Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

June, 2012

  1. Who is this site for and what will I find here?

    The goal of the New Media Project is to help religious leaders think theologically about technology. Read more about us under the About tab. On this site, you’ll find a robust blogging community addressing all sorts of current issues in technology. We focus mostly on social media. Under the Findings tab, you’ll see the results of our work including theological essays, case studies, and questions to explore the body of work herein. You can sign up to receive our e-newsletter (bottom right of every page) or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. All of our work is focused on Christian communities, but we hope some of the stories and themes are applicable in interfaith contexts as well.

  2. How do I get started?
  3. The Recommendations page may be the easiest way into this body of work, especially if you are new to social media.  Or start with the case studies for some excellent stories of congregations and organizations doing innovative things with new media.  To begin thinking theologically about technology, dive into our theological essays and questions.  Don’t forget to explore the blog archive (right column of blog page).  We have some excellent blog writers.

    If you mean, how do I get started with social media: as we say in our recommendations, experiment, ask people who know how to do this to show you, and keep in mind your mission and the character of your tradition. Go forth boldly.

  4. I’m not a technology novice, what do you have to offer?

    You may want to go directly to the theological essays on this site. Very few scholars or pastors have delved into theological themes related to new media the way we have. In fact, we hope our writing will spur more conversation and writing on the topic. So step back from the daily work of tweeting and status updates, and help us explore how this is impacting the formation of communities, the way we talk about embodiment, how churches are structured, whether doctrines (such as salvation) might be changing, and what the past might teach us about the present and the future.

  5. Are there examples of congregations and organizations doing this well?

    Yes. In 2011, we conducted case studies on four congregations, one institution, and one online network. You can read those studies on this site. But you will find examples and links to others who are doing this well throughout the site, especially on the blog. You also might explore the Diigo bookmarking group we’ve created to collect stories and blogs about social media and religion.

  6. Do you teach how to do social media?

    We are not the place to find a workshop on how to build a website or what the difference is between Facebook and Google +. While we gather some of that expertise (under the Resources tab and on the Diigo group) that is not our expertise; others do that better than we do. What we are trying to do is step back and think theologically with religious leaders about why these changing patterns and tools of communication matter to the church and to the world around us. We hope to begin workshops on these kinds of topics in 2013 and beyond.

  7. What are the dangers or pitfalls that I should be cautious about?

    We may like social media, but we are not unaware of the problems and challenges related to using social media in our society and in our churches today. Explore “When to be cautious and concerned,” part of the recommendations we offer on this site.

  8. What have you learned? What are your recommendations?

    We’ve learned most younger clergy use social media but they use it in a variety of ways, and some don’t particularly like it while others do. We’ve learned that the best social media practices arise from the mission and purpose of congregations and communities, not from the dazzle of new social media applications. We’ve learned that leadership makes a huge difference.

    We’ve learned so much from the case studies, from writing the essays, from those who comment on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, from interviews, and from our own research and our own use of social media. Explore the Recommendations pages for a summary of our best thinking at this time.

  9. I’m already overwhelmed as a pastor (or leader) already, how can I do more?

    Good question. Using social media well does take time—time to understand the patterns of use that accompany the tools, time to think about how you will approach them, and time to implement their use over time. At first it may feel like additional work, but those who integrate social media into their lives find it more fluid than they expected it would be. And it changes some of your patterns of communication so that you are not simply adding on. Many users also set limits, or as we might say in the world of religion: technology “sabbath” time.

    We think that moving into the world of social media is no longer an option for religious leaders because it is rapidly becoming a new context in which religious life and ministry occur. Sharing the gospel is at stake. But you can choose tools and patterns that fit your ministry style and more quickly integrate them into your life. We hope the material on this site will help you.

  10. How do I think theologically about all of this?

    Ah, that is the question. You might start with some of our basic questions, then move into the theological essays we’ve written. We would recommend you read our blog and our work over time so that this kind of worldview begins to shape your own thinking. But please move into using and thinking about social media with an open mind. Don’t go into it with only your critical thinking hat on, looking for all of the problems. Don’t overlook the moral and ethical problems therein, but do also look intentionally for the potential blessings and opportunities to contribute to the flourishing of life inherent in some of these new patterns of communication. Much of this is so new that religious leaders can have a significant impact on shaping how new media is re-shaping culture and church.

  11. Is there wireless in heaven?

    Okay, so maybe this is not a FAQ, but it’s a fun question, right? And given how rapidly interest in religious practices is diminishing among younger people who also tend to use technology more than older generations, it may become an FAQ sooner than we think.

    The question pushes us into the theological realm and begs us to consider how what we believe about God and the world might embrace or repel new technology. Monica A. Coleman’s essay on salvation is one great example.

  12. Has social media amplified the church’s approaches to social justice?

    In some instances, yes. And they have the potential to do more. Several of our case studies and blog posts explore how churches are using social media toward and social justice ends (Monica A. Coleman). We suspect this will increase over time.

  13. How new is new media, anyway? What’s the big deal? Haven’t we been through technology revolutions before?

    Yes. Two of our theological essays explore how not new it is for societies to undergo revolutions in new technology that profoundly change how they function and think about themselves. What lessons might we learn from keeping an historical perspective? Jason Byassee and Lerone A. Martin help us do this, while also pointing us to the future. And just because we’ve been through such dramatic changes before doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attend to this change now as carefully as possible.

  14. My church values small groups. Do social media destroy that? Do social media ruin or diminish the occurrences of face-to-face interactions?

    We have found that social media at their best help to facilitate face-to-face interactions, not replace them. Our case study research did not find a diminishment—one subject uses social media to help small groups stay in touch between face-to-face meetings. Another case study subject reported an increase in gatherings as a result of their effort. Kathryn Reklis’ essay on the Incarnation explores this question thoroughly. Verity A. Jones’ essay on Trinity asks some fundamental questions about community formation.

  15. My church believes in authority. Don’t new media create chaos?

    Perhaps. But the question may be: how does your tradition think about chaos and change? In fact, how your tradition thinks about authority, structure, practices, and belief may have a huge impact on how it embraces or resists technology. Jim Rice’s essay on models of church explores how important Ecclesiology is in this new context, and how it might be changing.

  16. How do race, gender, class, and age figure into this? Do they make a difference?

    Certainly. We’ve written some on these specific topics (Jim Rice, Monica A. Coleman, Lerone A. Martin, Gregg Brekke, Verity A. Jones). We would also encourage you to review some of the research on social media users in general (not just church people) found on the Social media users page. You will also find a variety of insights into particular demographic settings in our case studies.

  17. Should the demographics of my church inform the tools that I adopt?

    We believe so, yes. In fact, not just your church’s demographics, but its mission and purpose should inform the social media tools you adopt and the approach you take to their use. Here are a few blog posts on the topic (Kathryn Reklis, Lerone A. Martin). You might also find Jim Rice’s essay on models of church helpful.

  18. Can small churches do this as well, or do you need a big staff and big budget?

    Social media tools do not need to be expensive. There are number of affordable website templates. Some churches are using free Facebook pages in lieu of websites. Twitter is free. It does take time, however. You might look to church volunteers to “champion” social media use on behalf of the congregation. One of our case studies, House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, is a small congregation. You might find their story particularly interesting.

  19. What should pastors do when they see alarming posts in social media, especially from younger people in their communities?

    We have learned that pastors approach this challenge in a variety of ways. Some intervene online, gently nudging folks with a comment or update. Some pick up the telephone and call. Of course, some tell us they have misjudged a situation and failed to respond appropriately. Just because it’s on social media doesn’t mean your response has to stay there. One of our recommendations is that ministry can move well between online and face-to-face interactions.

  20. Can we promote learning and authentic discussion via social media?

    If this is your mission, then certainly you can do so. Keep in mind the limitations of the medium as well as the benefits, and build an approach that encourages openness and respect both online and off. One of the benefits of social media is that networks therein already exist. Imagine having a theological discussion with church members on a social network that church members’ friends might also see … and then engage … or come to church.

  21. How widespread is the use of social media among clergy? Has it changed the way they communicate with their congregations?

    Expansive studies on clergy use of social media do not yet exist. The New Media Project has begun to implement surveys of clergy about how they use social media. One survey result is available on our site. We’ve conducted another survey that we are analyzing this summer.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact