Last year, while preaching, a notable pastor made comments on homosexuality that were recorded and posted on the internet. Her comments went viral. Many viewers—Christians and non-Christians alike—acknowledged that while portions of the comments were in line with Scriptures, the delivery was devoid of love and instead perpetuated hate and condemnation. The pastor in question was forced to respond to the backlash on social media, and in turn, she experienced a wave of ramifications, including the loss of an appearance on a popular television show, the cancellation of a radio show, and even the stripping of an earned honor and award.
I watched the situation with this pastor unfold from the periphery and as an outsider, but with a great deal of interest. As I fellowshipped with church leaders and met with clients of mine who are pastors, this trending topic was a constant point of conversation. Through these dialogues, I had the opportunity to talk to these ministry leaders about the rules of engagement for social media. After all, social media brings many positives to the church experience—through it, many churchgoers and followers feel more connected and more invested because they can interact with pastors and leaders as they share about issues and matters outside the realm of the pulpit and Bible study. Social media is now an intrinsic part of modern evangelism and a church’s “new normal” on myriad fronts.
But it can also go wrong. One inherent characteristic of social media is that it is not a passive activity: those who have social media accounts don’t just go on the platform to see what is happening, but instead they actively engage with the platforms, sometimes causing posts to go viral. The right shares and the right audience—coupled with the topic at hand in the post—can trigger an avalanche of sharing across the internet. When that occurs, a post can gain a life of its own, sometimes providing a celebrity or leader (such as the aforementioned pastor) with infamous status.
How can you avoid a similar situation from playing out at your church—while still taking advantage of the benefits social media offers to ministries? Here are some key guiding principles as you consider your church’s social media efforts.
How to engage in safe (and smart) ways
1. Monitor what you post—and what others post about you.
If you’re in the pulpit, there is a great likelihood that your comments will find their way into someone’s social media post. As previously discussed, social media users are not passive participants or spectators in their social media worlds. They are engaged, and they post content. If you say something that evokes some emotion—good or bad—expect that, just as they react to your words live, there is a chance that someone will post the information online. We all do it: whether it’s a caption, a meme, a video, or a photo that makes us laugh or cry, we quickly hit the “like” or “share” button. With that in mind, consider anything stated or published publicly, by you or by the church, to be accessible and potentially published by others.