Book Review: Social Media Ministry and Community Building in Today’s Church

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Clergy talk a lot. Clergy usually also write, read and socialize a lot.

By a lot, I mean a lot. The average priest, preacher, deacon, rabbi, imam, probably has moments every week when he or she would like to drop their cell phone in the nearest toilet and flush. 

These people are intelligent and greatly gifted in verbal skills. 

You’d think they’d be naturals for thinking up ways to use the social media to promote their beliefs and extend their faith community past the church doors and into the world. 

For some of them, this is true. We have outstanding clergy bloggers here at Patheos. SQPN was founded by the podcasting priest, Father Roderick Vonhogen. But for most clergy, especially Catholic priests, not so much. 

Why do I say “especially” Catholic priests? Because it’s just a fact, at least concerning the priests that I know, that the good ones are somewhat reluctant to use the new media to preach, teach, organize and build community. Also, we’ve had some appalling falls from grace by “star” priests who either were corrupted by the attention, or were ripping off the priesthood as a vehicle to fame in the first place. 

It is important for us to tread carefully in the business of making “stars” out of people who may not have the anointing for the work. But social media does not have to make rock stars of clerics. It can be, and it should be, just another form of communication to a world that is dying for lack of social and spiritual nourishment.

The lack of community is an emotional poverty in many people’s lives. Social media can be a way of reaching out to these people with a Christian hand. It can bring them the Gospel they will never find inside a church because they won’t go inside a church in the first place.

It can also build community within existing church congregations. Too many people go to church kind of like they go to a movie. They go, sit through the service, then leave and never talk to anyone from the parish until they go back again the next Sunday.

Social media can allow parishioners to develop contact between one another, learn more about their faith and become engaged in a more intimate and companionable relationship with their parishes. 

But how is a religious leader to start the process of developing a social media presence for his or her church?

The Social Media Gospel, by Meredith Gould, seeks to answer that question. 

The book makes many important points. It is critical for church leadership to spend time planning and learning before beginning the social media adventure. The author says that it’s important to decide what you want to accomplish with social media and how you’ll know if you are accomplishing it. 

Also, church leaders need to build their social media activities around the beliefs that are the reason why their church exists in the first place. 

The book gives useful guidelines for the thinking it through part of developing a social media ministry. It does not provide technical information about the how-to phase of setting up this ministry. It is a worthwhile read for someone who is thinking about setting up a social media ministry for their church. It is especially useful if you are trying to decide whether or not your parish or church should engage in social media ministry.

I think the answer is an emphatic yes, churches should engage in social media ministry. I think the rewards of community building among existing parishioners alone will be astounding. 

For a parish to ignore social media in today’s world is a little bit like ignoring the need for sound systems. These things are tools, and those who bring Christ to the world should use every tool they can find to do this effectively. 

These two videos, Don’t Be That Church I & II, were created by Meredith Gould, the author of The Social Media Gospel.

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