an accurate and exciting Linkedin profile is also THE most likely way you will get your next job (in or out of the church). This is an amazing feature of Linkedin. Many employers are now vetting people based on their Linkedin profile alone. Linkedin will show you how many others have applied and where you rate in the application based on your profile.
Okay, I intended this to be brief. So let me race through the last points.
If you have an upcoming event, on or offline, Social Media offers unparalleled and free avenues to promote it, coordinate it, share information and follow up after the event.
Not only does Social Media replace the thank you card in many cases (and save a few trees), it’s also a public way to give kudos to people who have gone over and above at events or in in any capacity.
With the quantity of content out there, you have to know here to look, but once you do you can find sermon illustrations and news about current affairs to include in your sermon.
Social Media is well set up to help you ask for feedback, before, during and after events.
Find larger, third party sites where you can submit your latest sermon or content. Patheos and Elephant Journal are two great sites.
This is maybe the most important of all. Some people only see their pastor on a Sunday, and from a distance. Social Media gives you a chance to share your life, thoughts, fears, humanity. You can be as vulnerable as you want to be, and you will reap incredible rewards for your honesty.
So what have I missed? What you have tried? What’s working for you?