Many church visitors over the past two years found the congregation I pastor by our website.
Our online presence appears to be a major draw for our guests, second only to personal invitations.
If our experience is reflective of a larger trend, then it stands to reason that churches, especially those concerned about fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission, need to think intentionally and “missionally” about the use of social media.
The use of social media is not for the church leadership or administration alone. Every person in the church must think critically about how social media may harness the power of evangelism and testimony in a world that has entered the digital age.
Meredith Gould, author of “The Social Media Gospel,” states that a churchwide approach to social media has to do with a church’s philosophy of ministry.
If a church is teaching that each person is a minister called to share the gospel, then the use of social media must come under the lordship of Christ. No word published should be without some spiritual scrutiny.
There are several models for social media usage that might guide churches – and Christians – on the appropriate use of online communication.
Santa Clara University professor and journalist Elizabeth Dresther, for instance, argues that Christians can keep in mind the acronym, LACE, when online:
The “L” stands for listening.
Dresther says Christians can use social media by listening to others and then assessing the emotions and needs behind the opinions and posts that people often publish.
Ask yourself: What are the concerns that people express in social media? Do fears, prejudices or anxiety seem to be a common theme? How might God’s word address these fears and empower friends to “love thy neighbor” rather than disparage the unknown?
The “A” in LACE is attend.
Christians are asked to be the presence of Christ for others; this can happen in person or online. Our comments and contributions on social media platforms can attend to people who need encouragement.
“C” is for connect.
Our digital world gives the illusion that we are relating to each other intimately and in real time. Yet, people feel more isolated than ever.
For example, a recent article in the New York Times by Adam Grant revealed that people are less likely to make friends at work because people spend time online or on phones during breaks instead of talking to co-workers.
We must keep our connections authentic and vibrant. We cannot settle on being a voyeur in the lives of others, keeping people at arm’s length. Connecting to people is the intentional act of moving past the “like” button.
The “E” stands for engage.
Engaging others online for Christ encourages that we share words of edification on our profiles and in emails.
This can be an extension of the exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
Given the importance of social media in engaging our world, we should continually consider how we using this technology with regard to our Christian witness.
Are we promoting the cause of Christ and challenging people to think in new ways with our communications? Are we building an alternative community with quality content and thoughtful reflection fitting the Christian faith?
Too often, our engagement is limited to promoting political or theological views that reinforce our embedded beliefs. Status quo can be dangerous in this setting: if Christian engagement does not inspire transformation and conformity to the image of Jesus, then why share it in the first place?
We all know that social media is a powerful tool in keeping up with friends and family.
It even has the power to shape our day if it exposes us to a heartbreaking story of a loved one in need or bombards us with offensive opinions that linger in our minds well after the computer is turned off.
Likewise, it can be an effective tool for Christ, for it has shown that it can influence people to mobilize and get excited about a cause, religious or otherwise.
Although the Bible did not originate in a digital world, its principles are just as applicable.
We are still commissioned, whether in person, at church or while surfing the worldwide web, to share the Good News of Jesus’ love, make disciples and, ultimately, baptize all in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers, Georgia. He is the author of “Awe and Trembling: Reflections for the Christian Journey,” a book of articles and homilies. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Baptist Spirituality, and is used with permission.
Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Vero Beach, Florida.