Ministry Life Mon, 27 Apr 2015 11:36:53 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb What to Do Before Your Church Starts Using Social Media

Should churches utilize social media for the mission of carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth? Yes!

But after a decade or so of helping churches and leaders utilize blogging and social networking for ministry, I've come to a solid conclusion that every church leader needs to hear:

"We don't need to get our church involved in social media until our church's leaders are invested in it."

Usually, when a church reaches out for help about getting started, this involves launching or redesigning the church's website, creating a church Facebook page, and possibly creating an Instagram and/or Twitter account. But repeatedly, these efforts are wasted because of a misunderstanding about the nature of social media.

Here's the simple explanation. Social media is media (information, truth, a message of some kind) that is social (spread person-to-person or person-to-people through relationships). But we who grew up in the age of television, radio, print, and even the early days of the Internet wish it were as simple as it was a couple of decades ago when any institution or organization could mass distribute its message and count on a decent response from the general public.

Here are the harsh realities, or the beautiful opportunities if we can see them as such, that are now facing us:

  • People don't trust institutions, including churches, to be honest about their own message.
  • People don't listen to institutional language but instead demand an authentically human voice.
  • People don't choose things based on advertising but rather based on the opinions of friends.

So having a church website, or church Facebook page or church anything is terribly ineffective if it isn't personal, human and relational.

I believe that for most churches, especially smaller to medium-sized churches, it's actually more important for the Pastor and staff to be present on social media than for the church to show up there institutionally. Marriott is just a hotel, but reading Bob Marriott's blog makes it a knowable, relatable business. Zappos revolutionized the fashion-retail business by directly responding to customers on Twitter. And Ed Stetzer is one of evangelicalism's most listened to voices because he's decided that blogging and tweeting prolifically is worth the time.

So now, my first and primary question to any church leader asking for help getting into social media is this: Are you personally and professionally using social media?

Using the excuse that you don't have time doesn't cut it anymore. If you have time for evangelism, you have time for social media. If you have time to meet new people, research current trends, and build relationships, you have time for social media. So the time is right now.

If you're a church leader and you're not using social media to advance the church's purposes, you're simply delaying the obsolescence of your ministry impact. You can coast a while longer and relate only to fellow hold-outs, or you can decide that now is the time to engage the current culture, where it is, in the online world. Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Sign up on Twitter, create a decent bio and use a current photo for your profile, then follow people that make sense—fellow church leaders, community leaders, and people on the fringes of your church's extended family.
  • Use Facebook regularly. Post something inspirational daily, open a window into your life with some photos, and encourage other people with comments, likes, and personal messages.
  • Blog. Use WordPress, Tumblr, or Medium to turn your sermon notes into devotional messages that live past lunch on Sunday. And dare to share it with other people.
  • Sign up for free, helpful material from Lifeword, whose goal is to help every believer become a media missionary. Or read a book about using social media for ministry.

When church leaders such as pastors, staff members, and volunteer team leaders get excited about communicating the gospel and cultivating a healthy church community using modern tools, the church will follow. And at the end of the day, the people who sit in our pews on Sunday are far more instrumental to the spread of the gospel than the institution's public face. It's been that way since Jesus commissioned the apostles to take the good news to the whole world.

Brandon Cox has been a pastor for 15 years and is currently planting a church in northwest Arkansas, a Saddleback-sponsored church. He also serves as editor of and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders. He's also the author of Rewired: Using Technology to Share God's Love.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Brandon A .Cox) Social Media Mon, 06 Apr 2015 12:00:00 -0400
3 Ways Social Media Benefits Church Leaders

Every time a new form of media emerges, there are early adopters and rejecters.

I wouldn't throw my whole lot in with either camp. Some things are certainly fads, and it doesn't make sense to invest much effort in them. Other things are solid, and we can resist them to our own insignificance.

Wisdom is knowing which is which.

God, Satan or Tool?

Social media is here to stay. At once it represents technology at its finest, and humanity at its worst. But the same was said of television, and cinema, and probably the printing press.

So we can treat it as our god, which some people do, and their entire day revolves around consuming and interacting with every bit of information the 24-hour feed will deliver to them. We can treat it as Satan, which others do and rail against the evils that come through MySpace (not realizing that maybe the devil left there too).

Or we can choose a smart approach somewhere between the extremes.

As is probably evident, I am a big believer in the advantages of social media. I know there are negative issues that come along with it. But let's be honest. If you look around your kitchen or workshop you will probably find 10 or more awesome tools that can leave bad results.

Social media is a tool. A tool in the wrong hands is dangerous. A tool in good hands is extremely useful. Churches and leaders that remain absent from social media are not able to use this tool to expand the kingdom.

Here are three ways social media can be a blessing for leadership in the church.

Social media helps you ...

1. Empower your people. Engage in the parallel life that many people have online. They're already there. Their friends are already there. If we encourage people to interact with our church via social media, they are more likely to use it as a missional tool with their friends.

You would encourage a soccer coach in your church to develop a mission mindset through that skill set and venue. You would empower a Christian businesswoman to use her marketplace platform to build the kingdom.

So why not encourage the majority of those in your church, who are already in touch with nearly half of their community online, to actively engage in reaching people with what they have in their hand anyway? They are already engaged. They just need to be encouraged toward a mission focus.

A pastor, Sunday school teacher, women's director, youth pastor, any leader who does not encourage their people to engage in mission on social media is missing a great opportunity to reach a huge segment of the culture.

2. Express your humanity. One of the issues in the church for years has been a sort of distance and subsequent disconnect between the pew and the pulpit. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a pastor to know and be known by the majority of the people in his church. This is especially true as the church grows. I'm not saying this is good or bad. It just is.

Along the way, there can be a dehumanization of the leader. If a person only sees the pastor for an hour on Sunday, it can subconsciously give the impression that he is only a point of information.

Obviously I spend a lot of time on social media. But I have a very specific reason for that. The primary way I influence people is not by speaking at a conference—it is through social media. Regardless of the size audience I may have at a national conference, the ongoing Twitter connection is much broader.

While I spark conversations about statistics, church, culture, strategy, etc. on Twitter, most of my social media followers know I have daughters, because I talk about them. If I take them and their friends to a Taylor Swift concert, I tweet about it, in all its pain!

When one of my daughters was quite sick, I tweeted about it. I express my adoration for my wife online. Social media helps me go from just being a speaker/author to being a man who loves his family as he goes through a regular life.

Social media helps me go from just being a speaker/author to being a man who loves his family.

It is important for the people you are leading to see you as more than a leader on a stage. Social media can help shorten the distance between the pulpit and the pew.

3. Expand your influence. There are plenty of significant leaders who are not on Twitter or Facebook ... yet. But I think more and more people who want to have a lasting impact are joining social media.

Joining social media doesn't mean you have to play Candy Crush on Facebook. You can control how much you engage. You can interact on Twitter from your cell phone and not even worry about getting bogged down in email activity.

One of the great things social media does is enables quality leaders to broaden their influence and impact. I can be at a conference and hear someone new, and if I like what they are saying or doing, I can tweet them out to my friends on social media.

Most people don't know what C.S. Lewis wrote because they have actually read his work. They can quote Lewis, or Bonhoeffer, or Elizabeth Elliot because someone else read what they wrote and then shared it with others.

If these people hadn't engaged in the prevalent media of their day (print), their profound influence would be quite limited.

We know about Jesus because faithful men wrote down what He said. Now we can embrace those comforting and challenging words in our own lives. Your ministry can have greater returns if you extend it through social media.

What would you add to the list of ways social media is helpful for leaders? What is the main benefit for you to be on social media?

Ed Stezer is the executive director of LifeWay Research. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ed Stetzer ) Social Media Fri, 06 Mar 2015 22:00:00 -0500
30 Tips for Churches When Using Social Media

God invented social media, so church, you ought to use it! Nonprofits who hope to change the world? You too! I've written plenty about the theory and philosophy behind using social media.

In fact, I wrote a whole book about using social media to spread the gospel and I wrote it to lay a foundation.

Today, I'm shooting from the hip and offering some practical, do-able tips for using social media on the ground. These are based on my observations of what I've seen work, what I've seen done poorly, and what I believe is on the horizon.

1. Keep the gospel central. Never before in history has the opportunity been so wide open to take it further and faster to the ends of the earth—at least the 3 billion who use the Internet.

2. Define the why. Don't just engage because it's cool. Engage because it matters. For eternity.

3. Define the who. Who are your audiences (and you will have more than one)?

4. Determine your strategy. Don't try to do everything, but definitely don't do nothing (I know...).

5. Value communications and creativity. It's not a little thing on the side. Everything you do is communications.

6. Start. Sign up for Twitter and stop making fun of it.

7. Download my slightly dated (2011) e-book Twitter for Ministry for free.

8. Follow people you want to learn from.

9. Follow people you want to connect with.

10. Tweet links and pithy quotes, not angry rants.

11. Respond. Mention others. Engage in conversations.

12. Don't follow the non-people you can't learn from or connect with—it's a spammy world out there.

13. Have a good website.

14. Make your good website more findable.

15. Start blogging. Don't worry about getting it all right, just start writing Use WordPress or Tumblr.

16. Improve your blogging. After you've started, start improving it.

17. Read. A lot. Use Feedly to subscribe to good blogs by others. And make notes.

18. When something works, do more of it. When something falls flat, do less of that.

19. Be way more personal and slightly less professional, without doing anything stupid that would jeopardize your brand.

20. Use Facebook events. It's extremely powerful because friends invite other friends.

21. Use Facebook ads, and learn to target well. You can target by age, relationship status, location, interests and connections.

22. Stop inviting me to play games about solving crimes, building farms, and crushing candy.

23. Make videos. Too self-conscious? Get over yourself and do it anyway. Social video is the future.

24. Use Instagram. Teens use Facebook, but they really use Instagram. It's also the future.

25. Think mobile. Never design a website or produce content that can't be easily viewed and shared from someone's palm.

26. Like, Favorite, Re-pin, Re-blog, and pass along good stuff from others to others. Generosity is core!

27. Use #hashtags but don't over-do it. And have a hashtag for your organization, like #ghills.

28. Empower the people—give your members and constituents things they'll gladly share, like pretty graphics.

29. Use Facebook groups for small groups, volunteer teams, interest-based groups, etc. Groups are powerful.

30. Do good. Change the world.

Come on—add something below. What's your best short tip? What's working for you? What did you do that blew up and blew your mind with its results?

Brandon Cox has been a pastor for 15 years and is currently planting a church in northwest Arkansas, a Saddleback-sponsored church. He also serves as editor of and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders. He's also the author of Rewired: Using Technology to Share God's Love.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Brandon A. Cox) Social Media Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:00:00 -0500
Why the Internet Is a Godsend for Pastors

Once I read the story, I never forgot it.

Some preacher in Texas was waxing eloquent and told of the author of the 1960-ish book "I'm OK, You're OK," who became sour on life and committed suicide. It underscored some point he was making and he drove it home.

He got the story, he told a court of law, from an evangelist whom he had heard at some camp meeting or something. The evangelist, who was sued by the author, sheepishly admitted that he had gotten his facts wrong.

Preachers used to be notorious for telling tall tales, passing along unsubstantiated rumors that they picked up from one another and related as gospel truth in sermons without checking their accuracy.

It was hard to check in those days. No Internet, no Google, no Wikipedia and no Snopes.

Many a time I called the reference section at the public library and told them the story I was trying to run down. A few hours later, someone would return the call with whatever information they had managed to dig up.

Those days are behind us.

Today, you "save" whatever notes you are typing and go to your search engine and type in the subject you are researching. Bingo. There it is. You read it and return to your page, or even "copy" it and "paste" the information on your page.

All of that took about 30 seconds. Or less.

Never again need a preacher or teacher pass along scurrilous stories, unsubstantiated rumors, tall tales and innuendo. (Case in point: I typed in "scurilous." It didn't look right, so I Googled it and without clicking on anything, the correct spelling (scurrilous) appeared. It was that easy.)

Pastors who do not use the Internet are limiting themselves to 1950s' methods needlessly.

Jim Lancaster did not ask if I wanted a computer in my office. This associate pastor on our staff, sometime in the late 1990s, simply installed one. When I walked in, the process was about complete. I said, "What are you doing?" He said simply, "You're going to be needing this."

Was he ever right.

If there is a pastor near and dear to you who is not making use of this great help, perhaps you should do something similar. (I was so green, he had to show me the power button that turned the computer on. There is no on/off switch. Jim had to tell me that in the address ".com" the period is called a dot. As in "dot com." I told you I was green.)

But do not relegate the pastor to the computer. He is going to run into a hundred questions and will need to know that you (or some 12-year-old) is always on call to tell him, "what to do when that thing pops up on the screen" or "how to get those ads off the page."

Teach him once how to "save" his notes and how to store them in a folder, and he will be forever in your debt. Show him how to "cut and paste," and you have cut an hour from his sermon preparation time.

It's not about modern technology, nor is it about being "cool." It's about doing better work more efficiently and availing himself of all the wonderful resources now at his fingertips, and what minister doesn't want to do that?

So, no preacher with a laptop need ever pass along an unsubstantiated rumor, right? We could wish.

Actually, the Internet allows for just that, for anyone to send a lie into cyberspace and deliver it onto the doorsteps of a hundred million people by nightfall. It happens all the time.

Well-meaning but lazy people find something on Facebook or an email that tugs at their hearts (or stirs their dander) and they jump on the bandwagon. The Internet enables them to hit a few keys and presto, that thing they read is now being passed along to an infinite number of readers. Most will ignore it, some will delete it, but an uncounted number will be influenced by it in some way.

Your influence has just been multiplied by infinity.

To be truthful, that's what scares away many good people. They seem to feel the Internet is a scary beast with powers to do awful things. "All things are lawful for me," in the words of the apostle, "But I will not be brought under the powers of any." (That reference from 1 Corinthians 6:12 I knew but could not locate. So, I "saved" this article, typed in part of the verse to the search blank and instantly I Corinthians 6:12 came up. I returned to this article and resumed typing. All of it took less time than it has taken for me to describe the process).

The Internet is a-moral. It's like the radio or television, a tool for good or ill, depending on the user.

In the next year or two after getting the computer in my office (a massive bulky thing), I began writing a one-page article each week that we called "A Matter of Fax." We would "fax" it to subscribers. Then, we discovered that email was cheaper, whereas to fax that page long-distance cost high telephone rates. So, we transitioned to email and continued building our list of subscribers. Eventually, we had over 3,000.

All these articles were posted on our "blog," which is short for web log. They're still there, incidentally. Go to and scroll down. Eventually, you'll come to "Archives." Scroll down to the beginning, sometime in 2004, I think. There they are, waiting forever, for the Judgment, perhaps. (I wonder if my great-grandchildren will still be able to find all of this simply by clicking on some kind of screen, and bet they will).

When Facebook came along and I got into that—I cannot tell you precisely when—we began posting a link to the blog and that increased the readership. The next step was to discontinue emailing the articles. The comments we were getting in response indicated a declining readership.

What we did then, and have continued doing, is to type the article (like this one) on the blog, and then provide the link to it with a descriptive sentence or two on Facebook. And with the wonders of the Internet, people who like it can hit a few keys and forward that article to hundreds of their friends.

It's only amazing is what it is.

How much does this cost? My website ("blog") costs just over $100 annually, and once in a while I have to shell out a few dollars to keep my domain, which means

Sometime early in the 2000s, my son Marty, webmaster for this site, informed me that he had reserved for me. "You're going to be needing it," he said.  At the time, I hardly knew what that meant. (Later, I discovered quite a few people with my name, one of them a comic book artist, another a rock musician, and also a Catholic priest or two in Ireland. They all wish they'd bought this domain.)

Then, in the spring of 2004, I transitioned from pastoring to becoming the leader of the Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans (the official title is Director of Missions). Since the New Orleans association's website was defunct and the computer guy was trying to get it up and running in his spare time, I began using the website. That was a godsend.

In late August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina roared through our part of the world and flooded this city, causing apocalyptic devastation, we were evacuated for a month. Over a thousand were killed and hundreds of thousands lost everything. On Sept. 1, 2005, from the family farm in north Alabama, I began journaling on this blog. Editors would read it and reprinted my entries in their publications.

Everything we wrote over the next few years relating to Katrina and the rebuilding of this city and the restructuring of our churches is still there on this website, waiting to be read. In the Archives, scroll down to September 2005, and stop at Sept. 1.

It's amazing, this computer thing. A wonder of wonders. I do not pretend to understand how it works. Every innovation my son Marty has introduced—including typing this article into the system and posting it, linking it to Facebook, etc.—he has had to show me slowly and laboriously until I got the hang of it. But once I got it, the results were astounding.

There are times when something I posted at 6:30 in the morning will be picked up by some preachers' journal and, by noon, they have forwarded it to 75,000 of their closest friends. I'll go into my computer and find emails from servants of the Lord all over the world.

I'll be 75 years old next March (2015). I am well aware that this preacher boy is one blessed fellow, to have lived long enough to see this and partake of it.  (I wonder what devices will be commonplace for the Lord's servants a half-century from now, innovations that will make this laptop and Facebook seem as out-dated as buggy-whips and rotary-dial phones).

Now, may the Lord help us all to be faithful with this wonderful tool, to be careful of what we say, and seek to use this communication device to bless people and honor the Lord who enabled it all in the first place.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Joe McKeever ) Social Media Wed, 17 Dec 2014 17:00:00 -0500
Why Your Church Should Consider Live Internet Streaming

"Do you have an internet campus?" Leadership Network polled more than 500 multisite churches in late 2013 (entire report as free download here), with the following findings:

1 percent—We DID have an Internet campus, but no longer offer it.

10 percent—We PLAN to launch one soon.

28 percent—We DO currently have an Internet campus (or similar).

62 percent—We do NOT have an Internet campus, beyond access to sermons online, and no plans to launch one.

Any church that runs cameras in worship, whether for image magnification or broadcast to other campuses, has the potential to do an Internet campus. For many, the process is an ongoing education:

  • "We love our Internet campus," says Steve Stroope, pastor of Lake Pointe Church, Rockwall, Texas, which draws roughly 11,000 to its physical campuses and another 3,000 to its online campus. "I didn't get it when we started, but the plusses have been unbelievable." The church has learned to use the service not only as outreach, but also to bring families together. "It helps our members stay connected when they can't attend and new people get a free sample without as much risk." One woman, whose grown children attend Lake Pointe, is a regular online viewer. "It's so great to go to church with my kids," she reports.
  • "We've adjusted our approach several times," says Bryan Collier, pastor of The Orchard, a United Methodist congregation in Tupelo, Mississippi. "It's working well now more as an on-ramp than a destination. Our people will invite unchurched friends to a coffee shop and play the service for them. It's created great conversations and a greater willingness to actually come to church."
  • "We are continually surprised by the reach of our internet campus," says Pierre DuPlessis, pastor of The Father's House, a large multisite church in Rochester, New York. Leaders there calculate that almost as many tune in online as attend in person.

As churches are experimenting with the idea of online campuses, below is an in-depth look at yet another church—what they did and what they learned:

Reaching at Home and Way Beyond

A live broadcast of worship services to more than 30 countries, chat and prayer rooms, faith commitments and virtual small groups—these are all part of the expanding Internet-based experience, aptly named the Online Campus, from The Cove Church, based just north of Charlotte, North Carolina.

"Our biggest growth factor is people telling their friends and family, whether on social media or sending a text or email with a link," says Rebekah Carney, Online Campus Director at The Cove.

One woman attending from another state heard about the online campus from her adult daughter, who attends the Statesville campus. Since this woman started attending the online campus, her two younger children living at home have committed their lives to Christ. Rebekah has never met the daughter in person, but she has become good friends with the mom, who now serves from miles away on Rebekah's Online Campus Chat team.

Another Cove attendee who travels extensively was attending church online while in China—and soon had a crowd joining him. "Somebody wandered by and was curious and stopped and watched with him," Rebekah says.  "Then another stopped, then another. Before he knew it, 15 people were watching The Cove's service with him from 9,000 miles away."

The Cove and Senior Pastor Mike Madding's desire for global reach sparked the online campus idea when Executive Pastor Rick Carney was discussing with the church's technical director, Steve Smale, how to take the church's ministry outside the walls of its regional multisite campuses. Church leaders attribute much of the global growth of its online campus—people have attended from more than 30 nations—to The Cove's focus on missions.

"When someone new from a different country joins our online church, we can usually trace it back to a mission trip our church took," Rebekah says, "or someone knows somebody in that country or someone moved there. All the growth has been word-of-mouth at this point."

On a typical Sunday, The Cove has about 500 logins to its online campus. Judging by trends in the chat room and from talking to people who attend, more than one person is usually watching at an online location. Rebekah estimates 800 to 1,500 people are joining the online service each week.

The Cove measures its online progress by taking attendance numbers from Google Analytics and also tracking the bandwidth being used during a broadcast. This way leaders know how many people are watching and where they're from, with some of the biggest spiritual "wins" recorded in chat room conversations and commitments to Christ.

"Those conversations are a huge win for us," Rebekah says. "People will say, 'I really needed this today. My sister sent me this link out of the blue and I watched, and the message was perfect.' We get stories like that all the time."

The church added an instant feedback button to its online campus page this year where attendees can indicate they have prayed to receive Christ. Before that feature was added, participants had to find a communication card online, fill it out and let leaders know they had made a commitment to Christ.

Only 10 made that indication in 2013, but already this year 191 people have clicked the button to let leaders know about their faith commitment. If new Christians share their identity, leaders follow up with an email and a package sent to their physical address that includes information on "Next Steps" to get started in their new journey with Christ.

"That's obviously one of the biggest reasons we do this," Rebekah says.

Leadership Team Also Spread Far and Wide

Rebekah is on paid staff at The Cove, and she leads an all-volunteer team of three divisions. She has put together a Production Team that handles all the video and web production work for the live broadcast. The Host Team takes care of the chat room and online conversations. Currently, they offer only a public chat room, but plan to add private chat room and prayer room soon. The Media Marketing Team helps to manage and create content for social media and landing pages to draw people into the online campus.

These teams—some of whom gather in a room during the service, while others work remotely, even in other states—range in age from 15 to 60 years old.

"It's very cool to have people of all ages working together," Rebekah says. "So many of them are doing this for their family and friends, and they are so passionate about it.

"One of my team members has friends all over the country, and she is so passionate about reaching them. She gets so excited when someone she's invited signs in."

Community: Both In-Person and Online

Rebekah says leaders hope that online campus participants will find one of The Cove's regional campuses and become an in-person attender. "If people want to stay online and watch, that's OK," she says. "But if they're local, we want to see them find one of our regional campuses and get in community with some people."

For those who aren't willing or able to connect in person, The Cove is utilizing Google Hangouts to test "virtual small groups" with some of its team members. Judging by the early success, virtual small groups will likely become a part of the online campus experience—with an eye on something much bigger.

The Cove launched online Life Groups, or small groups, and made them public in September. "We have more interest than we can currently accommodate and in my group there are people from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and California. The community that is developing across time zones is just amazing," says Rebekah.

"What we would really love to see happen is that when we see 20 people all watching in a nearby city, maybe Memphis, we plan a mixer with those people and start a neighborhood campus there," Rebekah says. "We want to see people joining in community, so we would love to see people in neighborhood campuses, community campuses, even large regional gatherings developing out of our online campus."

Warren Bird, Ph.D., serves as Director of Research and Intellectual Capital Development at Leadership Network. An ordained minister with background as both a pastor and seminary professor, he is an award-winning author or co-author of 27 books for ministry leaders including Next: Pastoral Succession that Works with William Vanderbloemen. Other recent titles are Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work with Jim Tomberlin, and Wisdom from Lyle E. Schaller. Some of Warren's recent online reports include "Leadership Network/Generis Multisite Church Scorecard," "The Heartbeat of Rising Influence Churches" and "Pastors Who Are Shaping the Future." He is widely recognized as one of the nation's leading researchers of megachurches, multisite churches, large church compensation and high-visibility pastoral succession.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Warren Bird ) Social Media Thu, 18 Dec 2014 14:00:00 -0500
Why You Should Use the Internet to Impact, Not Implode

For hundreds of years as missionaries took the gospel to the ends of the earth, depending on the culture they encountered, the Christian community allowed them enormous latitude as to how they chose to present the message.

For instance, when a missionary worked in a culture steeped in polygamy, he didn't start by teaching what the Bible said about "one husband and one wife." He knew the key to changing embedded cultural behavior wasn't immediate confrontation; it was the sometimes long process of winning trust, developing relationships and earning the right to be heard.

From Sati (widow burning) in some Asian cultures to slavery and tribal warfare in Africa, missionaries understood that it may take years before they were trusted enough to speak against values and customs that had been part of a society for generations. Legendary Baptist missionary Lottie Moon is credited with helping to end the practice of foot-binding in China. Changing this commonly accepted but crippling practice was a massive shift for influential Chinese leaders at the time. But it was only Lottie's deep and long immersion into that society which earned her enough authority to speak into these kinds of practices.

Today we give the same type of latitude to missionaries confronting Muslim cultures in which many who come to Christ desire to remain culturally Muslim.  In Buddhist areas, the challenge may be household gods, and in animist groups it's syncretism. To preach against these practices from day one is to invite expulsion and sometimes physical harm. That's why being strategic about when, where and how to broach these delicate subjects is critical for impacting these regions with the gospel.

Today, "missions" isn't just about a remote village in a Third World country. While those outreaches are still critical, the emerging mission fields of the 21st century are the largest urban areas of the world—including the United States. From New York, Stockholm, Berlin, Cape Town and beyond, a new generation of pastors and leaders are planting churches in the most unchurched cities of the world. They face challenges traditional missionaries of the past faced and more, including an unbelieving and indifferent community, often-hostile media and aggressive government regulation that can limit new church buildings and locations.

But beyond these immediate obstacles, these pioneers are facing a challenge previous generations of missionaries and leaders never faced. These urban missionaries are being challenged in the media by other Christians.

Past generations of Christian missionaries changed the world, in part because we gave them the latitude necessary on when, where and how they chose to present the gospel. In those days, news travelled slowly, and in many cases missionaries were able to spend years working with local groups relatively unhindered.

But in the digital era, every decision, interview and statement our new leaders make is tweeted, posted, updated and blogged about. Suddenly, Christian sites post opinion pieces from armchair theologians, and everyone feels the need to weigh in with little or no understanding of context or background. In the Internet age, Christians who've never even been to Mumbai feel perfectly comfortable calling a Christian leader working in that culture to task on a wide range of issues.

And when it comes to volatile issues like same sex marriage, it gets downright ugly. We've gone from respecting a leader's decision on when, where and how to share the gospel to the people he or she's called to reach to forcing leaders to sign a virtual loyalty oath. If they don't all make public announcements that meet our approval, they're labeled as compromisers, sell-outs or heretics. We're effectively forcing these 21st century missionaries to be rejected by the very cultures they are desperately trying to reach. To turn away people before they even have a chance to share the life-changing message of the gospel.

Theology matters. What we believe about God determines the God we believe in. But when it comes to engaging the fastest changing and most disrupted culture in the history of the world, I suggest that we give a little grace to our pioneers on the front lines. They see the challenges first hand, which in most cases determines how best to connect.

Teachers in urban areas use different methods from those in rural areas to inspire students. Military generals use different strategies for engaging enemy forces in different regions of the world. So why can't we do the same with the men and women on the front lines of the gospel?

I'm all for vigorous discussion and even debate. But next time we hear a sound byte, an off-hand conversation or a media interview from a leader we may disagree with, let's not be quite so quick to criticize on social media, blogs or the op-ed pages of Christian websites or publications. Let's consider the local situation, the context and the lifelong track record of the person in question.

Perhaps most important, let's remember there is much we don't know about going on behind the scenes. In other words, let's use the power of the Internet to impact, not implode.

Phil Cooke is a filmmaker, media strategist and the author of One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do. For the original article, visit

]]> (Phil Cooke) Social Media Fri, 07 Nov 2014 14:00:00 -0500
8 Trends of Church Members on Social Media

On a few occasions, I have addressed the topic of church leaders on social media. I obviously have a fascination with this form of communication. Indeed, I see it as one of the great modern-day vehicles for good or harm.

In this post, I address eight trends related to church members who use social media, specifically in relation to the churches where they are members. As a note of clarification, most of my data comes from Twitter and Facebook. There are, obviously, many other types of social media.

Here, then, are eight of the trends I see:

1. More church members use social media to encourage others in their churches. These words of encouragement are typically directed toward pastors and church staff. The good news is that these tweets and posts seem to be more frequent and pervasive.

2. Church members increasingly use social media to point others to interesting articles related to Christianity and church life. Indeed, I am encouraged to see many such visits to my blog and to other sites that include information on faith and church life.

3. Though in the minority, an increasing number of church members use social media to attack and criticize church leaders. I recently read a scathing attack on a pastor. It was filled with venom and vitriol.

4. More non-Christians are viewing such attacks as normative for Christians. They thus have no desire to associate with Christians or come to our churches. I have heard from many of these non-Christians myself.

5. A number of church members are using social media wisely to share the gospel. I have been greatly encouraged to read many tweets and posts that point readers to articulate and loving presentations of the gospel. May their numbers increase!

6. Church members are using social media with increasing frequency to share prayer requests. On more than one occasion, I have seen a prayer request spread virally. It is very encouraging to see the power of prayer on this modern medium.

7. Some church members use social media as means to share activities and ministries in the church. Indeed, social media has become one of the primary forums to invite others to the church by letting people know what is taking place in the congregations.

8. While the use of social media by church members is overwhelmingly positive, the toxic users of these forums still get an inordinate amount of attention. It's the "car accident syndrome." Traffic slows down to see the havoc created by the accident.

Like most vehicles or instruments, church members can use social media for good or harm. The caution we all should heed is that social media tends to magnify our voices in unprecedented ways.

Let me hear from you about this topic. How do you see church members using social media?

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Social Media Mon, 20 Oct 2014 16:00:00 -0400