Preaching the Social Media Gospel
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours,
Yours are the tweets through which love touches this world,
Yours are the posts through which the Gospel is shared,
Yours are the updates through which hope is revealed.
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours. ~ Meredith Gould
What does it mean to do church these days?
I was talking over this question with my friend Greg Rickel, the Episcopal Bishop of Olympia (Washington), and he was sharing the conclusion that he and my own bishop, Andy Doyle of Texas, were coming to.
"It's not about butts in the seat," he said—the traditional way Episcopalians (and most denominations) have accounted for the success or failure of their ministry. "It's about touches through the week."
What Greg and Andy were talking about was a ministry that didn't simply speak to people where they were on Sunday morning inside a church building, but met them where they were during the week—wherever they were.
It might even mean ministering to people who would never help pay your salary, who would never even set foot inside a church building.
That's why you'll find church leaders like Greg and Andy blogging, posting their sermons online, Tweeting, and reaching out on Facebook. For them and for many others, these online tools are not a waste of time or a distraction from their primary job; they are a distinct and necessary part of their primary job.
The church of the 21st century is already wired, and if your parish isn't taking full advantage of all of these ways of touching people throughout the week, it is falling behind and becoming increasingly irrelevant.
I know something about this stuff, even though I'm not a formal pastor. I've been blogging since 2004 (first for The Christian Century, then Huffington Post), filmed a series of YouTube videos to talk about faith and political issues, and use Facebook and Twitter daily to try to engage a virtual community about the work I do as writer, teacher, and preacher. Maybe more importantly, my beloved Jeanie is Communications Director at St. David's Episcopal Church in downtown Austin, a position that requires her to be on the front lines of social media—and often dragging the church and its leadership into the brave new world along with her. I have watched—and listened—to her for the past few years, and know it can be a huge opportunity or a huge disaster, depending on how its done.
That's why I know that Meredith Gould's The Social Media Gospel is a valuable step toward discussing what this new world of ministry might look like. A writer and social media guru (and a clergy spouse, another person learning from what's going on inside the church), Meredith offers in this book a step-by-step guide to what social media can and cannot do, including a "best practices" chapter and appendices that offer checklists for planning social media, creating a social media policy, and doing a communications audit. She enters into theological and practical discussion of what this new kind of communication is all about. Most important, this book offers a ringing endorsement for what she calls "the radical power of communication" to unite and inspire (7). You will leave these pages convinced that this is something you and your community need to be doing—or doing better.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.
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- Stepping Bravely Into the Future: A Conversation with Bishop Andy Doyle on the Episcopal Church, Part Two
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