10 Ways Social Media is Hurting Your Local Church

Let’s face it—social media plays a pivotal role in nearly everything we do, so why should church be any different? If we’re honest, it isn’t. When we look closely, it’s easy to see ways in which social media can hurt our local churches and, ultimately, even our individual faith. But remember—there are two sides to ...

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Let’s face it—social media plays a pivotal role in nearly everything we do, so why should church be any different? If we’re honest, it isn’t. When we look closely, it’s easy to see ways in which social media can hurt our local churches and, ultimately, even our individual faith.

But remember—there are two sides to everything. Social media may be a saving grace to some people, particularly folks with special needs or limited mobility. Watching sermons online, supplementing your Bible study, and connecting with other people is not inherently bad; on the contrary, they can be valuable and important parts of spiritual life.

Read on and see if these statements have made their way into your own conversations (or thoughts!).

1. “Who Needs a Pastor When I Can Listen to the Most Popular, Mega-church Pastors Online?”

You can learn a lot from listening to other perspectives—they can challenge you and push you to expand your knowledge and examine your existing biases. Many of the super-popular preachers have good things to say, but your local pastor may pale by comparison if he or she isn’t as charismatic.

However, the reality is that pastoring a church isn’t just about preaching on Sunday mornings. The role of pastor is critical to an individual’s spiritual growth. We need leadership, accountability, and a personal touch—not just a handsome face to put on our website banner, but a personal shepherd. Jesus spoke to groups, but seemed to prefer direct conversations. Granted, Facebook wasn’t around then, but even if it had been, I believe Jesus would have always preferred a face-to-face connection. Similarly, a good pastor is tuned in to the needs of his congregation and community, and will address teachings that might be timely or specifically relevant.

2. “They” Make Our Church—and Christianity—Look Bad.

Remember the old saying attributed to Groucho Marx? “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.” At times, we apply that mindset to church, too.

We’ve all seen it: Someone posts sanctimonious and hypocritical comments; or shares harsh, undiplomatic political views; or bashes a company or individual. And then, the next morning, they post pictures of their Bible in the slanting morning light, with the steam from their perfect cup of coffee, and then “check in” to church promptly on Sunday morning.

It’s easy to understand why someone who doesn’t attend church might be turned off. The truth is we are all ambassadors. When we claim to be Christians, people watch us to see if our behavior matches our professed beliefs. When they do not, we’re judged as hypocrites—and that damages the reputation of our local churches, not to mention that of the Church as a whole. Pay attention to what you post (and what you say, and what you believe). If it doesn’t line up with Scripture, or if it doesn’t look like Jesus, it’s best to skip it.

3. “When I Go to the Church, Half the People are on Their Phones. What’s the Point?”

It’s difficult to resist the lure of social media; our brains crave the hit of dopamine generated by likes and comments. Social media is addictive because we want instant gratification—not just 2 or 4 likes but hundreds. We want our posts to go viral for everyone to see them.

But serving God isn’t about instant gratification. Some of the most profound lessons come to us over time. We learn patience by waiting for answers. Spiritual growth comes one small step at a time. People don’t change overnight, and social media, with its immediate response time, teaches us to expect things to happen NOW. This hurts our faith and leads to our feeling forgotten when we don’t get immediate answers to our prayers.

The solution is spending time in God’s presence. Recognizing the value of companionship with the Almighty. Remembering that the cure for most things—our grief, loneliness, doubts, despair—comes when we saturate ourselves in God’s presence. Through prayer and studying the Word, the Holy Spirit speaks—and that is how things change. Not with the click of a button or application of an emoji.

4. “I Can Watch a Sermon Online Anytime. I’d Rather Sleep in on Sunday.”

I promise you, I like to sleep in as much as the next person. Probably more. Like so many of you, I’m tired. School and work (and team sports) are not really optional events, so the only activity with any flexibility is church. It’s easier not to go.

Church, though, when it operates as intended, is about so much more than the sermon. It offers relationship/fellowship. Interaction. Opportunities to share our experiences and learn from others (not just the pastor). Someone leading us into a state of worship, which we can and should do on our own, but often neglect. The Bible instructs us to meet together, and I think that is because Jesus was all about relationships. He knows we need them.

It’s easier to let online interaction substitute for the real thing. Honestly, it is. But when we settle for that, we’re cheating ourselves—and each other.

5. “I Can Join a Bible Study Online, So I’ll Just Stay Home.”

A lot of great resources are available online, and they’re a great supplement to what we can do on our own. The internet brings a plethora of information to our fingertips. We can discover more, faster. But it also means that we might spend more time reading what someone else wrote than figuring it out for ourselves, and it has been proven that information we learn on our own sticks with us longer.

The Holy Spirit can and will reveal meaning to you when you seek God, but if you’re not spending time studying the Bible on your own, you’re cheating yourself. Online Bible study has plenty to offer, but there’s something powerful about being in a room with a group of like-minded seekers that is difficult to replicate over the internet.

6. Since Social Media is Quick and Easy, Churches May Substitute Tweets for Direct Connection.

When church leadership posts to a Facebook group or sends a tweet, it can reach a large number of people quickly. The flaw in this thinking is twofold: One, sharing info online should never substitute for personally relaying important messages. And two, not everyone is on social media, so you may be alienating the elderly members of the congregation or those who cannot afford internet and large data plans.

Social media lends itself to quick dissemination of information with minimal effort on the part of the sender, so it makes sense to use it to notify people of urgent prayer requests or last-minute announcements. Sometimes, though, important things can be overlooked or buried in a sea of meaningless posts, so if an announcement or prayer request isn’t time critical, you may want to consider printing it in a bulletin or paper newsletter that can be posted on a fridge or tucked into your Bible. Don’t stop what you’re already doing, but be aware of whether it matches its intent and reaches those you need to reach.

7. “I See Enough ‘Fake News’ Already; I Can’t Deal with it From Church People,Too.”

The social media environment is rife with misunderstandings and perpetuates misinformation. Most people do not pay close attention to their language and grammar and—best-case scenario—their posts are misread or confusing. One study showed that about 70% of all articles shared were not read by the person who shared them; they simply read the headline and passed it on. This becomes problematic when the information isn’t fact-checked or assumptions are made by the reader that are not accurate.

Worst-case, is that people misinterpret Scripture, they twist a teaching to fit their life at that moment, or they use Bible verses to pat themselves on the back for their holy righteousness. And it makes the whole church look bad, while also casting doubt on everything else they share—even their testimony.

8. “If Church Members Post it, it Must be True—of the Whole Church.”

Related to the last point, incorrect information paints you in a bad light. But that shadow may extend past you to immerse your whole church.

When someone in authority makes a public statement, it’s logical for others to assume those views represent the organization as a whole. A post from a church member may lead people to think that the opinion is coming from the pastor or leadership of their local church or even the Church-with-a-capital-C, but oftentimes, it is no more than one person’s point of view.

Whatever the scenario, the end result is that bad information, harsh judgments, or hypocrisy will turn people away. People who read them may not be able (or willing) to distinguish between the individual’s point of view and that of the whole church.

9. “You Look Like You Have it All Together … and I’m Pretty Messed Up, So I Won’t Fit in.”

The picture-perfect Christian life can make even the best of us feel bad about ourselves. And if we’re not doing what we should be—say, refusing to forgive a friend, or spending zero time in prayer—then it only adds to the guilt when other people post about how holy they are. In their defense, most people don’t mean it that way. But when I see twelve posts in a row about friends’ quiet time, their word of the year, and what Bible studies are speaking to them—and I’ve forgotten how to talk to God, or I’m facing a stumbling block—these posts don’t draw me closer to God. Instead, they push me away because I feel inadequate.

The truth is that we all struggle. Some people let it all hang out and hold nothing back online, and others are more reserved because it’s important to them to only put their best foot forward, but none of us are perfect. We need to be careful how we show ourselves publicly.

We can be “real” while not being vulgar, hypocritical, or judgmental. When people see we’re flawed but still serving God anyway—recipients of His grace and love in spite of it all speak louder than any meme ever will.

10. “I Don’t Really Want to Talk to People Because I’m an Introvert, So I’ll Stick to Online Connections.”

Makes sense—except for the fact that much of what happens online remains superficial. Even when it goes deeper, we often allow it to substitute for direct interaction. I read an article once about how social media has damaged dating. People might have trouble making conversation because they’ve shared every detail of their lives all day—what they had for breakfast, which outfit they wore today, what book they’re reading, and so on. Then, when it’s time to talk face to face, they’ve used up all their small talk.

When we see someone on social media, we think we know them—but remember, people can carefully guard what they post and share. There’s more to a person than their profile reveals. Have you ever met someone and not recognized them because they look nothing like their profile picture? That shows that we really don’t know those people. An online presence is just one dimension of our personalities; true bonding between people may be more likely in person. A church is meant to equip believers to reach out and serve God together—and “together” is the key. Jesus and the Disciples were all about the personal connection and sharing of stories, so don’t give up on meeting people face-to-face, introvert or not. Your church will be stronger because of it.

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

It’s time to fight for kindness. Will you join me?

I’m sure you’ve seen posts on Facebook saying things like, “I can’t take it any more. I’m outta here.” Or “This negativity is getting to me. I’m taking a break.” And I’m sure you’ve witnessed the drama… the thinly veiled bashing of other people, whether or not actual names are used. The posts that purposely ...

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I’m sure you’ve seen posts on Facebook saying things like, “I can’t take it any more. I’m outta here.” Or “This negativity is getting to me. I’m taking a break.”

And I’m sure you’ve witnessed the drama… the thinly veiled bashing of other people, whether or not actual names are used. The posts that purposely stir people up. The click-bait headlines.  Closed-minded arguments, sweeping generalizations, broad stereotyping. The petty and just downright mean things people say online.

And during this election cycle… well, things have gotten ugly. I feel strongly, too, and I want people to see what I see, to know the “truth” as I believe it to be. I feel a very strong a sense of danger and foreboding, and I want to make sure people understand what is at stake. At the same time, I love to have open dialogue, to learn what makes you believe the way you do and to hear what’s behind my beliefs, too. But that rarely seems to happen. It might start out okay, but then it rapidly disintegrates.

There’s a verse in the Bible that I try to apply to all of my interactions:

“Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you. Matthew 7:6, NLT

No, I’m not calling people pigs. (Although sometimes that might be true.) The way I interpret this verse is this: Use wisdom. Think before you share something because this might not be the right time or the right place for this. Don’t waste your good words on someone who will trample them. Before you throw them out there, evaluate the environment.

Like many of you, I want to share things with people. I get it. I really do. Which is why being on Facebook the past few weeks has been hard on me emotionally. My spirit grieves. I mourn the ugliness and hatred. I have trouble picking myself up when these things pull me down.

When I say these things, I’m not pointing my finger at anyone. I’m as guilty as anyone else of giving in and telling about my crappy day, or complaining about poor service, or of getting snippy with someone who is perpetuating information without first fact-checking or seeing if there is even a vein of truth to it. I want to correct people’s perceptions, and sometimes even when people are accurate in their understanding, I just plain disagree and want to change their minds.

But there’s a time and a place for that. And based on what I’ve seen over the past years, but especially these past few months, I don’t believe Facebook is the place for it.

Because it’s not well-received. We sit behind our keyboards and screens and type things we would never speak face-to-face. We can have good, helpful, respectful conversations. It really is possible. But in my experience, those work best when we’re sitting at a table with cups of coffee in front of us, when we can see the expressions of our companion, when we can ask questions with nuances unavailable through emojis.

What grieves me the most is when I see a distinct lack of love and compassion from people who call themselves Christians. Each person’s faith, or lack thereof, is their own. I can’t judge it, and I try really hard not to. We each have to come to terms with the God we believe in. I’m proud to be a follower of Jesus. But I’m not proud that so many non-Christians look at the things being said and done in the name of Jesus, and they wonder what kind of God we have. They can’t accept someone who exhibits certain behaviors, and they see no appeal whatsoever to a life of following a God who supports this.

But one thing I know is that much of what I see doesn’t look or sound anything like the God I adore. I don’t know if I can say this without sounding like I’m judging and criticizing—but I’m truly heartbroken by what some of these behaviors tell the world about my God. Because the God I worship is one who loves. He always loves. Love comes first, before any change of heart, before any depths of understanding are reached. When people see love, they’re supposed to understand that we belong to God.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35

This, however, doesn’t seem to be the case as often as I’d like. So I’ve struggled. Do I need to leave Facebook for a while, too?

And then I decided NO. I will not leave. I don’t believe in running away when I don’t like something. I am a fixer. I want to try something new. I want to find creative solutions. I yearn to be the catalyst for a good kind of change.

The truth is, I have very little influence in this media-saturated culture—I have more Facebook friends than some, and a fraction of what others have—certainly not enough to pull this off on my own. And I really, really want to do something. Maybe I’m weird, but I happen to like Facebook. I enjoy reconnecting with people. I like feeling as though I have some general idea of what people are experiencing on a daily basis. I have found great encouragement from people who send the perfect message at just the right time. I have been lifted up by other people’s stories of God coming through, of those who witnessed the kindness of strangers, who were able to use this as a way to build people up, not tear them down.

So I decided to do something. Maybe it won’t make a bit of difference. But maybe, just maybe, it will. If you will help me.

Starting June 1, I am going to be posting kindness challenges for the next 21 days. They’re simple things—some focused on ourselves, some on others. A few are supported by Bible verses and prayer, and some are based on other quotes and ideas. This isn’t a spiritual campaign, necessarily—other than the fact that Jesus told us to do to others what we would have them do to us (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). But you don’t have to be a Christian to believe in respect and kindness and understanding. And to recognize that having more of those things present would surely be a good thing. I’ll be asking people to do things like spread a little happiness, share what inspires you, and lift up someone besides yourself—nothing hard, but maybe not the things that come automatically in response to what we see. I’m not calling for hypocrisy. Don’t just put on a happy front and be bitter and resentful underneath—that won’t help a thing. But I’m asking you, and I’m asking God, to try to change our hearts. To open us up to others. To realize that we’re all connected in many ways. To discover that, yes, we have differences. But we also have a lot in common. And that before we can see anything good happen, before we can turn a toxic environment into a nurturing, encouraging place to thrive, we have to take some steps towards what we want. Each one of us.

If you’re on Facebook, and if you, too, are unhappy with the atmosphere there, won’t you come along with me for this ride? I’m still naive and hopeful enough to think that we can make a difference. I know that 21 days is a short span of time. This is just the beginning. One step at a time… but if we take enough steps, pretty soon we’ll end up in a whole different place.

And everyone knows a trip is a whole lot more fun when your friends come along for the ride.

Click here to like the Facebook page and see the 21 days of kindness posts. #kindnesschallenge

Reaching one person at a time

It’s no secret that publishers like authors to have large platforms (which simply means they want us to have a large sphere of influence—through social media and other channels—being able to reach as many people as possible). I’ve been making myself crazy trying to meet—or exceed—their expectations. See, I was that annoying student in school ...

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It’s no secret that publishers like authors to have large platforms (which simply means they want us to have a large sphere of influence—through social media and other channels—being able to reach as many people as possible). I’ve been making myself crazy trying to meet—or exceed—their expectations. See, I was that annoying student in school who couldn’t just take a multiple-choice test. I had to write an essay in the margins explaining why B and C were both actually legitimate answers, but that I knew they were looking for B because of thus-and-so. If a book report was due, I designed a full-color book cover to go with it. I didn’t try to be annoying—it came naturally to me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not in my nature to under-achieve. I want to go above and beyond. And I’m doing everything I can possibly do, and the numbers aren’t where they’re supposed to be. I’m tired of thinking about it, and I know my friends are tired of hearing about it. As I was venting to another writer the other night, she reminded me that numbers aren’t everything. That not everyone reads blogs. That there are other ways to sell books. And that if God put me here, He will make it happen, no matter what I do. In spite of what I do.

And I really know that. I do. But I’ve been feeling disappointed in myself for not being able to make this happen faster. (Yes, I know: I cannot make it happen. Only God can. I get it. I’m hopeless.)

Tonight as I ate dinner, I was reading a book called Wherever the River Runs by Kelly Minter. And these words shouted to me from the page:

“…The saving knowledge of Jesus is not for the masses but for the individual,
which eventually makes up the masses.”

If you know me, you know that I’m not one who jumps and shouts at ballgames (or at church). But my little soul was whoopin’ and hollerin’ as the full truth of that expanded inside my heart. Jesus didn’t spread His message like we would suggest today—with blog posts and followers and pre-made tweets. He didn’t go on national news networks. There had to be more efficient ways to get His message to the masses. But, as you’ve heard me say before, He liked to do things upside down. He was busy—so He spent hours in prayer. He came to save the world, so He met with people one on one. And not through social media. Nicodemus wasn’t born again as the result of a powerful podcast, and Jesus didn’t text Zaccheus, “Get out of that tree. I’m coming to your house.”

Jesus stopped to talk with the Samaritan woman at the well. To Mary and Martha. To the adulterous woman. Even when He was in a crowd, He saw individuals—the blind men outside Jericho, the woman with the issue of blood, the paralytic lowered through the roof. He fed the masses, but He never neglected the individuals.

I’ve always believed Jesus came to give us the gift of relationship. To forge a bond with each of us, one person at a time, according to our own personalities and experiences. It is only when that connection is in place that truths are revealed. That change happens. That lives are changed.

And when I read what Kelly Minter wrote, I suddenly understood this blog thing in a new way, one I recognize as truth. Even though I’d love to have thousands of followers, even though it would be exciting to have a blog post go viral, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about connection. Relationship. It’s about the private messages on Facebook from women I barely know, sharing stories of their experiences. It’s about people responding when I ask if I can pray for them by pouring out their hearts in emails. It’s about being stopped on the street by a friend to talk about prayer, or meeting someone for coffee and talking about God.

Blogging is about letting myself be known as a way to invite you into my life.

I couldn’t articulate it before, but now I see that this is why, a couple months ago, I started writing the names of every new blog subscriber in the back of my journal. Because the individuals matter. Because I can run my finger down the list in prayer, asking for blessings for Kara and Dixie and Donna and Mark. Giving thanks for the people I’ve never met who took the time to subscribe. A friend tells me her mom, who I’ve never met, comments on every post as though she knows me. I hear stories about people sharing posts with their friends. These are the moments that bring tears to my eyes. The moments in which I raise my hands towards the sky. The moments I let my ego disappear and bow in humility before the One who lets me write. That’s the reason I’m here.

So if you read this, please know that you matter. “You” singularly and specifically, not “you” as in the plural masses. I’m not a huge online personality, and I may never be. I am real. And I am flawed and insecure and outspoken and occasionally self-centered and sometimes way off base. But I love God, I really do. I try to be authentic and true in every single word I write. And one of my favorite roles in this life is to be a friend.

I hope you’ll let me be one of yours. And I promise not to keep track of how many of you there are. Because I finally get it. To tell the truth, I’ve always known. This is why the numbers thing has been such a struggle for me. People are not numbers. Each person brings something different, something unique, into my life. I want the personal connections way more than I want to reach an arbitrary number. I let myself get distracted by the overachiever in me, the student who won’t settle for just 100%. I’m sorry.

Lord, thank You for Your revelation. I had it backwards. Upside-down, if you will. People are not the means to an end (and the book is not the end). Instead, the book is a method by which I can reach people, find new relationships. One at a time.

No more numbers talk from now on. Only people. And the one and only You. Amen.

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