I read an article recently advising pastors how to best deal with the frustration they may have with their congregation. It included a list of things that frustrate us from accomplishing what we would like to do and one was, yes, social media. The author’s point was to not let pastors’ boasts concerning the successes of their recent outreach or whatever to increase our level of frustration. In other words, some of our frustrations come from having false expectations. However, to me it was problematic that he gave no advice on how one should use social media. Perhaps he had none: many people are just passive consumers of social media and do not realize the opportunity it presents to tell the old, old story we love so well in fresh and appealing ways.
Also, this boasting on Facebook thing is not what I experience. I have heard this type of thing in general, that people are inventing idealized lives on Facebook and that we should not fall for it. I have thousands of Facebook acquaintances (not to boast!), and what I see is we are all going through a rough patch together. I have more of a problem with too many people complaining than friends bragging.
The church is going through a very rough patch. Congregations are losing influence, members and donations. You might have missed it, but the Alban Institute closed the other day. It is rather ironic that a nonprofit whose mission was to help pastors with burnout and congregations that needed to grow could apparently not turn itself around. Physician heal thyself. Doubly ironic to me were the ads that were on the pages surrounding the article about how pastors would be much happier if they had more realistic expectations. One ad promised 20% increase in donations if you purchased their program, and another said that by the year 2025 congregations would lose 50% of their membership, but they, of course, could prevent that if, you guessed it, we bought what they were selling.
My free advice today is to say take advice with a grain of salt. When looking for advice turn to the Bible. The models we find there are more sure to work because they were, are and will be true. Advice like “return to your first love” may be all we need.
The last thread for me to pick up here from above is on how one should use social media. Do it biblically! All scripture is God-breathed and God’s Word does not return empty, so post that Bible verse, give that link to you latest sermon, and put your messages on a pod cast. I try to provide a mix of things, but not everything. I do some sports and politics but not much, preferring to find things that are very interesting to a general audience and then inserting things now and then about a mission or ministry to support. Think of yourself as having a variety show. It is essential that people keep coming back, so post things that engage people.
We will get through this rough patch together if we keep God’s Word the main thing. We may do that primarily in Word and Sacrament, but in today’s culture where the Nones are the fastest growing religious grouping we need to go to the highways and byways to proclaim God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Social media is made for that. Don’t use it passively. Have a strategy. Be consistent.