churches and social media – are we building relationships? – part two

Yesterday, in response to Chris Cree’s post at, I started to answer the following question:

Q: Why isn’t church more involved in building relationships through social media?

A #1 was We are.

I gave a bunch of examples. The comments have a bunch more. Today, I want to pick up another answer.

A #2: Because we don’t think we can, or need to.

a barn near grabillJesus told lots of farming stories. They were perfect for him. He could sit on a hillside, talking to a group of people, point across the pasture and talk about shepherds and sheep. He could talk about farmers and even the daydreamers could see what he was referring to.

One day he talked about planting seeds.

He said that one day a farmer was out planting seeds. He had a bag of seed hanging over his shoulder, kind of like a messenger bag. He reached in, grabbed a handful of seeds. With a sidearm motion, he tossed the seed to his left, scattering it across the ground. He took another handful and tossed it right.

Soon, all the ground was covered with seed.

It’s a planting technique called “broadcasting.” My grandpa used it. It’s easier than planting each seed one by one.

However, it is terribly inefficient.

Sometimes seeds fall on the path. Nothing grows. Sometimes they fall where the soil barely covered rocks. The seeds sprout and then die from lack of roots. Sometimes the seeds fall in the middle of the weeds and get choked out. Sometimes they fall where the ground has been worked up.

That metaphor, because it was used by Jesus, characterizes much of how churches approach media, whether preaching, printing, televising or tweeting. We think that all we have to do is to say spiritual stuff and whether it takes root or not is not our responsibility. It’s the responsibility of the listener to get away from the weeds or send roots around the rocks.

Unfortunately, when a broadcasting (or proclamation) model runs into social media, there is a fundamental clash of values. The very thing that make social media fun – interaction, conversation, commentary – is the polar opposite of broadcasting. And the interaction is threatening for people who try repeating a packaged message.

Here’s the sad part for church: Jesus didn’t broadcast, at least not in the sense of sending a message to a huge group without direct interaction. Yes, he preached on mountains. But he also spent three years building relationships with 12 guys who eventually deserted him…and then he came back to life and walked back into their lives.

In the story about the farmer, Jesus was talking about the soil, as much about what people do when they hear about him as he was talking about how to throw stuff. The model Jesus spends four gospels providing is the ultimate in relational media. In order to build relationship, he put on a body and walked around. He didn’t use social media. He became a walking, breathing, interactive, conversational, open to comments, social medium.

In this, Chris Cree is right. Church or churches or church service or church people (see my definitions yesterday) have been slow to adopt social media. But not just the electronic kind.  Our challenge is to translate the Word into our lives such that people can read them and understand the whole of the Gospel. Not just success, but forgiveness. Not just failure, but faith. Not just striving, but community.

And that’s why broadcasting is so much easier.

I’ll be back later for a part three. For now, however, does this make sense?

here’s a link to part one: churches and social media – are we slow in building relationships? part one

here’s a couple more links about that story Jesus told from Everyday life and what happened in our backyard


8 responses to “churches and social media – are we building relationships? – part two

  1. John, One thing i believe can be accomplished is using social media for reach, making connections, and being the open door for relationships to be initiated and cultivated.

    I also think social media content can help condition the soil for the seed (Word) to take root.

    I am looking forward to the rest f your series.

  2. I think that some parts of the Church move slowly into new areas and resist change. Others jump in too quickly and don’t really get it right.

    It will take people (within the Church) moved by God to use social media for his glory and to effectively reach out to the world with his message.

    In that way, I don’t see that social media is really any different than the way the message was intended to be transmitted (other than the ability for one person to reach someone anywhere in the world). It is still “word of mouth”.

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  4. I never thought about churches fixating on broadcast because it’s easier than building relationships. I should have though because I see businesses make that mistake all the time.

    You’re right of course. So may people see social media sites like Twitter as new types of broadcast tools. I tell my business clients that they can be a broadcast tools. But that’s like hitching your car up to a horse and never starting the motor.

    If you don’t want to go far, it might get you there. Eventually. But it’s sure going to take a whole lot longer than if you use social media for dialog and relationship building.

    Guess I just assumed churches would get the relationship part since that’s the “business” they’re in.

  5. When our church was doing an evening service…which was supposed to be experimental, I suggested they include a blog as part of the mix/advertising/ connection…they did, but no one really used it for interaction…I was really surprised. Ironically, and probably not because of the failure of the blog, they discontinued the service…and the blog.

    There’s something I’m trying to say here…but I can’t put my finger on it. For someone like me, who finds it difficult to put themselves out there in person sometimes…the communitity of social networking is an awesome place to connect…to minister…but sheesh…look who I’m talking to.

  6. Your post made me think. Again.

    It seems to me that a lot of what I see Christians doing with social media is in three primary areas.

    The first is ministering to those who are already believers — encouraging, teaching, caring for the church. Whether it’s Twitter, facebook, or just their web site or email blasts, the content and interaction is really only of interest to those who are already affiliated or looking to re-engage.

    A much smaller group, and I think more of what this post is about, are people who are Christians, but who are interacting on a daily life basis with other people, where their faith is just a part of who they are. They express their faith as it’s part of what’s going on — but they’re not “broadcasting” it.

    And the third group, pretty sizable, seem to me to have adopted the street corner preacher strategy.

    The first would seem to be pretty easy for churches to do. It’s just an extension of how most churches do church.

    The second churches will struggle with, just as you pointed out that we struggle with it in other venues.

    And the third will continue to be essentially ineffective until a social media Billy Sunday or Billy Graham arrives on the scene.

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