Social Media Enhances Ministry Revisited

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Author unknown

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 (  This article looks back over the past 6 months and comments on lessons learned.

My blog,, 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 (  The survey and the write up of the results ( 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 (  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 (

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 (  After we discussed the author’s perspective on anger, we also then discussed my lesson on 1 Corinthians 8 from the previous week (  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.

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Results of Book Cover Survey

Book Covers by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Book Covers by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Thank you!

I want to thank all of you that participated in my book cover survey over the past week.  The survey is now the second most popular posting on since the blog was established in September 2013.

Who Participated?

Twenty-four people (24) completed the survey.  Everyone responding said that they speak English at home, but about 10 percent live outside the U.S. Slightly more than half of respondents (54%) were male.

Surprisingly, about that many (54%) also listed their age as under 30 years old.  Another 37% were over the age of 50—the demographic profile of most people attending church these days.  About the same number of people (71%) as in national surveys cited their religion as Christian.  The other affiliations cited were Other (21%) and Not Sure (8%).

Survey Results

The most popular choice (57%) of respondents was the Hagia Sophia book cover (1).  The second place honor was pretty evenly split among the other 3 book covers.

Rankings suggest that the Path book cover (2) was actually everyone’s second choice; the Blue Leather cover was third choice; and the Postmodern cover was the last choice.  However, this result looks suspiciously like a survey weakness because the rankings mirror the order of the covers presented in the survey.

Seventy-eight percent (78%) prefer a paperback book.  Respondents were evenly split in their preferences for electronic and hardback books.

Comments Received on the Book Covers

A total of 20 comments were received from respondents and they serve as an interpretative lens on survey numbers.

In the comments below, the numbers cited in parentheses are the ages of the respondents.  The age diversity of the different covers is truly striking.  It would be hard to anticipate the distribution of ages of respondents and religion affiliations favoring particular covers.

Hagia Sophia:

  • As a Catholic, I am drawn to icons and today, with a severe muscle spasm, I have a serious attitude, which this cover portrays. On other days, I might like the path cover. I like covers #1, 2 and 4, but not the plain blue leather, which seems noncommittal. Spirituality is perhaps the most crucial aspect of our lives and that cover seems bland. The postmodern cover is nice, but is it too busy – trying to include too much? Overall, 3 of the 4 covers are excellent in my opinion (51 to 60).
  • The cover is right in tune with the thesis of the book (61+).
  • This clearly gives the potential reader the subject matter from afar and looks great and clean (21 to 30).
  • It is a common Byzantine Christian icon, by showing the figure of Christ himself it makes the content seem important. Therefore, before you open the book the viewer is under the assumption that the material is profound (21 to 30).
  • I have always loved this one (21 to 30).
  • “Jumps out at you the most”. It is clear that it is a Christian book (51 to 60).
  • Looks more interesting and has depth (21 to 30).
  • It caught my eye as a religious book before I read the title (61+).
  • It is peaceful and meditative. The colors have such depth (61+).


  • Although the lettering is more difficult to read than the first. This cover looks more modern. An appealing book cover that looks up to date may go a long way to opening it (1-20).
  • Non suggestive. A cover anyone would see and want to know what the book is about (21 to 30).
  • This image creates a relatable book cover for all walks of life (1-20).

Blue Leather:

  • It’s a classic type of cover, not too simple and not too busy. All the other ones are too old fashion (21 to 30).
  • Hey Steves. I just asked a group of people what they thought and they liked the blue 2:1 (21 to 30).
  • It’s very simple (21 to 30).
  • I like simplicity (41 to 50).


  • I like the blend of images which seems to say that there are many forms spirituality can take, not just one, even as we affirm there is one God (61+).
  • Looks the most unassuming. Blue Leather and Hagia Sophia look too pious. Path isn’t bad but I just prefer Postmodern (21 to 30).
  • Blends ancient and modern (61+).
  • It’s a nice collage and very inviting to the eye (51 to 60).


As I drafted this survey, I had two questions on my mind.

  • Which book cover is most popular?
  • How should I match book covers to alternative editions of the book?

Clearly, the Hagia Sophia is the most popular book cover surveyed.  The only caveat to this conclusion is that because I have used the Hagia Sophia in association to the book in my postings, perhaps the survey is simply picking up this association—a kind of survey bias.  Setting this possibility aside, matching the Hagia Sophia cover to the paperback edition—the most popular cover and most popular edition—is an obvious conclusion.

Less obvious are how to choose covers for the electronic and possibly hardcover versions of the book.  The preference of young people for the Blue Leather cover may not, for example, match up well because blue leather is also more-expensive.  The use of the Postmodern cover on an electronic edition, by contrast, might make sense.

This survey was done online using SurveyMonkey (

Background on the Book Covers

The Hagia Sophia cover ( is a 12th century mosaic found in the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Istanbul, Turkey.  Hagia Sophia is Greek for holy wisdom.  The image that I have been using is licensed from iStock (

The Path cover is a photograph that I took on my IPhone 5 after a snow storm on March 6, 2014.  It shows the portion of Popular Tree Road in Centreville, VA which was cut off with the construction of Route 28 and turned into a part of Ellanor C. Lawrence park (

The Blue Leather cover was modeled after a number of denominational hymnals sitting on my bookshelf.

The Postmodern cover builds on the idea of a collage which is a stereotypical postmodern art form.  Articles on how to draw books covers often advise prospective artists to illustrate non-verbally the contents of your book which is easy with a collage.

The drawing on the Postmodern cover depicts Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:16:  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.  The image shows a hint of a dove (>), a hint of clouds on either side, a hint of sun beams, and a hint of a stream with Jesus (+) parting the water.

FYI.  Check out my first You-Tube video (Welcome to!)

Results of Book Cover Survey


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