By Jonathan Howe
Earlier this year I wrote about social media mistakes that churches make. Those were quite general and involved church communications. And while there is some overlap with personal social media accounts, there are some distinct mistakes made by church leaders that are typically not made by church accounts.
- Customer service rants. Too many pastors and church leaders have reputations of being keyboard warriors. Not a week goes by where I don’t see a pastor or church leader fire off a series of tweets about a customer service issue that in many cases the company can’t control. These typically amount to no more than Twitter temper tantrums. They are mostly ineffective and create a less-than-favorable impression of the pastor or church leader and the church they represent.
- Theological warring. No one ever wins. No one ever changes his/her mind. But we still battle over theology through 140 characters. There is a difference in standing for truth and trying to win every fight you’re not invited to. We would be good to remember James 1:19-20 and “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (HCSB). Unfortunately, we too often turn our anger up to 11 online, and the results are burned bridges and a damaged gospel witness.
- Starting tweets with @. This is a shift in the type of mistakes that were previously listed. However this is the most common error I see on Twitter. There are reports this may soon change, but as of now, when you start a tweet with @, only the people who follow both you and whomever you mention see that tweet. So a tweet talking about Thom Rainer’s new book, Who Moved My Pulpit?, would need a punctuation mark before the @ at the beginning. Typically a period is used. Here is an example “.@ThomRainer has a great new book out on leading change in the church.” The mistake would be to omit the period at the beginning: “@ThomRainer has a great new book…”
- Using a Facebook group instead of a page. Unless you need to keep information private and only within a set group (maybe for a Bible study or small group), use Facebook pages, not groups. I’ve seen student ministries, children’s ministries, and even churches with groups when they should have been using pages. For a breakdown on the differences, see this article.
- Forgetting the permanence of social media. I have a whole folder of screen shots of example after example of social media mistakes. Most of them are funny typos or unfortunate word choices that just change the meaning of a tweet or post. They are harmless errors that have long since been deleted from the hosting site. But I have a copy. And I’m probably not the only one who does. Now imagine a seriously harmful tweet or picture. Think of how many people might have screen shots. You may delete the tweet or post from a website, but it will still likely exist on someone else’s hard drive.
- Forgetting who is watching. I’ll readily admit that this is the mistake I make the most. Every time I tweet something, more than 4,000 people could read it. Please don’t take that as being prideful. My point is that I fall into the trap of thinking my Twittersphere consists of just me and a few of my friends. I forget about the other 3,990 people who don’t know what I’m doing at the time of the tweet or have little context for my comments. It’s easy for our tweets to be taken the wrong way when we are not precise with our words.
- Retweeting compliments. There are ways to acknowledge someone who says something nice about you or your work without boasting about it. But when you retweet a compliment (even with a humble thank you), all humility is lost in the eyes of those reading. To the general public, retweeting compliments is nothing more than boasting. Even worse, when we make it a pattern of our online behavior, we become like a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal—our content becomes empty and hollow.
These seven mistakes are the ones I see (and commit) most often. What would you add?
Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week, and the managing editor of LifeWayPastors.com. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.
I’ve always understood that individual ministries should be groups rather than pages – has this line of thinking changed?
You might be confusing profiles (a personal account) with pages (a ministry page). Groups are more for private discussions and tighter knit communities. If this is for a public ministry, I’d lean toward a page.
This is great! Perhaps falling under “forgetting the permanence of social media” would be sharing a post that has a questionable origin.
Enjoyed this Jonathan. I think that this article needs to be sent to all churches and pastors that have social media, because it details some very important things. I especially liked the breakdown of how facebook pages and groups work.
I’ve seen numerous church facebook pages that are closed profiles that have to be added as a “friend”. Small story coming: I was in the process of applying for a position at a church, and before I did, I wanted to find out more about their ministry. So, of course, I checked their social media presence. I came to find that the page was one of these closed profiles, so not much information could be gleaned. I added the church as a friend (way, way before I applied) and have never been added.
Worse yet, in another situation, the former pastor “owned” the church’s facebook page. When he left, the page was useless and barren. A few weeks before he left there was a message that “this page will be shut down because the pastor is leaving.” Finally, the new pastor took it down and built a proper facebook “fan” page and it is a thriving page now. It seems that every church needs a social media team WITH guidelines on what to post.
Thanks for sharing. Those are great examples.
Liking something without looking at the source. Sometimes a very innocuous post or meme is linked to a Facebook page that regularly posts inappropriate material. Your Facebook friends will see on their news feed a advertisement for a Facebook Group or Page who of their friends also like this group. Careful what you link yourself with.
Accepting any friend request. I can’t tell you how many predator request I get. If you are a minister and get a friend request from a woman that doesn’t have any other friends or any other information about her, don’t accept it.
Using the wrong image size for your blog post that push to Facebook or for your ministries cover image. Check your image sizes. It’s irritating to see everyone’s heads cut off or vital information like times and dates not visible.
You also forgot about “ALL CAPPS GUY”. Don’t be all caps guy.
That “liking something without looking at the source” can really com back to bite you. And i have the scars to prove it.
Sometimes on blogs pastors offer different answers to issues than are mentioned from the pulpit. While I understand the need for this different discussion as many older, “good church-going” people may not want to hear about topics that frequently come up on blogs, it is easy for pastors and bloggers to have multiple faces. Basically, they are conservative in the pulpit to please one group of people and moderate on the blog to not ostracize the younger.
I would add complaining online about church issues or individuals in the church. Unfortunately, I’ve seen passive aggressive posts “to whom it may concern” blasting people for their attitude or something they’ve done. I don’t think we should vent online about our inevitable frustrations related to church goings on. Not only is it immature, it’s not a good testimony and could do real damage.
Totally agree. This is an offshoot of forgetting who all can see what you write. And when you do it intentionally, well, that’s even worse.
There was a statement you made that really grabbed me. You stated, “There is a difference in standing for truth and trying to win every fight you’re not invited to.”
I thought that was an excellent way to phrase the issue, and I have never heard it expressed that way. Thank you for a thought-provoking way to explain a problem that sometimes occurs.
One problem are that I see often on church pages or groups is over-sharing. Let’s be careful to respect the privacy of those we are lifting up in prayer. I’d rather see something like, “Please pray for Sister Betty” than a detailed medical report.
I would add:
-Remember that you don’t always have to be “pastor.” You need to be aware that people are watching for sure, but also be a human being. You’re not always needing to influence ALL of your Facebook friends as a pastor. I’ve seen this more with some older pastors and church wives. It makes them seem inauthentic. Like they think they have to shepherd everyone. Often times we just want so see them as themselves. Not them trying to constantly lead and influence.
-Also, some pastors can unknowingly create an environment where social media becomes a place to showcase others. When a pastor tweets or posts about socializing with church members all the time and praises said church members it can create this environment where insecure church members feel like they have to “get recognized” by that pastor on social media in the same way. And then church members start doing the same thing with others to get noticed by the pastors. “Look at me honoring our fellow church member by talking about how spiritual he/she is.” I know that sounds weird and some of this is good to do. But too much means you create a “show and tell” environment on social media. People think they have to show the world how much they love other people at church so others notice them and their spirituality. It all stems from pride and insecurity and we see that outside the church too. I just think pastors need to be careful they aren’t creating a “look at me!” mentality environment. Encourage in public for sure. But not all the time and not for every situation.
Great points. Thanks, Julie!
I think pastors need to be careful about saying anything negative about nearly anything..even something as innocuous as a celebrity, a sports figure, a sports team, etc. You may think you are joking, but if you make a snarky comment about a sports figure or sports pro/college team that you don’t like, the people out there who love that person/team/etc aren’t going to view that favorably. It just serves no purpose to be negative, period. Part of the deal , fair or not, of being a pastor.
“Every time I tweet something, more than 4000 people could read it. ” Thank you! Thank you! I am not a church leader or a pastor, but I do let it be known I am a Christian on facebook; I don’t know enough about Twitter to do much. I try to be careful in what I post, repost (“share”), and “like”, but I’m sure anything can be taken in the wrong way. Plus, I’m not the greatest typist!!, so I have to re read things to make sure I spelled “it” right.
Thank you for the reminder! The rest were good as well, but that stood out to me.
One quick question though: what is the difference in ‘page’ versus ‘group’ ?
I’m pretty much fascinated that there is a website which is talking about growing healthy churches together and even more that I found an article on social media topic here.