“I think [social media] is evil,” a friend told me this morning. I don’t think this is an uncommon view, especially with the people I typically spend time around. Pastors and parishioners alike tend to have one of two views: modern mass media was brought straight from hell, or the internet is the only way to save dying churches. There are surely other viewpoints in the mix, but generally, these two dominate the discussion.
These are not new reactions. The printing press, for example, had an incredible effect on Luther’s ideas, amplifying his voice and driving the Reformation. But on that same printing press were other heresies of the time, alchemical texts, and a growing number of sensationalist fictions claiming to be true tales of travel.
Modern Technology in the Church: A Place for Connection, Not Fear
Our modern applications are very similar. In a few short decades, the internet has grown and changed drastically. The tool that was supposed to connect the academic world has started to overload us as individuals. We are connected to so much information that we can easily be overwhelmed. At the same time, this connection ensures that what we need is available to us at all times. Social media can cause us to experience astounding views of other people. It can also connect us to communities we might otherwise lose or never know.
And here we stand as Christians in the middle of this world. The classic (and correct) thought, is that we must remain in but not of the world (see John 17:14–16). With the state of media and the internet as a technology sector, it might be reasonable to question what “in” and “of” mean anymore. We are rightly wary and sometimes fearful of being too much “of the world.”
This fear is at the heart of my friend’s statement. He and I have watched others be torn apart by the same tools that were supposed to bring us all together. It can be hard to even imagine any way that we can use media rightly in the church.
However, it is also this fear that keeps us from greater service to our neighbor.
In Mark 4, Jesus talks a lot about sharing the good news of His salvation with all. He speaks of seeds being spread on every kind of ground and of light shining in every house. There is no place where the message of God’s grace cannot or should not go. Yes, that includes the internet. In fact, the way our world is shaped requires that it include the Internet.
Engaging the World: Four Essential Questions
You might be wondering, then, how to engage the world as a Christian. There are a few simple questions that can help us understand how to carefully create a church's internet presence.
First, what do we have to say? This goes beyond events and holiday wishes to the heart of the Church’s message: “Christ has died for you, a sinner, and has forgiven all your sins. He rose from the dead to bring you into eternal life. He brings this message to you through His Word and Sacraments in a gathering of all believers.” Above all, this is what we should seek to amplify to the world.
Perhaps we should also ask, what is the goal of sharing this message? If we could, we would like to bring all people to faith this way. The most immediate answer might be to bring people to worship services or Bible studies. But the overarching goal is to guide people to the Church so they can join in fellowship with other believers, join a community to hear the honest truth of God, and share in the Church's true connection through Christ.
How do we shape this message? There are so many ways to say, “Come, join us. Hear Christ’s Word," that the answer to this question varies. In your church, this may be a daily Bible verse or a short video clip from the sermon. Maybe it's event invitations and announcements. As important as it is to know and understand your audience, it is equally important to understand that the message of the Church does not change for different generations. Keep your media simple and timeless.
Finally, the hardest question will often be how much? Your church may not have the people or resources to maintain a website, three social media accounts, a weekly service stream, daily messages from the pastor, and the like. At the very least, make sure the ways people are likely to look for your church (like search engines) have accurate information. Your pastor will be the best guide for what sort of content is good, and your particular congregation will be able to know how many resources are available.
Being Careful Doesn’t Mean Avoidance
If you are concerned by these questions or share the opinion of my friend from this morning, please remember that being careful with technology does not always mean avoiding it. True, Christ should not be associated with the many evil things that find their home online. However, churches should be careful with where, when, and how they present Christ’s message. If we avoid a presentation that detracts from Christ and we maintain our identity as Christians in a Christian church, the internet can be an incredible place to share our faith.
In a world increasingly filled with anti-Christian messages, I think it is unfair to our neighbor to allow those to be the only messages amplified by the incredible power of modern technology. Social media cannot save a dying church, but it can bring people’s attention to the wonderful news of the Gospel when they might otherwise ignore it. With care and consideration, the message of Christ can and should be brought by churches to social media, the internet, and beyond.
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