Social Media

My Church Killed Twitter? Personal vs. Institutional Use of Social Media

Is it better for pastors and churches to use social media institutionally or personally?

I set up a Facebook organization page for the youth ministry at my church several months ago, and it has attracted all of eight followers, most of whom are parents. Most of the content the page features is pushed from a Posterous blog I created to autopost content not only to Facebook but also to a Twitter account and a Flickr photo stream, all of which are “official” church youth ministry offerings.

I’m confident nobody uses those.

By contrast, when I use my personal Facebook page or Twitter account to narrate something going on in the youth ministry or the larger church, conversation reliably ensues.

Personally, I’m interested in people: what they think, what they’re doing, what they want to know. I’m much less interested in organizations. Yet pastors and youth leaders have well-advised instincts to make the things they’re involved in about the organization, the larger collective, and not about themselves. This is standard ministerial competence.

Social media are exposing that, at bottom, things that churches are doing are being done by people, and you can put those people on social map. And that’s okay. In fact, it may be a misuse of social media tools to employ them in the service of organizations instead of actual people.

One of the things from last year’s Theology After Google event that has stuck with me is Monica Coleman’s description of how she came to attend her present church. A friend connected her to the pastor through Facebook, and it was her interest in his theology and vision for the church that drew her to participate in the congregation. It was a person (it could just as easily been an elder or another member), not the organization.

So is it okay to scrap the “official” church Facebook page and instead cultivate the church’s relationship with the world through the personal social media presence of its leaders and members?



13 thoughts on “My Church Killed Twitter? Personal vs. Institutional Use of Social Media

  1. landon whitsitt says:

    The thing about social media is that it’s “social” – its purpose is interaction. You can’t “interact” with an organization, and few people are content anymore to interact with a nameless/faceless person behind the account.

    I say orgs should use media which allow them to push info and give folks a chance to offer feedback. That said, our church uses a landing page at our URL and then directs folks a FB page where a Deacon of ours acts as FB pastor. there’s a fair amount of interaction there actually.

    • landon whitsitt says:

      Yeah, everyone knows that its Carolyn. she even reminds folks of the page in worship occasionally. she’s very good because she’s already connected and “gets” its benefits in an intuitive way that I do not.

  2. Good points….our church FB page gets more interaction than the youth one, that’s for sure. I too have a youth Twitter account, Flickr, etc., and rarely do they see that stuff…good lord, youth don’t read our emails, they don’t read our FB postings…what the heck?!

    But I don’t know….eventually…I want to have something that has generated interest/conversation/etc that I can hand off to whoever comes after me whenever I move on…so that it’s not about “how cool Adam’s FB page is…” right? And you mentioned that in your post.

    • Adam, I’m wondering how we can use this stuff to create networks of students and church members who are using it to connect with each other and deepen relationships. Then, the thing you hand off is a dense network that you’ve built.
      So, how do you do that?

  3. Great observations. We have a somewhat active FB page for our youth ministry, but it pales in comparison to the interactions on the individual pages of youth and leaders.

    • John, thanks for chiming in. Do you have a sense of the personal or the institutional use of social media being better (more effective? More integral?). Or do you figure they’re interchangeable?

      • I agree with you that the personal interactions are more effective. I’m going to keep the youth group page, which serves a particular function, but the very nature of FB–at least for kids–will tend to emphasize personal over institutional.

  4. Matt Schultz says:

    You prompted a great conversation here, and I think it will help us as we continue to manage our ‘online presence’ as a church. Thanks for your thoughts!!!

  5. Matt, thanks for sharing that. I’m interested to know what your default approach is right now. Are you personally using social media to connect with students, or have you created an organizational presence to do that?

  6. Cliff Pruitt says:

    I know this is a pretty old post at this point but I came across it completely accidentally and found it interesting. I’d have to say that although I understand the point you’re making, I don’t (completely) agree with the conclusion. I make my living online serving churches with technology. Web, media, design, development, bla, bla, bla… I spend all day addressing the needs of churches online. One thing I consistently see, over and over and over again is that no matter how established you think you are in your church, people leave. From volunteer youth leaders to senior pastors, lives change and people move on.

    Although you are right, you’re always dealing with people in the end, the truth is that the congregation needs to develop a relationship with itself, not with leaders in the church. If the church wants to foster discussion and interaction online, there is a very real and practical value in the church itself (not the individuals) developing relationships and connections it can keep over time. If Johnny Youth Pastor accepts friend requests from every kid in his youth group and then decides God is calling him to take his Christian techno-polka band on the road, the new youth pastor steps in with no established online community or, worse yet, a strongly established community that explicitly does not include him. The people did not develop an online relationship with the church, but did with the youth pastor.

    In the end, this seems to indicate less that churches need their own FB pages and just points out some weaknesses in social media in general. Johnny Youth Pastor *should* be able to have a role in an online community that is independent of any central link (e.g. friend requests) to his own personal identity. Anything that he does as Youth Pastor might show up under his account as being associated with him, but if someone else moves into his role, the history of the “Youth Pastor to Youth” relationship should be maintained. Right now there is no good way to do that and I don’t see it changing any time soon.

    I think the best thing a church might do is create their pages or even separate personal accounts (Johnny has his personal FB account and his separate Youth Pastor) account. They would then need to exercise discipline in directing church related conversations back to the official church accounts. There are TONS of other problems this raises (just the inconvenience alone is a pain) but it’s an important thing to consider because, no matter what, Johnny won’t be Johnny Youth Pastor forever.

    • Cliff,
      Thanks for your very thoughtful contribution here. Your input makes me think that it’s not an either/or choice. Churches should have functional online presences, and those ought to be maintained and cultivated intentionally and with integrity. Yet the individuals in the church ought also to be using their personal social media tools to enhance their relationships with fellow church members. These social media tools, after all, enhance existing relationships, don’t they?

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