Justin Wise is ready to help the church get social. He’s been a social media pioneer and just released his new book, 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. Instead this is an exploration of the why of social media (read our review).
Justin is our former executive director and he coaches people on social media with Think Digital. We asked Justin a few questions about churches getting social:
What does a social church look like?
Justin Wise: A social church speaks the language of the culture. Simply put, our society is moving more and more online. A social church heeds the words of Jesus when he says “Go, and make disciples of all nations.” Social church takes into account the communication preferences of others before their own comfort level. A social church has the mindset that says “we are in a dialogue now.” The monologue status the church has enjoyed for decades is gone.
How can churches get started in social media? What’s a good first step?
Justin: The best way to get started with social is to understand what you want to accomplish with social media. And this really goes beyond “we want to have more Facebook likes” or “we want to have more followers on Twitter.” It’s knowing who you are as an organization, what you want to accomplish and then building a strategy for how social media can help you get there.
So, for instance, if a church doesn’t have goals, if a church doesn’t know what the finish line is that they are running toward—social media is not going to be helpful; in fact, it is going to be a detriment to that church. So really the first step in social is understanding who you are as an organization, what you want to accomplish and what your values are. And from there building a social media strategy on top of that.
I know that sounds a bit abstract but it’s really the best way to get started. Social media will just make a poor vision fail faster. Social media has a fantastic way of exploiting weaknesses and exploiting organizations without a vision, without an overarching purpose for their work. So the first step in getting started is to know who you are as an organization, what’s your big idea, what you want to accomplish and what your goals are. And then build a social media strategy that helps support those goals.
You talk about the need for churches to have a singular ‘Big Idea’ that’s the foundation of their communication (and really everything they do). But that big idea can’t be something vague and widespread like ‘tell everybody everywhere about Jesus.’ Doesn’t narrowing in on a single big idea (like the adoption church) rule out lots of other good things? How can we be so single minded?
Justin: So a couple thoughts on this one:
Number one, a big idea or an overarching guiding purpose, can and probably will change throughout the years for churches. Once you pick a big idea doesn’t mean that you have to stick with that one for all of eternity. Staff members come and go. Congregation members come and go. And, therefore, you have to build a big idea for the people who are helping build the church; both on staff and in the pews. And so while I do advocate for a single, focused big idea, it doesn’t mean that once you pick a big idea it has to stay that way forever. You know, businesses like Pepsi, and fast food chains, and banks, change their big ideas, so to speak—their slogan, their tagline, their mission statement—all the time.
And the other part of this too is that a big idea can have many different applications. So a big idea is going to have a different application in youth ministry as opposed to adult ministry. A big idea is going to look different for the hospital visitation team than it will for a women’s ministry. So the application of the big idea can change and that’s really where ministry leaders come into play; where they work with leadership to discern what the application is for their specific ministry area.
How do you get a church that took six months to come up with their vague, widespread mission statement to possibly narrow in on a single idea?
Justin: First and foremost, I would say at least they are moving in the right direction. I come across many different churches who don’t even take the time to put in that six months to come up with a vague idea, let alone a focused idea. And so I would rather people get started and go through a process and come out of the other end with a vague mission statement than no mission statement at all. And if they were to move further down the road, that’s where I can help.
But seriously, basically a big idea boils down to: What are you passionate about? In other words, what gets you out of bed in the morning? And who do you feel called to serve? That’s really the basic elements of a big idea: what are you passionate about and who do you feel called to serve? And typically the senior pastor, executive pastor or the leadership team will need to have input on those questions, but ultimately that’s what a big idea comes down to: What are you passionate about? Whether that’s a cause or a specific geographic location or a denomination, and who do you feel called to serve? That’s really what it comes down to.
Those are based off of spiritual giftings, right? We see this all over the place in scripture where certain individuals are tasked or given a skill for a specific purpose or throughout their lives. And I believe that local churches operate in the same way as individuals in scripture, where we can look in the book of Revelation, and we can see how Jesus speaks to each, all of those individual churches and basically says, “Hey, you guys were created for this and you’ve ignored it,” or “I’ve gifted you guys to do this, or I’ve given you this task and you’ve completely ignored it.” Even look at what Paul wrote in the New Testament. He’s speaking to churches all the time and in all different regions of the world. And you get a sense after studying these Epistles, that Paul is writing to a very specific group of people with a very specific purpose in mind. So really the big idea is nothing new. We see it all over scripture.
It’s really partnering with the Holy Spirit to discern what your congregation has been called to do. What gets you revved up on Sunday morning and who you feel called to serve.