By Jonathan Howe
While advocating for social media and online engagement by pastors and church staff, I’m continually asked about parameters for engagement. The problem is that every situation is unique. There’s not a one-size-fits-all recommendation for social media and online engagement by pastors and church staff.
Facebook is different than Twitter, and both of those are different than the world of blogging. Since Facebook is the most popular platform, it is often the most used and most abused by church members. A pastor or church staff member on Facebook can be a valuable resource to church members as well as a big target.
There are many positives for pastors and church staff who are active on Facebook.
- Your members are there. Because it’s the most used platform, your church members are likely to be there, too. It makes communication easier for you and the church.
- Your members can see that you have a life outside of church. Because of the ease of sharing pictures and events from your everyday life, members can get to know more about you as a person. They get to see that you have a life outside of your job at the church.
- You are easy to connect with and contact. Because of the ease of connection on Facebook, church members and community members can connect with you and, by extension, the church. Facebook can become a great outreach tool if you connect well with those in the church and community through its platform.
Ironically, the positives that Facebook can bring you online can also be negatives.
- Your members are there. Church members can see everything you say or do online. Things can easily be misconstrued, misinterpreted, or misrepresented. I’ve seen something as simple as changing ones profile picture lead to an inquisition about searching for a new job.
- Your members can see that you have a life outside of church. Churches are often busy. Church staffs are often even busier. But what about that one event not in your area of ministry that you choose not to attend? The one you skipped for your kid’s play or for a trip with lifelong friends? You can almost expect someone to be upset you chose something else over him or her. It’s not fair. It’s not right. But it will likely happen.
- You are easy to connect with and contact. For many pastors or church staff members, their busiest time on Facebook is often Sunday mornings. People often post or message them about being out of town or being sick or needing someone to fill in. Because of the ease of access, Facebook connections are subject to abuse by church members at times.
You might expect me to weigh the pros and cons and determine whether or not you should be on the platform—but that is for you to decide. As for me, even with the cons, the positives of Facebook and the opportunities it presents for ministry far outweigh the temporary frustrations of the negatives.
We also have to risk being careful regarding “liking” political posts. Also, I often want to post things but am afraid someone will be offended ie- a Thom Rainer article about things wrong with the church.
That’s a great point. People read a lot into “likes”
Social media is also where you find out for whom to pray. It is also where pastors find out who is ill or has lost family members.
Another great addition to the “pro” list
For some church members, FB messaging is their primary form of communication, so for that reason alone I feel I need to be on it. I find it helpful, also, to keep updated on situations needing prayer. I have been both encouraged and discouraged by what I see our church folk posting, thankfully much more of the former than the latter. Either way, I find it helpful to be in the know.
I’d agree, Richard.
I like the transparency and the two way feedback. I am constantly reminded to post whatever is pure and good so I can my Facebook posts fun and informative.
That’s a great reminder, Mark.
I use FB for many purposes, mostly to encourage folks in the Lord. I also preview my upcoming Sunday messages. At times I have done my infamous “FACE BOOK POLL” by asking my friends their opinions on a subject or to tell me stories about times when God worked in their lives. For instance, “Give me an example of a time when God instantly turned your fear into faith.” Those comments become some pretty good message material. Or it can be pop culture questions like, “What was your all-time favorite tear-jerker movie?” (got over 700 responses to that)
That’s another good use, David. Thanks for sharing.
I often wonder if it was easier to pastor before Facebook. Every time I see a picture of one of my congregants in a bar or sharing a meme with obscene language my self-esteem takes a hit and I have to wonder if anyone is really listening to me on Sundays. I could suspect that these things happened before Facebook, but now I know for sure!
But, it has been a great way to stay connected with visitors and members and to find out about needs that people have.
Jason, that’s a great question.
This is so right on! Facebook and Twitter can serve the Church, but I had to learn the hard way by writing some political opinions as replies to posts with which I strongly disagreed. 2 families picked up on this and because they were not of the same political tradition, they decided to leave the church and join another more liberal congregation. The Staff Support Team discussed the freedom of speech rights of a pastor off the job, but concluded that the pastor is a representative of the church 7-24-365 and should not publish controversial comments on public media.
That’s another good reminder. Pastors are pastors online as well.
On one level, I agree with the Staff Support reasoning. But on another level, I question why Pastors shouldn’t be allowed to express their own opinions on their own pages. It’s not as though the Pastor is writing on the church’s page………that would be wrong, for sure. But why can’t Pastors be just like the rest of us, with our own opinions, stated on our own pages? My husband never preaches politics of any kind from the pulpit or at church events (unless asked) but uses his own page to post all kinds of articles, comments, reactions and discussions on economics (he is also an adjunct professor), politics etc. He is not representing the church in that forum. It truly is a fine line, here.
My situation is a bit different, since I’m a missionary. But we have been in church ministry and had facebook then as well. I’ve found that facebook has its definite strengths. We keep connected to people from all over the world, here in Haiti and also from home. I’ve met people on planes who have connected to what we are doing here through it. I’ve “met” people who liked something I wrote, through a post a friend commented on, and they have come and connected too. Some of them have even sent us financial support. I contributed to a book through a woman who is a published author and speaker (not self published) and she connected to me through a group I did some speaking for, liked how I wrote, and asked me to contribute a chapter to her new book. My past has caught up with me too there, in a good way. Individuals I went to elementary school and haven’t seen since I was thirteen are now supporting our missions work. My pastor from home, who is in his 80’s, my youth group leaders who were volunteers at the time, the list goes on and on. For all its hang ups, which are many and obvious I think to all of us, facebook has been a valuable ministry resource in our lives, when used wisely.
Yes! I have several missionary friends who do a great job keeping people updated stateside.
I think one con isn’t that Facebook can be a place where it’s easy to begin emotional affairs/look at pornography if a pastor struggles in that area. I think it’s good to have accountability and parameters for using it. But can definitely be a great tool!
*one con is
Facebook is also a good breeding ground for marital unfaithfulness is one is not careful. No, this is NOT the voice of personal experience, but I have read about others getting into trouble this way, and I can see how it could happen. You’re correct: accountability is the key. I never post anything on Facebook – including private messages – that I wouldn’t want my wife to see.
I had to get off of facebook as a pastor simply because of the stress that it caused me. I felt compelled at times to “police” it by commenting on appropriate posts by church members. The Lord convicted me and reminded me I was a pastor and not a facebook cop. I deleted my account, never looked back, and my joy has increased!
Sorry…should have said “inappropriate” in the post above.
I know it can be disillusioning to see things people post, but I figure they’ll have to answer for that, not I. On the other hand, Facebook is a terrible time-waster. That’s where I have to watch myself.
That’s a good caution.
I too got off for the same reason. I am healthier and so is my church. I do manage the church FB page, so I can offer encouragement and make announcements to the members.
There’s also something tricky about being Facebook friends with members of the church. Should you be friends with everyone, even the wants you don’t want to be friends with(!). This has been a struggle for me and my personal policy now is that I don’t “friend request” anyone in the church, but I will accept if they “friend request” me. Church politics is surely the most difficult kind of politics to deal with!
I fully understand Patrick’s position of feeling tempted to police church members Facebook pages, particularly those inappropriate posts. What I eventually did was to stop “following” them while still being Facebook friends. It just mean that their posts were no longer appearing on my newsfeed and frustrating me.
I had considered going off Facebook, but while some might use it as a tool for division and hate, it can be used as a tool for good. I was recently told by a high school RE teacher that social media is one of the biggest influences on how they form their world view and so it is vital that the church is also able to engage with them at this level, although it can (should?) never replace face-to-face encounters, it gives us a platform to begin the conversation.
Friending everyone is definitely a question. I’m not sure how the best way to handle it is, but I like your method.
I just saw how terribly I wrote that last paragraph. I was referring to how teenagers form their world view based on what they read and see online and so it is important that the church is engaging with them at this level too.
I am the worship leader at my small church, and I use FB for ministry. It’s a traditional church in which I have introduced more contemporary music. God is teaching the congregation how to worship Him in His ways, not just the traditional ways of conservative churches. FB is a great way to post scriptures about what God says about what, where, why, how, and when we praise and worship Him.
I do post other things of interest, but FB’s main purpose for me is to teach people what God says about praise and worship.
Truth is always better than ignorance or pretending. To me if you unfollow so you don’t have to know what they are doing you are not wanting to know the truth about your congregation. You will know about the reality oftheir lives outside of the 4 walls. That is the reality as pastors and leaders we should be understand and seek Gods guidance.
For example:Truth was painful this year. As a mother of a bi-racial daughter it was painful to see the horrible racism exhibited by fellow believers. in FB. A man nominated for the church council had posted horrible racial slurs on his FB. Neither the pastor nor the council was willing to deal with it so it just sits out there. We have lost all our minoriry members including our family.
The truth shall set you free- Jesus
Nothing showed the great spiritual divide than what was played out in social media.
As a leader in ministry I urge leaders to seek wisdom
Sorry hit send too quick- ignore last incomplete sentence
I didn’t choose to unfollow because I didn’t want to know what they were doing as much as what they were saying was trying to stir up trouble with me and it was taking up too much of my energy and was very hurtful. I have no problem with correcting or questioning the wisdom (or witness) of comments, but when comments or posts were veiled attacks on me or my family, it became unhealthy for me to see this every time I went onto Fcebook.
I 100% agree with you that people need to be pulled up for some things that are said on Facebook and I would not shy away from this. It is so sad when people do the things you have mentioned. We are the Church of God, whether in a building on a Sunday morning or sitting in our living room posting on Facebook and so we need to always behave like we are the Church of God.
Attacks on your family are another thing altogether and you do not have to defend your actions to protect your family. I actually think I hit reply to you instead of the article so my apologies.
I gave up FB for Lent and it has been a very revealing time!
My pastor at our large church got a Facebook account but didn’t make it known. When he started getting friend requests from people in the congregation, he deleted it. I know this because he explained it during his sermon one Sunday. I forget what he said.
Now he still mentions seeing what people are doing and saying on Facebook but he doesn’t have an account.
Not sure how that works.
This article (and others like it) are great reminders that Facebook and other social media sites are tools and not ends unto themselves. Like any other tool, they have their proper uses. And, they can also be used inappropriately. Unlike most tools, however, making mistakes with them is often permanent.
I would suggest at least one more con – it gets in the way between people and can hamper true human communion.
Many of the posts above see the benefits of staying in touch, of easy (or easier) communication. Those are benefits. They are not benefits solely of facebook.
Not to belabor the obvious, but we all did find ways to keep in touch, ways to find out what was going on in each others’ lives, and ways to communicate before the internet, and before facebook.
Facebook and twitter have a sort of inhuman sterility. You’re communicating by staring at a screen and typing, or reading. The person is not there. The visual, tactile, body language, and other sense clues are absent – clues that carry a great deal more information.
Communication is not a single thing, a commodity that is completely interchangeable. The medium (internet/social) does strongly shape, and truncate, the message.
This article is about a pastor’s personal use of Facebook. I find it helpful, for some the reasons listed above, to have a church Facebook page. Anytime new content is posted to the church website I share a link from the church’s FB page. I also feel a little more comfortable being less formal and a little more personal on the FB page than on the official church website. I’ve never pastored a big church (1000+ on Sunday morning) but I’m thinking engaging with members on a church FB page might be a happy medium between “friending” everyone and deleting FB altogether.
Even if you choose not to friend you do still get bombarded with “friend” requests. This drove me nuts ;-).!!!! Only one factor that led me to vacate FB.
I am not on Facebook. Although I am computer savvy and have tried various social networking vehicles, I find them distracting and consuming. I really prefer texting and emailing and good old fashioned face to face. Also, many years ago, pre-FB, I experienced being stalked and it was quite disconcerting. Hence I feel a bit too vulnerable putting my personal info out on the internet to the degree people can easily find me. With that said, although there are a myriad of pros for using FB in ministry, and I do not disagree with them, I also feel we need to be careful. There are many in our churches who are not on FB and if we use it exclusively for communication or activities, notifications, information, group connections, etc. we are excluding those who do not subscribe. I personally have experienced this in our own church, where my husband and I have fellowshipped for well over 20 years, as our women’s ministry is using FB exclusively for most everything. I only find out about things if someone thinks to let me know as very few activities are posted anywhere else. Although I know it is not personal, it still invokes a feeling of being excluded. I believe this can create a fragmented church experience that resembles “clickiness”, even though unintentional. In the case of our church we are losing families and I think women’s ministry and the inclusiveness of the FB community might be a factor. I have been in prayer about addressing this to our leadership. Finding discussion does help with perspective.