What is the social media truth in today’s churches and ministries? It seems that everyone is producing articles, books, blogs and ebooks about the role and importance of using social media in today’s church. Most of this content is screaming to the church to get with it when it comes to Social Media. They shout that this is THE way, and maybe the only way, to reach today’s audience. There are a multitude of articles, books, etc., telling you how to get “likes” and increase the “reach” numbers you will see when you come back to check on how your posts were received. There are even a few companies that are marketing their services, stating that if you hire them they will create your Facebook page, get lots of people to “like” it and even provide content. You don’t have to do anything! Fantastic, right? Facebook is a social media service designed to help people in relationships (friends and families). Leave it up to the church to hire someone to create a fake site with fake content to create fake relationships.

But wait, it doesn’t stop there! There are almost as many articles peddling Twitter. It is easy to find articles that warn church leaders that if they aren’t using Twitter, they are failing in ministry. With Twitter the goal is to get as many people as possible to follow you, and then send out “tweets” every hour linking to blogs and content using short URL’s. Of course you need to learn how to add hashtags so people can find your content. There are great services marketing to churches stating that they can get thousands of people to follow you on Twitter. What exactly does that do for you? Not much. Check out the article in this issue titled, “Why Twitter Doesn’t Work”.

Most of those frantically seeking to push the church into social media imply that this is THE way to reach people and get your message and your “branding” out there (wherever “there” is). The fact is, they are wrong! Simple and straight, social media is social. It is NOT mass media. And it isn’t designed to be a good base for marketing anything. Again, social media is about relationships. No one can keep decent relationships with 5,000 people.

What church leaders NEED to know is WHY social media is such a success.  If you understand why it is a success, you can then incorporate those reasons into your ministry. Check out the article, “How to Use Social Media to Really Increase Your Ministry” in this issue. But, using social media such as Facebook and Twitter as if it is mass media is a great mistake and a major waste of time and money.

I have seen some articles pushing for churches to add a “social media” minister to their staff. I like the title of communications minister, because Christians and churches have a lot to communicate, but to center our communication and message on the platform of social media is a big mistake. Others are bragging that if you hire them or attend their seminars or read their books, you will learn how to greatly increase your social media contacts and presence. The problem is that the more contacts you add to your social media accounts, the greater the failure rate of anything being communicated. When you raise the number of friends or likes you have on Facebook, or the number of people following you on Twitter, you haven’t created mass media, you have created what I call false media. If you have 10,000 people following you on Twitter, the number of people actually getting your Tweets could be as low as ten! And, if you have 5,000 people who “like” your site on Facebook and you think you are reaching them with your latest post, you are very, very wrong. Check out the article “Why Facebook Doesn’t Work” for more information.

There should be a place for social media in your ministry plan. And, fortunately, the smaller your church, the better chance it will help you stay connected with your membership, but social media is social.

When I first started Facebook, I set up my page and for almost a year I accepted anyone that sent a “friend” request. After about a year, I had around 900 friends. Now, of course, I really didn’t know most of these people. They were simply people that decided to “friend” me because I am the Editor of Christian Computing Magazine. Because there were so many strangers, I never used it to share personal information such as pictures of my grandkids, dogs, location, or anything that I might have wanted to share with my real friends and family. I mistakenly thought there was value in having so many people “friend” me even though I hardly ever used the site.  Whenever I went to check my Facebook page, there were miles and miles of status posts from people I didn’t know! Only rarely did I actually stumble across some post from a real friend or family member. Finally last year I removed over 800 people from my personal Facebook page, keeping about 75 friends and family. Facebook became FUN for me as I could log in several times a day and see the posts from people I really knew and cared about.

I realize that some would suggest that I did this the wrong way. I should have had my own personal Facebook page, and then set one up for Christian Computing Magazine. However, I didn’t see the value, and still don’t, for trying to build up the number of people that “like” our magazine site. Again, if you read the article on “Why Facebook Doesn’t Work” you will better understand my position.

There are many opinions about the future of Facebook and social media. I believe the more intrusive businesses (including churches) to use Facebook, Twitter and other social medial sources, the more likely it will die a sad death.  In conclusion, check out this study by Princeton University that states Facebook and other social media sites will decline greatly in just a few years. I hope churches do not spend too much time and money misusing social media and can actually understand WHY social media is so popular. When they discover this, they should spend their time and money finding ways to incorporate the personal communication age into their worship and meeting times!