There are a lot of books out there about social media and ministry. But finally we get one from Justin Wise. If you’re not familiar with Justin, say hello. He’s our former executive director and wrote a bunch of Office Hours posts for us. He coaches people on social media with Think Digital and is one of the go-to voices for the convergence of social media and ministry.
His new book is The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication. If you’re looking for a practical, how-to guide to social media for your church, this is not it (you want Meredith Gould’s The Social Media Gospel or Nils Smith’s Social Media Guide for Ministry). Instead, this is an exploration of the why. You’ll walk away from The Social Church with more questions than answers. It talks about how to do social media by first asking why you’re doing social media. It gets at the foundation of what we’re communicating (read our interview with Justin for more).
More than just another new trend, The Social Church explores the profound shift that’s happening right now and how the church can be engaged instead of lost in that transformation.
To be honest, I think The Social Church is a little scattered. We get history, pop culture, theology and all kinds of examples. It’s a little like social media itself.
But there’s plenty of big picture wisdom about why your congregation needs to be engaging online and how to start the process (not how to do it, but how to move toward doing it).
What’s Your Big Idea?
Perhaps my favorite part, and the hardest to digest, is when Justin talks about a “Big Idea.” He claims your church needs a single big idea that should form the foundation of everything you do. Everything is built on that big idea, from your communication strategy, to how you approach the website, and finally to how you do social media (this is a concept he’s covered before). If you haven’t figured out your big idea, then your attempts at social media will crash and burn.
This is hard because churches like to have vague, non-specific big idea mission statements that are full of buzzwords and take a committee ages to craft. These kind of group-speak gobbledy-gook statements usually end up saying nothing that’s not already covered in the great commission.
Justin argues that if you want to succeed in the digital age, you need to figure out that big idea. Ironically, this advice has very little to do with new technology. (Justin shares more about having a big idea in our interview.)
Sermons are no longer the currency of your church: “As the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Mark Hanson, puts it, ‘No longer is the role of the church to own and distribute information. The role of the church is to gather and distribute and connect.'”
Is your church going to fail?: “The North American church is at a crossroads. We have a choice to make. We can go one direction, or another. Crudely speaking, we can be a Blockbuster—content with our current circumstances, avoiding the changing culture emerging around us, or we can be a Netflix—finding new ways to deliver a familiar message.”
Communicating for your church is not just the job of staff members or pastors: “Everyone within the church is a communicator.” (Power to the pews!)
Your vision is communicated through content (think sermons, live streaming, tweets, blog posts): “Content is the language of a digital culture. It’s how your vision is communicated.”
As a diverse church of multiple generations we need to learn how to get along: “‘We feel like God is calling us to start a new church,’ is usually code for ‘I’m taking my ball and going home.'”
Amen: “Rubbing elbows with people online does not mean proselytizing with every status update. Why? Because it’s (usually) not an authentic representation of who you are as an individual.”