We all know that social media tools like Facebook and Twitter have taken hold of popular culture and our ministries. So many of the people we serve use these tools. We use these tools. Many would argue that they are valuable tools. But there are also many that would argue that they are not valuable tools.
I recently read an article by Roman Catholic Fr. Peter J. Daly titled, “Don’t Twitter!” It was an intriguing argument against the use of social media tools, even in light of Pope Benedict XVI statement on using social media. His key point is that Twitter is a waste of time. Fr. Daly states,
“Who cares that you are in the grocery store or sitting on your patio? My parishioners are constantly saying that their lives are distracted. So why distract them even more with pointless and ceaseless communication of trivia? You cannot possibly develop a serious thought in 140 characters. You cannot continuously have something of value to say. You do not need to know continually what people are doing. Who cares? Nobody really. All of this chatting and posting of personal information can even be dangerous.”
I agree and disagree. I agree in the sense that I really don’t care if you are sitting on your patio. However, I disagree that you cannot use 140 characters or less to develop a serious thought. It’s all in which lens you choose to view social media tools like Twitter.
Social media is not just about ‘information out.’ Sure, I can use it to let the world know about the great movie I just saw or what I’m having for dinner. Using social media effectively is also about ‘information in.’ Social media provides an opportunity for people to respond to what I post. The feedback can become very powerful.
Recently, a friend of mine was giving a talk on why bad things happen to good people. Instead of just coming up with everything on her own, she posted the topic on Facebook and asked for feedback. She got more than twenty responses. And some of these responses were longer than the normal adult attention span can stand. But it was quality input. She took that information and created a very dynamic workshop.
So what? In ministry, I do believe we need to leverage social media tools. But it just depends on how we do it. Social media is an opportunity to market events and programs. It is also a tool to get immediate feedback and create a dialogue with people we normally would not be able to talk with. I can imagine the pastor clarifying their Sunday message or homily because a church attender had some follow-up questions. I can imagine being able to talk about why Jesus died on the cross on a Facebook thread with many adolescents. I can imagine trying to develop a workshop topic and getting immediate feedback from 100 different ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ to make it better.
Fr. Daly is right about one thing: social media can be dangerous because of the personal information that is revealed. We certainly have to educate the people we minister to about safe practices on social media. And we have to be careful: A social media relationship will never be as real and authentic as a face to face relationship. Social media is not meant to replace the living community. However, if used well, ministries can harness the tools to create a stronger community.
It’s all about how you choose to use social media in ministry.