Tag Archives: social media chaplain

My Monday

God bookMaybe it doesn’t matter, you seeing my schedule. But maybe it does. I’ll run through it and talk about some of the things I talk about.

  • I preached yesterday, something I do every few months. The topic, part of a series on God’s characteristics, was “God is loving.” I’ve been updating our church website and sermon podcast with links to the message. (I also DM’d the link to a friend).
  • A lady from our congregation died Friday night. I won’t be doing the funeral, but talked with the family and pastor about the bulletin and the service (What names should be listed? Do you list relationships for the sake of people who might not know everyone? I know that she was shy, but what about a picture of the dolls that she collected for the front of the bulletin? We’ll record it, don’t worry about that).
  • I’ve talked with a person who teaches at our church about a conference that’s coming up. It’s by video this year to save on travel costs. I want to have several people from our congregation attend to learn how to build relationships within groups more effectively.
  • I wrote a memo on how to refine one of learning tools. I used dark room to help me concentrate.
  • I’ve helped the funeral director move the casket into the building, talked with the person in charge of the funeral lunch tomorrow and met her son, moved some furniture and trophies.
  • I’ve talked with a couple of friends at a distance about why Paul (the apostle) was cranky and how to spell a word.
  • I looked up how much it would cost to send a package to Serbia.
  • I added StickyScreen to my browser at work as part of my focusing process.
  • I’ve used Jing to create a screen capture to put on our website where I also uploaded a video about the community carnival we do every year (and told our facebook fans about it).
  • A couple other things
  • four cups of coffee.

What is interesting to me is the mixture of communication tools and media I am using in the course of my day. I bring my social media conversations about audience into the conversation about what goes into a funeral bulletin. I bring Jing and Facebook into promotion for an intensely local carnival.

Some days my life confuses me and I think about how simple it used to be, back when I only had one conversation at a time. But the truth? I wouldn’t trade now for then. Because of you.


what do you expect

garbage cans at ballparkYou are going to talk to some people this week who aren’t completely upbeat.

Some of them are just being cranky. They probably should be scolded.

One of them, however, just finished her first weak of chemo (an intentional typo). One of them found out he was losing his job the day he came back to work after his dad’s funeral, two days before another funeral. One of them has a world that seems to be collapsing on every front. One of them found out her grandson died suddenly. One of them is fighting depression and winning, but life feels very stretched out.

I know. We have every right to expect excellent service. After all, we’re paying for it (unless, of course, it’s free). We have every right to expect people to deliver on their promises, to be consistent, to be perfect, to deliver.

But behind the technology tools, behind the broken doors, behind the apparently carefully built brand, are people, not shiny objects or garbage cans.

We have every responsibility to expect people to be people.


on church and facebook

I am not a Facebook person.

I’ll acknowledge that I did stay up to 12:01 on June 13 and I did become www.facebook.com/jnswanson, but that is just about keeping my brand intact (email, twitter, flickr, tumblr, and other things that no longer exist). But I have been much more connected to social media platforms outside Facebook.

When I have come inside the pages of The Book, I have been somewhat frustrated with all the games and quizzes and “how well do you know me.” I have limited the number of people that I have friended, primarily because I lack the energy to connect as well as one ought to with all the people I have known across the years.

grabill missionary church logoThis week, however,  I realized that Grabill Missionary Church has to have a page on Facebook (Grabill Missionary Church).

What led to this shift?

1. I keep having conversations with people in real life who are continuing conversations started in status updates. In contrast to the many Twitter conversations I have with people far away, these are intensely local, mixing off and online. We want to be available for those conversations.

2. There are many people who come to our building on Sundays but who miss pieces of what is going on. How we help them catch up is always a challenge. I realized that I keep seeing some of them on Facebook.

3. We have moved from print to an enewsletter, but there are many people who change emails, who seldom check email. While I was trying to figure out how to connect to some of these people, I realized that some of them were my friends on Facebook.

So, after getting some advice on Twitter, we started a page on Thursday. I invited everyone from our congregation that were already my friends. I included a link in our enewsletter.

As of Saturday night, we have 49 friends.

We’ll keep it simple at first. We’ll let people know when the podcast goes up each week We’ll let people know when the enewsletter goes out.  (And if the link is a bit.ly link, I’ll know how many people clicked) We’ll let people know what the next Sunday’s sermon is. We’ve already put up video about worship and service. And we’ve started putting up pictures from the previous week’s events.

A couple final observations.

1. The intention of the page is to help people who are part of the physical congregation stay connected throughout the week. To use unspiritual language, rather than being primarily about external marketing, this is about internal customer service. However, we will be incredibly aware of people who are looking in on Grabill Missionary Church or on church in general.

2. We’ll remember that only some of our congregation attend Facebook. Others attend email, snail mail, small groups, Sunday school, and other communication and fellowship settings. This will force redundancy, which will be healthy.

3. We’ll stay focused on people rather than platforms. Our passion is not on connecting to new technologies. Our passion is connecting people to God and to each other. This new page will probably help. But if it doesn’t, we’ll blow it up.

So what do you think? Are we thinking about this the right way?

Five love languages

nancy washing windows

I don’t like to follow trends. When a book becomes popular or has multiple editions and workbooks, I avoid it. It’s just how I am.

Because of this tendency, I put off reading The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate for years. (It came out in 1992. I read it in 2003 or 4). One day, however, I saw a copy and decided to skim it.

I’m glad I did.

In this book, Gary Chapman suggests that rather than there being just one way to say, “I love you”, we can think about five languages:

  1. Words of affirmation: encouraging, kind, humble, specific words, whether written or spoken.
  2. Quality time: undivided attention, listening conversation, significant activities.
  3. Receiving gifts: A visible, touchable reminder that someone else cared to think about you.
  4. Acts of service: Doing what matters to the person, for the person.
  5. Physical touch: Physical contact, usually without direct sexual connection.

Chapman suggests that it is possible for couples to have different love languages and, as a result, to experience great frustration in their relationship if they are actively saying “I love you” in a language their other isn’t hearing.

For example, spouse #1 may love gifts. Even little, handmade, cheesey gifts. They mean paying attention. They mean thinking about. Spouse #2 may love quality time. Even sitting looking at each other without the TV on for 15 minutes, talking. If spouse #2 thinks gifts are a waste of time and money but is always hanging around, and spouse #1 spends time making scrapbooks of the relationship, this couple is going to feel empty and unloved, though they love each other very much.

On the other hand, spending even a little time learning another language will strengthen the relationship significantly.

There is much more in the book, but even this much has been helpful to a number of people I know. Including me.

Why do I randomly decide to write about this concept today? Because on Saturday I talked about it with a couple who I will be marrying in a couple weeks. Today I suggested it to a friend who is wanting to do something special for his anniversary. A month ago, I promised a friend that I would send him the basics as he thinks about his wife and children (and I forgot).

Two-thirds of these people didn’t know about the concept, though it made tremendous sense and brought insight. And a social media chaplain should probably be giving people some tools.

Maybe it will help you.


Photo: Nancy saying “I love you” though it looks like she’s washing windows.

8 ways social media can learn from church

I decided to start on my presentation for SOBcon 2010 early.

I haven’t been invited to make a presentation. I did, however,  spend most of two wonderful days in Chicago with some good friends, listening to people from marketing and PR and social media and communication and a bunch of other places talk about successful blogging. Driving home, I realized that I have some suggestions as well, drawn from an unexpected perspective.

Here’s my rough draft for next year.


jon swanson and liz strauss at SOBcon 09Good afternoon. Thanks, Liz, for that introduction.

As you heard last year, I’m a social media chaplain. Not a chaplain of social media, in the way that people are social media experts, but more of a chaplain in social media.

My expertise, if I may be so bold, isn’t in social media but in communication. And even more specifically, in church communication. I have been around church for five decades. I have talked a lot and listened a lot and learned a little.

As I listened to all the experts last year talking about how to move big businesses into social media and how to help bloggers build their businesses, I realized that there are a few lessons that can be learned from church. After all, we’ve been about communicating messages for a long time. We’ve done it well sometimes and poorly more often.

Let me suggest 8 lessons you may want to consider as you expand your social media efforts.

1. Great stories stick

Seems obvious. Everyone talks about story these days. And lots of people forget to tell them, even in church. However, over the years, it is the stories that get people’s hearts. Stories, for example, about shepherds who leave a whole flock in a field and go looking for one sheep that has somehow wandered off.  Arguments prove, numbers support, stories transform.

2. Some people will never believe.

Lots of people in church can’t accept this. They spend huge energy hammering on people who resist (and in the process, undermine everything about carrying that they are trying to say). Spend your energy on people who will listen, who are interested, who do need what you offer. And maybe, in the process, even the people who “never believe” will be eavesdropping.

3. If the customer is always right, you have nothing to sell.

I struggle with people who are in “the meaning business” always giving in. Part of my struggle, of course, is with myself. But there comes a point when there are lines, when the customer can’t stretch the belief system so far that it becomes completely transparent. Be willing to say, “you know, we just can’t do that.”

4. Admit hypocrisy or it will kill you.

There are lots of people who hate church because they were told one thing and they were shown something else. You can fill in your own examples. I can offer you some of my own, times when I have taught that faith brings confidence…and have been worrying about making that very presentation.  Where we often fail is by ignoring the reality that grace implies failure. If you are perfect, you don’t need grace. So acknowledge your hypocrisy. Point out your own failings. Show where your product doesn’t measure up. And offer hope.

5. Sometimes you do have to ask

There is a place for asking for commitment, for inviting people to make a choice. But don’t start there.

6. Looking at the edges takes your eyes off the core.

There are, if you haven’t noticed, approximately 1 billion protestant denominations. (There are days that I would love to slug Martin Luther for demonstrating that the way to solve theological differences is to split into two groups. However, it wasn’t his fault and it certainly has been preferable to killing the other group, which continues to happen too often.) Often, those splits happen because people begin focusing on fine differences between them.  Unfortunately for outsiders, this means that insiders spend huge amounts of time saying, “we don’t do this like that group and we don’t do this like that group and we aren’t as __ as that group and we care more about ___ than that group.” It’s much like spending time differentiating between blogging and tweeting and pr and marketing and sales.

What matters is the people you are trying to reach and what you are trying to connect them to.

7. Broadcasting feels wrong, but it lets you reach some people.

While driving home from SOBcon 09, reading @chriscree‘s tweets of the sessions, I was listening to public radio. There was a story about “bottle evangelists”, people who put Bible verses on slips of paper and seal them in bottles and throw them into the ocean. I was listening and thinking, “that is incredible one-sided, non-conversational, inefficient.” You are probably thinking something else. But then they talked about the period when Albania was completely closed to religion. No way in. And they talked about being able to drop bottles that would wash up on the shore.

Sometimes apparently ineffective and untrendy methods are what works.

8. Authentic identification isn’t a tactic, it’s the point.

If we are wanting to sell people on being transparent, we can use that as a tactic, we have to be transparent. If we want to come alongside someone to help them understand our message, we may have to actually come alongside them. You can’t put on the mask of openness, you have to be open.

If you are arguing that lives are transformed, yours has to be. Or people will see the inconsistacy. Church knows that one well. We mess it up often.

But it is, after all, where we started.


There it is. I’m still working on the slide deck. And I’m open for questions. In fact, if we start talking now, this will be something more by next May.

Photo credit Becky McCray

Social media chaplain

Emilio stood in the shower trying to think.

Sometimes it seemed that it was the only place he was able to think.  It was probably the only place he unplugged.

He was struggling with understanding what, exactly, he does.

Emilio is an associate pastor. He has been described as a social media pastor by both Chris Brogan and Jon Swanson. He has, however struggled with that label. In his local congregation, he is a pastor that uses social media. It’s a face-to-face congregation,  different from the online church where Tony Steward is a pastor. Not that one is more community than the other, they are just different setting, different communication tools.

At the same time, Emilio has  number of friends in the social media world, people who aren’t connected at all to his local congregation. They interact often. He writes a daily devotional. He often has people say, “can you pray for me?” He chats about coffee and about life on twitter and elsewhere.

He often has felt a tension about the two worlds. In one, he is clearly a pastor, caring for a flock, connecting them to each other and to God. In the other, there is no clear each other. They don’t gather in the same place at the same time–physical or virtual.

And he struggles with what to call his social media presence. Reading about branding, reading about marketing, reading about expanding influence, all of it sounds fun and compelling and important. Except that it felt somehow uncomfortable. For him.

He shook his head and wiped his face. It was time to quit the struggle. He had to just do what he does, regardless of what it’s called and whether it fits with any categories.

And then it hit him. “I’m a chaplain. I’m a social media chaplain.”

Everyone knows about chaplains. They carry bedpans and assist with surgeries on MASH, but no one mistakes them for competent. Until the mortar rounds explodes and people wonder about surviving. Then Father Mulcahy has some interesting conversations.

Chaplains stand on the sidelines at football games. People look at them, wondering why anyone that unathletic, that uninvolved is wasting valuable bench space. Until there is an injury and a player is abandoned on the sideline, and there is a guy holding an icepack and a guy listening.

Chaplains show up in hospitals and listen to stories. They are the one in the room that isn’t family, that isn’t medical, that isn’t healthcare. They are just there.

Present, listening, available, comforting. That’s a chaplain. Doing it in social media circles, that’s a social media chaplain.

It seemed a workable balance. Pastor in one setting, chaplain in the other. Leading in one setting, waiting in the other. Available always.

He turned off the water, grabbed his towel, looked at the counter. His coffee cup sat there, the second of the morning.

“And chaplains get to drink lots of coffee. It’s perfect.”