Why some churches need to stay away from social media

I’ve come to believe that some churches and ministries need to stay away from social media. They need to shut down their platforms, close up their websites, disengage and disappear from the internet. And I’ll get to why in a moment.

But before I do, let me qualify the above by adding: having a social media presence is essential to the health and vitality of every church or ministry organization in today’s world, and no church should go without being online. In fact, it’s almost a sin not to be online.

So how do I reconcile those two statements? Keep reading.

In my line of work I’ve had the pleasure of talking with many church leaders over the past six months about their ministry’s presence online. And some of them have expressed intense frustration with their social media presence.

Facebook? It’s doing nothing for their church. Website and Blog? Traffic is measly at best. There are no results. Twitter? Instagram? Email, even? Forget it. Nothing seems to be working.

But when I dig a little deeper and probe into their social media presence to find out what they’re doing and why it’s not working for them, in many cases one reason soon becomes obvious: they don’t have one.

That’s right. They might be present online, but they are not present online. They might be there, but they’re not really there. You know what I mean, don’t you?

Allow me to illustrate

The other day I was taking a drive with my wife. And – confession time! – I have a terrible habit of not listening when she talks. When I’m driving I love to think. I think about things I experienced that day. I think about things I need to do tomorrow. I think about conversations I had or articles I read. I think a lot.

But my wife, she likes to talk. She spends so much time with our toddler that when she has me to herself she talks my ear off! “It’s nice to have a conversation with an adult after spending the day with a toddler” she often reminds me.

Well this day was like many others. While driving, my mind was elsewhere while she talked and talked and talked. And trying to pathetically balance my own imaginative interest while attempting to engage her, I would offer an affirmative “uh huh,” “oh yeah,” “that’s cool,” at just the right moments.

And I always knew when those moments were, not by listening to what she was saying, but by listening to her inflections. Of course once she starts talking about how she was abducted by aliens last night and how our house blew up this morning, and I respond with a “oh, that’s cool,” well, it’s all over.

“Hello? Are you even with me?” Busted!

Of course I was with her. I was sitting right next to her. I was “present” with her. But I wasn’t really with her, and she knew it. All of my uh huh’s were disingenuous attempts to appear to be with her. But in reality, my mind was somewhere else. And men, if you don’t know this already, wives’ have amazing rubbish-detectors. They know when we’re not really present with them.

Social media – including blogging – is all about genuine, social engagement. It’s all about the conversation. It’s about listening with pure interest. If your presence online is agenda driven, and you’re not really interested in the conversation, well there’s no fooling the internet. The internet is like one giant rubbish-detector, with the younger generation having a heightened sensitivity to it.

And this is the problem. A lot of churches and ministries (and those who lead them) are present online, but they’re not really present online. They’re not engaged. They’re not a part of the conversation. They’re not interested.

A church or ministry might have the greatest social media strategy on the planet, but if it’s not genuinely interested in the conversation, if all it does is promote it’s in-house events – it’s Bible studies, banquets, worship services – the internet knows.


Here’s what that looks like

On occasion a church might publish a Facebook status update to their official Page inviting people to an event. It’s the only post they put on Facebook all week. They write blogs on occasion, but they’re very preachy, hoping someone from Twitter might read it, come to church, get saved and tithe. On the rarest of occasions they might even engage with someone in a discussion thread, but only if that person asks about their worship times.

And all of that amounts to the online equivalent of “uh huh.”

That church is disingenuously attempting to give the impression that they are online. But they’re not really there. Their members don’t really hear about what the church is doing online from the pulpit. They are seldom if ever invited to engage in the digital space. And there is no talk about social media among the leaders and parishioners except to express angst (“There are too many cat videos and I don’t care what someone ate for dinner.”).

But all of these are really just symptoms of a deeper problem, and we need to get to the root of. And based on the conversations I’ve had through consulting ministry leaders, I think I know what that is.

They don’t really believe

These churches don’t really believe in the importance of the digital space for their ministry. Just because they’re online doesn’t mean they’ve bought into it. In fact it is precisely because they haven’t bought into it that it’s not working for them.

They’ve taken up blogging. They’ve opened a Facebook page. They’re giving Instagram a shot. All because someone like me told them it’s important. But not because they themselves are convinced.

So with a half-hazard “okay, let’s try this a bit” they assign a tiny-sliver of their church to do a little here or there, and then after three months wonder why it’s not working for them.

And their failure reinforces their skepticism: see, I always knew it wouldn’t work. Oh well, might as well keep it up now that we have it.

All or nothing

But social media doesn’t work that way. For organizations, including churches, social media has to be all or nothing.

Either you pour everything you have into it and receive long-term dividends (including growing into a vital and healthy church for the twenty-first century, reaching lives, building stronger communities and so on), or it will do nothing except reinforce your negativity, your skepticism and your longing for the “good old days” before the internet.

But your presence cannot be in-between. A lukewarm online presence will do more damage for your ministry than no presence at all.

If you’re online presence is terrible, then think of the kind of impression you’re leaving on those who encounter your church or ministry in the cyber-space? Having no presence is better than having a terrible presence.

But, having an amazing presence is best of all!

And God has called every community of Jesus followers to have an amazing presence for his glory wherever we are. We are called to represent an amazing God and to bring his amazing gospel to all people.

Jesus has give the church a mandated to go into all the world taking the gospel to all people (Mark 16:15).

In other words, go to where the people are. And when almost 1 1/2 billion people are on Facebook and more than 3 billion people are on the internet, there can be little doubt about what Jesus’ commission means for his Church today.

So is it time for your church to get serious about Jesus’ instructions in this digital age? Yes! Yes it is time for your church to get serious about it’s online presence.

Do you believe?

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Derek is a Christian blogger at derekouellette.ca where he writes to help mission-minded believers use social media and the internet to advance God's Kingdom. He's also an author and founder of Gospel Sneeze Academy. Derek lives in Windsor, Ontario with his wife, toddler and one addition on the way.