Social Networking Sites: It’s Not Just for the Kids
By Nathaniel Binion
“Ever side of the argument one stands on with regard to the acceptability and necessity of social networks, know this: It’s not just for kids, nor is it a fad!”
Having been a student pas- tor for more than eight years, I came to at least one conclusion: don’t try to match your students’ zeal for new trends and toys. You will lose every time. Rather, I found that my job was to affirm my goals, identify overarching trends that extend over time, and capitalize on these trends to accomplish our ministry goals. One of these trends is the almost ubiquitous use of social network technology such as Facebook, MySpace, Jaiku, and YouTube. The list of these networks could extend for pages and pages.
The purpose of each of these sites is to provide the opportunity for people to connect and communicate with others directly, inexpensively, and with great flexibility. Micro blogging sites like Twitter communicate every action throughout the day, from the mundane to the profound. These applications connect people in almost real time, allowing people to express themselves directly to a public. It is easy to get lost in the terms: blogging, micro blogging, Facebook utility, and the list goes on. All of these functions or terms are a form of a social network. According to Stephen Berkowitz a social network is a social structure that facilitates communication of ideas and values between interdependent individuals or people groups.
Social networks are not computer programs, bundles of wires, or some passing technological fad; we are observing a social reality being facilitated by technology. Social network theory submits that culture learns new information, communicates ideas, and owns new behavior when they directly interact with new information, both socially and professionally. Simply put, social network theory shows that people only embrace and share information that they have personally applied. Whatever side of the argument one stands on with regard to the acceptability and necessity of social networks, know this: It’s not just for kids, nor is it a fad!
Being a new church planter in a technologically oriented urban center, I see every day how my city uses this trend to facilitate value formation. According to Alexa Traffic Details, there are over 130 social networking sites alone connecting professional groups, political groups, religious groups, people groups, demographic groups, and interest groups. No self-respecting company would have a website without a social network function these days. It is common for companies to have a message board, blogging function, and some companies are even keeping constituents up to date on minute-by-minute updates through micro blogging.
What does this mean for pastors? Nothing if you see it as a passing fad. But, if we look beyond the Facebooks, YouTubes, and other brand-name social networks, we see a cultural opportunity looming beneath the surface? We are seeing an opportunity to expand our messages beyond our pulpits, altars, weekend services, and releasing them into the daily lives of our people.
I would not want to be misunderstood. This article is not suggesting that using social network technology is the only way to “do” church correctly; we minister in diverse contexts. I am merely using a cultural reality to remind us that our preaching doesn’t end at 11:55 AM on Sunday. Our people may take unanswered questions and unresolved crises out of the altar and into their lives. And, understanding social network theory may help us continue our sermons throughout the week!
Using some social network ideas, here are some practical ways to make our sermons and programs become more two-dimensional:
1. Allow the church to ask questions about your sermon or theme in some written format, such as email. You can get an email address for free. Make a commitment to answer them corporately in the future. If appropriate, put the answers on the church website. This will create more traffic on your website.
2. Ask your church to give you testimonies of how they are applying your sermon. If appropriate, ask if you can share them with the church.
3. Start a discussion about a topic on a message board. (You can monitor any information before something goes live.) If you are not sure how to use a message board, ask a neighboring pastor. Many pastors use them these days.
4. For the brave-hearted, open your own social network page like Facebook or YouTube (maybe even Twitter). Tell the church that you will be adding new thoughts throughout the week. Communicate what you are doing in your life to make the sermon live in your own life. All they need to do is to connect to your account. This will allow you to directly connect to people in your church.
One might think this seems like a lot of work, but what if our sermons had less length, more meat, and more application? These ideas are attempting to take advantage of a culture that sits in your pew. They hear us preach the gospel week after week, but many are not sure how to apply it to their lives. If we get them in the conversation it will give us more opportunities to reaffirm our message and get them closer to applying it.
From, “Forward Magazine”/March-April 2009/Volume 40, Issue 2/Page 6, by Nathaniel Binion
This material is copyrighted and may be used to study & research purposes only