By Stephen W. Hiemstra
This past September I began blogging for the first time and also became more involved in social media. In October I wrote a newsletter article which outlined my first impressions on how social media contributes to ministry (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-2D). This article looks back over the past 6 months and comments on lessons learned.
My blog, T2Pneuma.net, has an online pastor or Christian ministry theme and I post 4 times weekly: a prayer on Sundays, a book review on Mondays, a guest post on Wednesday, and a Bible lesson on Fridays in English and Spanish.
Social media starts with the word, social, which implies that your online persona builds on your offline persona. If you are aloof and detached offline, chances are good that this persona will come across online. Pastors and churches that post only Bible verses or their own program announcements probably will not be effective in social media. Social media works best when the conversation is more of a personal dialog.
This personal dialog idea is not all that personal. Social media is not quite a telephone conversation, but its more participatory than watching television. Think of it as having the option to pick up the phone but with not quite the same incentive—social media participants enjoy an illusion of intimacy. Its kind of like having a date with someone on another continent.
A couple of events over the past month illustrated this personal dialog principle. The first event was when I posted my first online survey. I asked my followers to vote on 4 book cover ideas (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-qD). The survey and the write up of the results (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-r7) both broke records for most viewings and for daily traffic on my blog. The second event was when I posted my first You-Tube video (http://wp.me/P3Xeut-1). Viewings for the video the first day substantially exceeded my daily traffic record set even by the online survey. People relate to video—it is very personal even if it does not offer real dialog.
I often talk about my posts online in offline conversation. While some may think this makes for tedious conversation, my reviews frequently speak into the space where chaplains live—grief, anger, exercise, personal boundaries, addiction, singleness, marriage, and so on. It is easier to talk about a review than to inquire too deeply into people’s pain. This is an extension of what I used to refer to as my book ministry (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-aq).
Recently, for example, I spoke with a friend who struggled with intense anger as a young person. In God’s provision, my review that week was a book on anger (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-rv). After we discussed the author’s perspective on anger, we also then discussed my lesson on 1 Corinthians 8 from the previous week (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-rm). Because my posts are online, sometimes I need only point to the post in order to offer insights. The point is that the blog enabled a conversation much deeper than might otherwise have been possible—offline dialog complements online dialog. The reverse is also common.
People online love to cite statistics. At this point, I am approaching my 200th posting on the blog. At last count, 87 people follow my blog; 557 people follow me on Twitter; about 125 follow me on Facebook; about 150 people follow me on LinkedIn; and about 25 people follow me on Google+. As many as 33 people have visited my blog on a single day. (For You-Tube, the number is 45). Visitors have come from 50+ different countries. These numbers are meaningful only in comparison with typical attendance on Sunday mornings at Sunday school or in the pews when I preach. More meaningful is the insight that I know family members who never attend church yet faithfully read my posts.
The tally on my book cover survey raises an interesting point. Outside of book cover preferences, in the survey I quizzed people about their background. At the end of 1 week of voting, 54% of the respondents were under 30 years of age and 29% listed their religious preference as other (not Christian) or not sure. These results confirmed my suspicion that my blog was reaching people not in the choir on Sundays.
Do you want to change the world? A good place to start is by learning to talk to people both inside and outside the church.