"As the social networking train gathers momentum, some riders are getting off. Their reasons run the gamut from being besieged by online 'friends' who aren't really friends to lingering concerns over where their messages and photos might materialize. If there's a common theme to their exodus, it's the nagging sense that a time-sucking habit was taking the "real" out of life."
Even with 400 million users on board, there is something to this notion of people dropping out. In my own case, my youngest daughter, Jillian, perhaps one of the most social people on Planet Earth dropped Facebook a couple years back. (That was about the time I got on the Facebook train. But I'm sure that was only coincidence!) In addition, some of those closest to me, my brother Todd, my best friend Roc, my remarkably ever-youthful Dad never signed up for the social network hoopla to begin with.
But those of us concerned with making an impact for Christ in our world and in our neighborhoods should not be quick to abandon this most useful tool. With all the flaws that come along with Facebook and the like, there's plenty to like as well. I now have the ability to stay in touch with my parishioners in a way that was unheard of even 5 years ago. For example, a quick perusal of my Facebook account this morning reminded me that one of our church attendees is celebrating a birthday today. (Heather, again Happy Birthday!) And I can't begin to tell you how many people will choose to send me messages through Facebook instead of looking up my email, or God forbid, actually call me.
Some will be quick to conclude that such "messaging" is the very definition of less faceless friendships. But I welcome it with open arms and am thankful for the opportunity to be more connected. I know I have opportunities now through social media technology that I never would have had otherwise.
Social networking is as old as mankind. It's only the technology that's new. And like any new technology, we need to learn the rules about how to use it well. Sites like Facebook are not going away any time soon. Why else would Google want to get into the social networking business?
So what should pastors and church leaders do? Two thoughts come to my mind as I wrap up today's post.
- Continue to participate in social networking sites, but don't push anyone else to do the same. As a leader - lead by example. Set personal limits in terms of time and participation. Let others into your life and show them what a growing life in Christ looks like.
- In addition to joining public social networking sites, offer a private, church-only social networking site to your parishioners. At Church Requel, we have done this through Church Community Builder. As wonderful as the public sites like Facebook and Twitter are, there just are some things that are better when offered privately within the church. Examples of this include small group connections, event calendaring, and online giving. One of my first decisions as pastor of Church Requel was to sign up for CCB. I'm convinced it was also one of my best decisions.