We need to re-define what is "success" in online ministry. Churches often see it as a marketing tool to enlarge their congregation. Church growth for the internet age. A new medium for old ministry goals.
But we're given an opportunity to re-think our ministry. Using social media is an excellent way to minister to folks - people we wouldn't otherwise connect with -without any other agenda other than to share God's love.
For example, a few years ago a self-described atheist nominated my humble offerings for "Best Religious Blog" at the Canadian Blog Awards. She did so because we had been emailing back and forth, and developed a good rapport. She asked me some questions. Shared some concerns. And I did the same. It was a two-way conversation. I really valued her insights. But if I spent that time "preaching" in the classic sense of the word, she would have stopped emailing and reading my blog. I unashamedly bore witness to the the God I know in Jesus. And her professed atheism remained intact.
Will she attend a church in her town? Confess Jesus as saviour? Probably not. But that's not the point. The point is that she felt valued as someone loved - maybe even by a God she said she didn't believe in. Church folks were no longer the enemy. I call that a win.
The best way to kill an online relationship is to ascend the pulpit, preaching at people. (while I post some of my sermons, I leave the comments open). Like everwhere else online and in life, people have options. And the internet offers a myriad of possibilities for people to explore faith/religion/spirituality, etc. The internet obviously didn't create these alternatives. It merely gave them a voice. An easily accessible forum. And people will toddle off elsewhere or "de-friend" someone when they're not being meaningfully engaged. And rightly so.
For example, on facebook, a friend had written a status update that a evangelical preacher took issue with, and, in the comments hurled epithets at my friend - all in the name of proclaiming Truth (capital "T"). His language was so over the top and abusive that even confessing Christians like myself felt injured. Was this behaviour going to be effective in evangelizing my friend? Obviously not. But I see this sort of activity happening all time from Christians who don't understand social media, much less the gospel. Angry Christians have been doing this since Paul had to put out the fires in Corinth. But it seems, given the relative anonymity of the internet, they're more rampant.
21st century Christians will soon realize that social media doesn't necessarily translate into full churches, but it will provide never-before opportunities to have a broader, discussion. Despite what you hear from some pulpits, no one is asking us Christians to compromise our beliefs. We're simply inserting ourselves into an endless, on-going conversation, where the loudest yelling doesn't necessarily get the biggest audience.
Our proclamation will be a still, small, voice, boldly, yet lovingly offered. And we let God do the rest. Just like we do in every other area of ministry.