I have conversations almost daily with church leaders about the subject of social media. I continue to be amazed at the number of leaders who see it as a bonus or an add-on at best and at worst, a time-wasting nuisance. One of the common questions I hear is "Do we really need to be doing this? Do I really need to be making time for this?"
The assumption is that real ministry in real relationships happen in the real world, not the online realm. And herein lies the fallacy of our dated thinking. Some of us are still in the mode of thinking in which there is a barrier between the online world and the "real" world. But that barrier is gone. It only exists in the minds who haven't bothered to notice its absence yet.
I grew up in the age of the "information superhighway." Most of us thought the Internet was all about information and data. We would connect to it to do our research or surf the web for fun, then disconnect and end our online session. Now we know that information is only part of what the web is all about. It's not just about what we can know anymore. It's now about who we can know, and how what we know gets passed around among the people with whom we interact online.
The idea of connecting and disconnecting is gone too. Now the Internet is like oxygen. We live and breathe in it and when it is absent for any length of time, we notice. Our miniature portals to the entire world is glued to our palms most of the time. While we can argue the sanity of this situation another time, for now we simply need to acknowledge that this is life. This is our culture. This is the digital era.
Engaging the world online is no longer optional for people who want to have influence. And for Christians, that's all of us. We've been commissioned and sent as God's ambassadors on an assignment to go make followers of Jesus everywhere. If people make decisions based on what their friends are saying on a social network, and if our chief concern is leading people to make the decision to fully follow Jesus, then it stands to reason that we absolutely must join the conversation happening in the realm of social networking.
Here's the issue. Conversations are happening, right now, about subjects of supreme and eternal importance. The philosophies and ideologies through which people live and make decisions are being shaped and influenced more and more by their social interactions online. If the church decides not to show up online, the conversation will be void of the gospel.
This is a priority. It's not optional. The church, in the past, has been willing to step up in leadership within the culture. In the Renaissance, the church taught the world about art, music, and architecture. In the industrial revolution and electrical age, the church took to the airwaves with both radio and later television. But for whatever reason, in this digital season of human history, we're waiting on the sidelines to see if it's worth our time and effort.
Most of our church members are already engaged online. It's up to church leaders to get into the game and coach this volunteer army in the art and science of taking Jesus to the ends of the web wide world.
Brandon Cox became a pastor at age nineteen and has served in that role in small churches, as well at Saddleback Church, one of America's largest and most influential churches. He's now planting Grace Hills Church in northwest Arkansas. Brandon also serves as editor, mentor, and community facilitator for Pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastor's Toolbox, one of the world's largest online communities of church leaders. He's an avid, top 100 blogger (according to Kent Shaffer's semiannual list) and lives in Bentonville, Arkansas with his wife, Angie, and their three awesome kids. His book "Rewired" covers "How Using Today's Technology Can Bring You Back to Deeper Relationships, Real Conversations, and Powerful Ways to Share God's Love."