Crowd WaitingI have to admit that I get really frustrated when I hear people who’ve never so much as sent a text message passionately attack social media…especially when it comes to social media and churches.  I’ve heard things like “you just can’t have church when people are using that Twitter…it’s distracting.”  I’ve also heard people say things like “the Facebook and the MySpace  keep people from actually meeting other people in real life, and I don’t want that in my church.”   My favorite complaint about social media that I’ve heard involves the mysterious and dark group of anti-social miscreants simply labeled “the bloggers”.  It seems that there is a great deal of fear around “the bloggers” and what evils they are capable of.  

Of course, I can’t really expect everyone to understand what is happening in the world of social media.  And, I can understand why some would see these new tools as threatening or frightening.  After all, these new channels of sharing and communicating reach more people faster than anyone could have ever imagined even a decade ago.  But still, I often end up wondering what it is that these people are really afraid of?  What is the worst that could happen?

When I really try to see things from the point of view of those who don’t like the idea of social media invading the church, I can certainly see some potential problems that such lawless communications could pose.  First of all, when church members start using things like Twitter or Facebook to talk about church, how do we make sure that everyone understands that they aren’t speaking FOR the church?  After all, as much as we love crazy Bill, we certainly don’t want crazy Bill introducing the church to people via 140 characters of insanity, now do we?  Next, what if someone starts saying bad things about us on these sites?  How do we respond and whose job is it to do so?  The list could go on.  

However, when I continue to think about the possible threats that social media poses to churches, one in particular keeps coming to mind.  Now, unlike the others, this threat is not about what is or isn’t said on certain websites or whether or not information is accurate.  Instead, the threat I’m thinking of is the threat of success.  Sounds insane, right?  How can success be a threat?

When a church, or often times more accurately, some well-intentioned church members, set out to take advantage of things like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc., it is often with the intention of attracting new people to the church.  There is certainly nothing wrong with spreading the word about your church, especially in a way that is conversational and meaningful to both parties — as social media can often do.  However, what most churches don’t ask themselves when they start using something like Facebook or Twitter is “what will we do if we are successful?”  

Is your church ready for a sudden influx of new, younger people?  Now, I’m not talking about whether or not you printed enough bulletins, because that is a good problem that can easily be fixed.  Even if you’ve done all the things you can think of to make sure your church is ready for more people, your church may not be ready for different people.  When new people come to our churches, they bring to our churches all of their experiences, gifts, and perspectives.  When we begin to attract people who are substantially different from ourselves, if we as churches aren’t willing to be changed by those people, they won’t stay long.  No matter how cool your Facebook profile is or how well you use your blog, if the experience those new folks have when they get to your church is way different than the experience they had with your social media efforts, they will be quickly disillusioned.   

Believe it or not, it is relatively easy to attract people to church.  Social media is doing a great job at making attraction even easier.  However, the real work of making disciples hasn’t changed.  The real work lies in the way we build relationships with those new people who walk through our doors.  The most important thing for a church to consider when they talk about social media is not which tool to use or how they will handle the responsibilities, but are they really ready for new, different people to show up and are they ready for what those new people mean for the life of the church?

Will BoydWill Boyd is a social media and new media producer and consultant. His company, Will Boyd Media Solutions, specializes in helping faith groups and non-profits navigate the world of social media, podcasting, and technology to tell their stories to the world. He has worked with Sojourners Magazine, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Goddard College, the Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt, and others. Will also recently became the Social Media Coordinator for BEHRINGER, an international pro audio manufacturer, and finished a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard College focused on the role of new media and social technologies in the world of sustainable marketing. Will lives in Seattle with his wife, a Disciples pastor.