When to be cautious and concerned

Explore our recommendations regarding the general world of social media, especially if getting into it for the first time. Or return to the Recommendations page for more. Explore the Findings tab for more information about the rest of our work.

  1. Remember that the church is not just a collection of people in communion together, but rather that we are brought together by the Holy Spirit in the name of Christ; that is, the church is not just a social connecting point.
  2. Don’t be too quick to blame new media for distraction or lack of spiritual discipline. Church leaders throughout the ages have exhorted (or harangued) the faithful to be more mindful, more contemplative, more engaged. New media may present new challenges to our multi-tasking, distracted minds, but it also brings new possibilities for connection, relationship, and presence across time and space. Think intentionally with your communities about the spiritual disciplines you value and when and how new media enables or hinders them.
  3. Don’t do “Facebook for the Lord.” If it feels overly programmed, vetted, like a broadcast commercial, it won’t work. It has to be like a conversation. Leave space after you talk for the other person to chime in.
  4. Resist using hyperbolic rhetorics. New media will neither save the church, nor damn the church. Some speak of the democratizing effect of digital media, of its abolition of authority structures. They may be changing, but they are not disappearing. Nadia Bolz-Weber, one of our case study subjects, is highly clerical in her ministry. Yet she tweets.
  5. Likewise, beware of others’ hyperbolic rhetorics. Question assumptions about social media. Ask whether hierarchical authority structures have just been replaced by flatter, but still as powerful, authority structures. In other words, has social media and new media simply accelerated the transfer of authority from traditional leadership to charismatic leadership as expressed through “hits” and “followers” and “likes?”
  6. Don’t act out of fear. Don’t get online out of fear that something bad will happen if you don’t. It most likely won’t. Don’t not get online out of fear that something bad will happen if you do. It most likely won’t. Go forward in faith, in response to God’s calling, not out of the negative motivation of fearing what will happen if …
  7. Don’t deliver difficult news online. That can show a lack of respect for the people with whom you are in relationship. Be brave enough to talk to the major stakeholders face-to-face. And take food.
  8. Manage your boundaries. While using social media, it is essential to keep in mind the importance of balance, of keeping a healthy perspective as new tools evolve, and not letting digital media take over your life. Some ideas: don’t check in online on your day off. Or first thing in the morning. Or last thing at night. Boundaries can be very difficult to maintain in an online, all access, all the time world. Ask questions about how much of your private life you will share, how much about your family? Is this Facebook page for the ministry or for myself and how do I delineate the two, or should I even try?
  9. The same temptations for obsessive overuse exist online as they do offline. Be careful not to become addicted, not because social media aren’t worth it, but because addiction of any sort can too easily distort relationships and communities. If you need help, limit your social media use to certain times of the day, or limit the number of friends you really follow, or plan to take social media sabbaths once a week, or once a month, or once a year.
  10. Be careful of the permanence and pervasiveness of online postings. We don’t yet know what it will mean for today’s teenagers to find their “honest teenage selves” captured online when they are 35 years old and up for a major promotion at work. If you don’t want it out there 20 years from now, then don’t put it out there now. And if you are an employer, take care how you evaluate people online.
  11. Fetishization of social media is a danger, indeed. Remember that content is king. The message that is shared continues to be as important as the means and character of the sharing. The purpose for social media use by a church should always be about drawing nearer to God and growing stronger in discipleship—not about being “better” at social media. Beware the dazzle of new toys.
  12. It’s a good idea to set a social media policy (including copyright issues) for any organization that has an online presence. There are a number of examples you can explore online. Ask your judicatory as well.
  13. It is extremely important to keep children safe online, and churches can play an important role. Here we share resources and ideas for how to do this. Check it out. Be careful sharing children’s photos and names online as well. Always ask for permission from parents or guardians.
  14. Remember that no matter how amazing you and your congregation think you are, everything you have to say may not actually be that interesting. Maintain some humility with your social media use. If content and the message continue to be important, then perhaps you don’t need to share what you had for breakfast … unless there is a theme or purpose to such sharing.
  15. Don’t forget that older generations are quickly adopting mobile technology. Be careful of your biases and assumptions about social media and who uses the tools.
  16. Learn about the corporate interests behind the development of devices and hardware, applications and software, services and content. Someone pays for this technology even if it’s not always you. Cool, open source, friendly, popular stuff is not immune to the power of money.
  17. Give attention to the danger inherent in the speed of new media. Think carefully before sending out messages. Consider waiting a full day if you are feeling particularly emotional about something. Even a few minutes can help you detect errors in tone … or spelling.
  18. Respect confidentiality even in this wide open new media context. If it would be confidential in person, then treat it as such online. Your friends may not go to your church, but their friends’ friends may. Such considerations might be appropriate for a social media policy for the church or organization.
  19. Remember to ask another basic question as you make decisions about new media and social media: How will this decision affect the poor and the marginalized? If you can’t arrive at a quick answer, research it. And find ways to build bridges instead of walls.
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 newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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Verity A. Jones talks about best practices and the conference (short)
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