One of the Barna Group’s latest studies indicates the unsurprising trend that a growing number of pastors and churches are using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Graphic from Barna.orgThe survery of 1,263 senior pastors in Protestant churches suggested that 21 percent of churches now use Twitter, and a full 70 percent use Facebook. The pastors’ personal use of the media was similar, with 23 percent reporting Twitter accounts and 66 percent being on Facebook. 

What the survey doesn’t indicate is how much the accounts were actually used. I know churches that make very effective use of Facebook, but I’ve also seen a lot of church Facebook pages that are rarely updated, used like free static websites but nothing else. Twitter accounts are also likely to exist but be rarely used.

And, even if a church or its pastor posts frequent Facebook updates or tweets, the effort has little effect unless they’re well done, and there are a sufficient number of people who want to read them.

Here’s one of the cruxes of using social media: you can post all you want, but if other people don’t choose to read your posts, it doesn’t matter. And to read your — or anyone else’s posts, they have to stay online or at least get online fairly often and and check their Twitter and Facebook feeds (unless they’ve set up a system of alerts for new posts, which can drive you batty if you follow enough people).

I have a Facebook account, which I use mainly to keep up with friends and students. I rarely post anything other than a link to my most recent blog — it’s an easy way to let people who might be interested know that there’s something new. But, I’m not prone to report my whereabouts or post pictures very often.

And, I don’t stay on Facebook all the time. I usually check it two or three times per day, and that’s plenty for me.

Twitter is a different animal, because it’s designed to be more interactive and to move more quickly. I also have a Twitter account, which I use almost solely to post links to my blog. I can’t imagine that many people (including those who’ve voluntarily signed up to be my “followers”) would be interested in more frequent posts, and if I were to post several things per day, things I found interesting or provocative, I’d feel an obligation to stay online or check my Twitter feed frequently so I could respond to anyone who reacted to one of my posts.

Likewise, though I’ve signed up to “follow” a few people, I’d have to stay online and check the feed frequently if I wanted to keep up with what they’ve posted — which might be an interesting observation or might just be mundane. I’ve found that I rarely check Twitter to see who’s saying what.

Frankly, I’m not that social. I can’t keep up with that many people. It’s possible to use social media while remaining an Internet introvert.

So, I wonder sometimes if our expectations of social media are overblown. No matter how much of a power user the pastor or church secretary might be, if the church doesn’t have a high percentage of members or friends who follow the church accounts and check them regularly, it will be to little avail.

According to Barna’s survey, 65% of pastors believe social media will be “a major part of the church’s ministry over the next two years.”

I can see social media serving a valuable role as a reminder of upcoming events and as a sounding board for interested folk to interact around those events — but I’m not sure that amounts to “a major part of the church’s ministry.”

Some of you readers may have a more positive outlook on the value of social media. If so, I’d encourage you to post comments suggesting creative or effective ways in which you’ve incorporated social media into the church’s ministry.

Enquiring minds — even those who aren’t overly social — want to know.


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