Social Media and Ministry
We asked readers: Share an instance in which you have used social media in your ministry in a unique way, or a way that had a surprising outcome as a result of your interactions. Are you evolving with the technology, or resisting the change? What type of information would you like to receive from PTS via Facebook and Twitter? We received many answers, but could not include them all. All responses are in inSpire online.
As a recipient of a Louisville Institute Pastoral Study Grant, I have been researching the spiritual lives of the 425 young adults I have confirmed at Maple Grove United Church. I used Facebook to find them and connect with them. Some online discussion has taken place, but they have used direct messaging more often to share their deepest thoughts. We use Facebook to connect with young adults once they leave the church. Women in our church connect frequently with youth to give encouragement and advice. We have more young adults and families coming back to church more regularly since we have had a Facebook ministry. Zoomerang was a helpful technological tool for a detailed questionnaire.
Morar M. Murray-Hayes (D.Min., 2006)
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Alpharetta Presbyterian Church (APC) is located outside of Atlanta, in Alpharetta, Georgia, a tech-savvy area with AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and McKesson Technologies as top employers. While the area is known as a technology hub, the church itself has taken a slower approach to online solutions, including social media. However, a recent project showcased an innovative use of these tools.
APC’s special needs program, Open Arms, began in 1998 to welcome people with varying abilities to the church with open arms. This Advent season, Open Arms joined with APC’s music ministries to present “An Open Arms Christmas” recording. Advertised on the church’s Facebook page and personal Twitter accounts, the CD is available in both physical and online forms. The online download option has allowed the project to be heard and purchased around the world! An early email of appreciation came from Hong Kong. You can check it out too: www.alpharettapres.com/openarmscd.
Jamie Butcher (M.Div., 2009)
After my M.Div., I began a Ph.D. in anthropology. In 2010, I relocated to China to do field research, and often lament that I’m unable to work (because of political and logistical constraints there) in an official capacity with the church. However, I blog frequently about reflections on faith and ministry. Recently, an M.Div. classmate in California sent me a Facebook message about a trying conversation he’d had with a church member facing infertility, in which he struggled to find the words to comfort her. After their meeting, he logged onto my blog, and read a reflection I’d written about “tossing our expectations into the ocean,” and receiving God’s grace. He passed these words onto his congregant, with whom they really resonated. Reading about God’s work across miles, oceans, and time zones, I felt humbled that words of healing could be transferred in such an unforeseen, yet meaningful, way.
Erin Raffety (M.Div., 2008)
Nanning, Guangxi, China
Healthy ministry in the twenty-first century engages social media to interact and communicate. In September 2011 I began a new ministry, Jazz Church, in Charlotte, North Carolina. We have a web site (www.jazzchurch.org), Facebook page (Jazz Church–Charlotte), and twitter account (@jazzchurch). We will launch in February 2012 on the campus of UNC-Charlotte, and a large percentage of our gatherings will be college students. Social media is part of their daily lives and will be a primary way we communicate with them. Without it, planting this new church would be much more difficult.
Rick Hoffarth (M.Div., 1984)
Charlotte, North Carolina
I’ve had a lot of success using social media as a way of keeping our college students connected to each other and to the church while away at school. I post Bible studies and fun challenges with incentives like a Starbucks gift card for pictures posted of the best and worst dorm room. I’ve also run a lot of successful Facebook advertising campaigns. In addition to my work in the local church, I now consult with and train churches and nonprofits to use social media in their work and ministry.
Mike Baughman (M.Div./M.A., 2004)
I have ADD and know I have to work harder to pick up the social cues that are essential to all relationships—including ministry relationships. Perhaps as a consequence, I feel phone conversations are disturbingly impersonal. I dislike the telephone, but have learned to tolerate it as a tool of ministry. I find the social media world emotionally disorienting and unworkable. However, I suspect this is a temperamental failing on my part. I try even harder to communicate with friends, colleagues, and church members in face-to-face settings to make up for my inability to feel the connections through social media.
Steve R. Wigall (M.Div., 1977, Th.M., 1978)
The primary social medium channel I use for help with my ministry is Facebook. For the last few months I have been adapting my Sunday homilies into an accessible blog. The written word is much different than the spoken word. There have been some positive responses. Fewer people are coming to church to reflect on the scriptures, so social media is more than able to close the lacunae.
C. Gilbert Romero (Ph.D., 1982)
Seal Beach, California
From the Horse’s Mouth
The inSpire interactive question prompted John Bruington, Class of 1977 and a pastor in Havre, Montana, to contribute the following essay.
Out here in rural Montana, as in much of the nation, the mainline church is dying. Times are especially hard in the Northwest, which has traditionally had the lowest per capita church membership in the nation. At one time small congregations depended on aid-to-field support from the national, synod, and presbytery arms of the connectional church, but those days are long gone. Today the small church must survive, if possible, on its own.
Here in Havre, which has not had an ordained Presbyterian pastor for more than twenty years or a full-time pastor for ten to fifteen, new strategies have been required. The new breed of rural pastor in the West has to recognize that he or she must look for support outside the church in order for his or her ministry to survive. Some pastors are fortunate enough to have a spouse whose salary is enough to help support the ministry; others must work in the secular world to make ends meet. Like it or not, the old model of the small church pastorate is changing, and the church and pastor have to adapt.
Church growth, in the traditional sense, is a long-term and very slow process as the local population ages and declines. The expectation that the church will reverse its decline and eventually be able to support a full-time pastor is not very likely in the short run. So a long-term strategy is needed. This is where making use of the social media becomes critical.
Recognizing that some seventy-to-eighty percent of the local population will never enter the sanctuary except for funerals and weddings, we have to take the message outside the church walls. Most small towns have a local newspaper and many of them are open to some kind of “church column” that allows the local pastor a much wider “audience” than Sunday mornings. However, that resource has to be used wisely to have any real impact. Let me share my story.
John Bruington and his horse, Goliath, offer perspectives on church
growth and reaching the “unchurched” through a column in the local
newspaper. Bruington and Goliath live in Havre, Montana.
Most of the community in which I minister are “unchurched” or “under-churched.” They don’t have a great deal of interest in sermons or sermonizing. Most traditional church newspaper columns are warmed-over sermons addressed to fellow believers, and they are not read by anyone not already involved with the church. Such readers don’t care what Paul said, or who Moses was. Jesus is respected but largely unknown, as if he were simply an ancient philosopher or spiritual guru from a by-gone time. Quoting the Bible is no more authoritative than quoting The Iliad or some other book from the distant past.
Recognizing that—along with recognizing that my PTS Master of Divinity and McCormick Doctor of Ministry carry no weight with most folks—I began quoting my horse, Goliath. “Old Doc Goliath,” as I refer to him, is quite a theologian if one is wise enough to consider the lessons. For example, getting tossed off into the cactus a few years ago turned out to be an excellent lesson on humility. The importance of keeping a loose cinch, but not a loosed cinch, is a wonderful parable to talk about keeping an open mind, but, as my Jewish friends say, “not so open that your brains fall out.”
After some five years of my writing a weekly column, “Out Our Way,” a great many people who do not know me have come to know Goliath. More importantly, some fundamental Christian teachings have gotten through to people who would never listen to a preacher, but will listen to the preacher’s horse. His outreach is no longer limited to our little town; the column has been read and considered by folks as far away as Atlanta and San Diego. People who never read the church page before are now regular readers of Goliath.
No, we have not had a huge growth in membership or turned our financial situation completely around, but there are signs the gospel is getting through. When Goliath’s living through a rough winter and needing extra oats reminds folks of the food bank, soup kitchen, and homeless shelter, new donations start to arrive. When Goliath’s terror of a crossing a culvert or wading a stream is connected to folks’ fear of facing new challenges in their lives and learning to trust God as Goliath trusts me, lessons are learned. When Goliath dons his silly “reindeer horns” at Christmas and stands by the Salvation Army Red Kettle, collections go up.
No offense to the great PTS professors from whom I learned so much in my days at dear old Princeton, but “Dr. Goliath” teaches practical theology in ways that reach folks they never can. His soon to be published book, Out Our Way, Theology Under Saddle, hopefully will reach a public who long for God but will never find him in Tillich, Niebuhr, or Barth.
Most newspapers these days depend on syndicated columnists who may or may not speak to the day-to-day world of the community. But the educated pastor with a little imagination may manage to get the Word of God out to the neighborhood in ways that make a real difference. Especially, as out our way, when it comes straight from the horse’s mouth.
John Bruington graduated from Princeton Seminary with his Master of Divinity degree in 1977 and pastors in Havre, Montana.