Telling our Story
Be Weird, Be True
The picture of a fully naked man flashed across the screen as I led my flock in the Anglican rosary last Sunday night. I groaned and removed the offender from the meeting. We had been Zoom bombed again. We said a brief prayer for him, and continued praying. Doing ministry exclusively on social media has its discouraging moments for sure. As I am typing this, 100 percent of the churches in my diocese are 100 percent on social media. Because of the precautions of the pandemic, all of us are in the same digital boat suddenly.
This past summer I made some funny videos about being a priest and a Christian and they went viral on social media. If you haven’t seen them, the kids you know probably have.
As a priest and church planter, I believe it’s my job to be on social media. Social media is the new (now old) town square. Being present in my community means I’m present on social media. If you feel this calling to share the Good News with your social media neighbors, here are some tips that may help you develop your ministry online.
Tips for ministry in the new town square
Be Yourself. The “social” in social media is you. You are a unique creation of God and have so much to offer your community. Start with what you know. Our church plant has a parishioner who posts a picture of the sunrise every morning and a word of encouragement. This is social media ministry. Its authentic to them, and it is for the benefit of others. Remember, share your life and share the good news in Jesus Christ.
To paraphrase Rabbi Zusha (who was not on social media because he lived in the 18th century), “When I get to heaven, I will not be asked, ‘Why weren't you like the TikTok Priest?’ or ‘Why weren't you like @RevDaniel from Twitter?’ They will ask, ‘Why weren't you like Zusha?’"
Be Weird. If you’re part of an Episcopal church in 2020, you’re already weird. People in your social media community have no idea what goes on in an Episcopal church. So show them. The quirkier the better. If you’re on the altar guild, take a picture of the linens and explain what they’re called and what they do. If you’re praying the Daily Office, post an encouraging verse for your followers. Do people know your church is inclusive of LGBTQ people? Do people know your church is a place that is looking for new people to visit? They won’t know what you don’t tell them.
Being weird means sharing the whole range of human emotions and feelings. Share your grief, share your joy. People need to know we’re real, just like them. If you have a really weird sense of humor, run it by someone you trust before you post, because humor is easily misunderstood. During these uncertain and stressful times, we need humor more than ever.
Be Relational. People on social media, especially young people know the difference between someone who is simply marketing on social media and someone who is relational. In my opinion, church pages on Facebook are so much less effective in outreach than parishioners posting about their church. I love seeing someone take a picture in church, knowing that people who will never visit our church will get a glimpse of our sacramental life together.
Prayer and presence in the great social media beyond
There are people who live in Pflugerville where I am a church planter who only know our church through our social media. When I meet these people in real life, they tell me they have been watching us pray for months. Social media interactions sometimes do translate into people showing up on a Sunday morning, often at a church that is much closer to them than yours. Sharing the Gospel on social media is a ministry on behalf of the whole church, not just my church.
I often hear that it’s easy to go overboard with social media and that we have to be careful. Perhaps we’re worried about being criticized for taking too many selfies. When it comes to evangelism, I like to quote old D.L. Moody who said, “I like the way I do it better than the way you don’t do it.” Try something. Stick with it for a couple months. See what God does.
Reach out to people who are hurting on social media. Pray for them, even if you have to say, Dear God, bless @ChickenLittle today as they struggle with depression. Tell them you’re praying for them. Ask if you can help them find a licensed counselor. Jesus said let your light shine, and in the snark filled, cynical darkness of social media, your light is needed more than ever.
The Rev. David W. Peters, D.Min, aka “The Tiktok Priest” is a 2017 ECF Fellow and the vicar of St. Joan of Arc, a one-year-old church plant in Pflugerville, Texas.
- Social Media as a Pastoral Tool by Richelle Thompson, ECF Vital Practices blog, December 8, 2015
- How I Prayed With Hundreds of People on New Year's Eve by Alan Bentrup, ECF Vital Practices blog, January 19, 2018
- Calling Kids to Communications by Linda Buskirk, ECF Vital Practices blog, January 30, 2019
- Build your Own Social Media Calendar by Kjerstin Besser, Vestry Papers, July 2018