For those of us who use social media regularly—and can’t imagine not using it—it is fascinating to see how it is used in a variety of occupations. How are police using social media? Schools? Politicians? We’ve decided to explore how all of these use social media, and today the focus is on religion.
I had an opportunity to speak with a childhood friend of mine, Bryan Wolfmueller, who is now a pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora, Colorado, and he agreed to answer a series of social media questions.
Me: Do you use social media as a tool to communicate with your parishioners, a way to connect with other pastors or as a way to educate people about Christianity?
BW: Yes, all three. Our church has a closed Facebook group that posts announcements, stories, pictures of church events, and is the context for some very helpful conversations. Most of the pictures we use for our monthly newsletter are copied from this page. I’m also involved in a number of Facebook groups with other pastors where ideas can be tested and support offered. As a congregation, starting a project that uses a Facebook group to encourage daily Scripture meditation and conversation is exciting. I also use Twitter and Facebook to promote the podcast I co-host (Table Talk Radio), and much of the content of the show is pulled from social media interactions (even though my co-host is opposed to social media).
Me: On which social platforms do you see the most engagement? Do you have a Facebook page for Hope Lutheran?
BW: Facebook is first. I have a personal page and host any number of groups (and by “host” I mean “start and then let go wild”). Twitter is next and is a bit hit and miss. Instagram comes into the mix when I remember that I have the app on my phone (although I think there is more to this platform than meets the eye). I’m also on LinkedIn, but I don’t know what that means. I use MailChimp to distribute a weekly devotional page, but I’m not sure if this counts.
Me: What challenges do you find using social media as a pastor?
BW: It’s easy to forget that when you are engaging in social media you are on the sidewalk, not in the house; it is public and not private. And, social media gives the illusion of an artificial buffer between me and other people. My conscience misses the truth that I am a person speaking with another person, so I am harsh or impatient or critical without gentleness, and hurtful, because I’m looking at a screen instead of a face. I suppose social media also introduces the temptation to craft your image, make things look really good (or really bad) and become overly interested in how people see you. Life then becomes public relations, which is a nightmare even to imagine.
Me: Do you handle the social media for the church on your own or do you have a team?
BW: Both pastors and our congregational secretary administer our Facebook page. There is no strategy or planning involved. If anything works, it’s accidental.
Me: What has social media done for you and your church?
BW: It has facilitated wonderful conversations, helped with communication and involvement, and in some little ways, it has pushed the holy things of the church into people’s homes and hands. Our Facebook group let’s people say, “I’m a part of this thing called Hope Lutheran.” And it also lets the people see me and the church engaging in conversation with the universe, like listening in to the pastor talking with the neighbor on the other side of the church fence.
Me: What’s your best advice to a pastor or church just starting their social media?
BW: Remember that your people don’t think being on Facebook is work, and they are right! It is and always should be a game. “This will be fun. This will be helpful. This will start an exciting conversation. This will drive the Calvinists nuts.” These are the things you should say of a post, a page, a group. Social media is not necessary or even needed. And that’s another thing, social media breeds panic, urgency, emergency, all of which is unfitting for the church. So first we remember that Jesus is in our flesh at God’s right hand, and second, we remember to have fun, and everything will sort itself out from there.
Social media can be a powerful tool, depending on how it’s used. The important thing to remember, in my opinion, is that the religious conversations are already out there, so it makes sense for churches to tap into that conversation and become a part of it. Or at the very least, to create an online environment where they can host their own (such as a church Facebook page). Social media is an excellent platform to connect with parishioners and provide support, both online and in real life.
Thanks, Bryan, for taking time out of your day to discuss social media and your church.