Preaching the Social Media Gospel
The book introduces readers to all the major forms of social media, explains what each (blogging, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube) does best, and even helps provide some guidance into how to create worthy content for each platform and coordinate between them and the print and preaching offerings of your parish. Where should you post sermons? Where should you make important announcements? Meredith tells you, and explains why.
Despite this, I know that some people continue to be skeptical. I spoke to a number of pastors of large and wealthy churches a couple of years ago who weren't the least bit interested in stretching beyond their Sunday morning service; and watching Jeanie's work at St. David's over the past few years to integrate social media into the life of the parish, it's clear that some people begin with the same objections Meredith has encountered: virtual communities aren't "real," thus nothing connected to them can be authentic; social media undercuts the physical need for "church" and so should be avoided; social media is a luxury that clergy and staff cannot afford since it takes time to learn and more time to continue (5).
But I also know from observation that each of these objections can be easily addressed—and The Social Media Gospel does so, thoughtfully and with pertinent examples from real life. In fact, what social media can accomplish is so powerful that it's worth noting, especially if you or your parish are among those still resistant to virtual life. As Meredith writes at one point, wisely used social media can help build community, deliver important news and announcements, gather feedback from the congregation, preach the Gospel, model the values the church teaches, and share stories that "deepen faith and inspire action" (37). It's a pretty amazing list of things churches really want to do.
In fact, there's really only one obvious thing that people still agree has to be done together at the same time, although it's central. Social media can be used to prepare people for the sacraments, but despite some experiments (Google "virtual Eucharist" or "virtual confession"), it's pretty clear that "virtual sacraments" are not spiritually efficacious (9).
And that's probably just fine. There's a reason people who take the sacraments should go to a physical building and interact with physical bodies and receive physical bread and wine.
But social media can help connect them to each other, the church, and to God during those 167 hours when they aren't together doing that.
For more conversation on The Social Media Gospel—and to read an excerpt—visit the Patheos Book Club here.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.