October 3, 2016

#SocialMediaSunday, Tragedy, and Real Community

A week ago Sunday, churches around the country participated in Social Media Sunday (#SMS16). This day provided an opportunity for people to “use digital devices intentionally to share their life of faith with the world.” If your Facebook feed was anything like mine, you saw plenty of selfies, check-ins, and short videos of worship, formation, and fun.

My background is in journalism, marketing, and public relations. I love that churches around the country are trying to reach out and share the Good News in new ways. From stained glass to the printing press to instrumental music, the Church has a long history of using new technologies and mediums to proclaim the Gospel. Our interactions with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter should be no different.

At St. Mary’s, we didn’t promote or participate in #SMS16, at least not in the typical way. But there is no doubt that social media was used in our ministry that Sunday.

Saturday evening, a three-year-old parishioner drowned and was taken to the hospital and placed on life support. Judah’s father is well known more than 400,000 friends and followers on Facebook. The father is a public person and shares his life openly online. That was no different in this tragedy.

Too often I hear the complaint that social media hampers real community. I hear that Facebook friends, hearts on Instagram, or Twitter retweets aren’t real connections.

Those are flat out lies. (…well, maybe “lie” is a strong word. They aren’t intentional untruths, but merely based on outdated preconceptions of connection and community.)

When my friend and parishioner put out calls for prayer for his son on Facebook, the posts received thousands of “likes,” thousands of “shares,” and thousands of comments. Our parishioners likewise posted prayers and updates, and asked for prayers from their friends on Facebook and beyond. The parents have shared with me how much those prayers have meant to them.

People connected. People prayed. A community was formed. A real community, online.

We, the church, must find new and creative ways to use all avenues of communication to reach and connect people. For some, a “like” on a Facebook post might be the only human interaction they give or receive some days. A “heart” on Instagram might be their only source of joy some days. And some days, this real, online community will pray for a little boy who desperately needed it.

How can the church use social media and other new technologies (livestreaming, podcasting, what else?) to share the hope and love of God to a world that desperately needs that message? I’ve seen some interesting experiments, such as The Slate Project’s #slatespeak, or St. Dunstan's (Houston) #eventalk. My own parish uses Facebook groups to help bring the inquirer’s class model to a new generation.

How can the church form community in new ways? This is a real question…I want to know.

How have you seen a parish use social media or technology in new and exciting ways?

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