This post is going to make me a first-class hypocrite.
Those who know me know that I have a fetish for new technology and social media. I recently upgraded my cell phone to an iPhone, which sent me into a spinning lather of orgasmic proportions. I love my MacBook with an inappropriate amount of affection. I've twittered since 2007. I'm Linkedin. I've been blogging since 2004. Before that I was heavily involved with newsgroups (remember those?). I set up my first email address in 1992. I LOVE social media. It's been a long term love affair. And the bloom has not left the rose.
(side note: I prefer Twitter to Facebook. Twitter does more with less. It's nimble and quick. And it feeds my adult on-set ADD)
HOWEVER, when it comes to ministry, I worry that churches miss the point of social media. Churches tend to view it as either a) a marketing tool designed to get flesh-and-blood human beings through their front doors, or b) showing the world that they are relevant, because they speak the culture's language and use its tools; if they're hip and cool, then by extension, so is God. The point isn't necessarily to use social media, the point is merely to have it in the tool box. It's the whole "medium is the message" thing.
And while, yes Facebook is one of the best ministry tools ever, I also know it's limitations. Facebook helps me see what's going on in peoples' lives on a day-to-day basis that I wouldn't otherwise get to experience. And while I can send notes, make comments, advertise church events, post status updates, I realize that Facebook relationships supplement my ministry relationships, not replace them. Facebook enhances my ministry, but doesn't supplant the daily human -incarnational - interactions that is the heart of ministry.
And yes, I've ministered to non-believers through social media. I've debated with others. I've engaged people who I normally wouldn't had I not "met" them online. Spirituality is replacing porn as the biggest internet presence. So, there is opportunity here.
BUT, too often, we as churches hope that technology will do the hard work of ministry for us. We're looking for a magic bullet that will help turn our churches from declining to thriving. A talisman that will draw crowds into our empty pews. Were we can sit in splendid isolation typing away on a website or blog and will have an impact in peoples' lives and not actually have to talk to people.
Social media MAY do that. If we're lucky. But we shouldn't bet our futures on it.
But what it will do is change the way we relate to non-believers. Which will be the subject of my next post. Stay tuned.