Yesterday I posted the first part of my address to the URC Pastor’s Conference on “Blogs, Facebook, and the Flock: What is the relationship between social media and the local pastorate?” Part 1: Be Positive. This is Part 2: Be Intentional. 

Ligonier’s social media guru, Nathan Bingham, says that the most important question we must ask ourselves with social media is “Why?” (see The Best Social Media Tip I can Give You)

Why do I want to do social media? What’s my motive and aim? Is it for myself? is it for the church? Is it for unbelievers? Is it to evangelize unbelievers? Is it to disciple my flock? Is it to draw attention to resources? Is it to serve the wider Christian community?

Once you answer the “Why?” question it becomes a lot easier to answer other questions like:

  • How? What practical steps do we take to accomplish this?
  • Who? Will this be done by the pastor, a volunteer, or paid staff? Will we need to train someone?
  • Where? What platform will we use – Twitter? Facebook, Blogs? etc. Which medium is best for edification of the church? For reaching unbelievers? For gathering and promoting Christian resources? etc.
  • When? How much time should be spent on this?

Nathan illustrates the connection between “Why?” and these other questions by describing three churches that answered the why question differently and hence approached the how and who questions differently. What follows is a summary, but you can read more detail at his own post.

Church One – Information
Their goal for social media is “to target existing members of their church and supplement, if not replace, the bulk of their weekly bulletin.”

If that’s they “why” the “how” is quite easy. The pastor or a volunteer spends an hour or more a week scheduling this information and encouraging the congregation to check in.

Church Two – Edification
Their goal is “to target the wider body of Christ as well as existing members of their church. They want to build up and encourage Christians in the digital realm—sharing edifying sermons, challenging quotes, and links to resources that are helpful to the wider body.”

The “how” needs more thought and time to gather the content, to post it, to respond to interaction, etc.

Church Three – Connection
Their goal is “to reach out to those who live locally and are not a part of the body of Christ. In addition to providing a gospel saturated response to today’s issues and asking the difficult questions when appropriate, they’ll be introducing themselves to a community who may not of otherwise known of their existence.”

This is the most demanding choice in terms of time and thought. You need to be listening, following local trends, etc., and clear guidelines given to staff/volunteers as to what and how to engage with the public on behalf of the church.

As you’ll never be able to do all kinds of social media well (blogging, Google +, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), you will need to choose which one to focus on – again determined by the answer to “Why?” As my main aims when I started using social media was to practice writing and communication for the education and edification of my students, 90% of my social media time has been spent on blogging – reading blogs and writing posts. Twitter gets about 9% of my social media time as it’s a good place for gathering links to good resources, and the other 1% is not much more than posting links to my blog articles on Facebook and Google+. Facebook has some good links to good resources, but I don’t usually have the time to wade through the daily trivia to get to the gold. I can do that more efficiently on Twitter.

How much time?
And that raises the “When?” question. How much time should we spend on social media each day? You should pray about this, discuss it with your wife, and, if you are a pastor, probably consult your elders too. Explain your motives and aims and ask for guidance. I probably spend an average of 90 minutes each day on social media, and most of that is in my downtime in the evening. About half of that time is spent reading others’ blogs and Tweets and the other half is spent on writing blogs and linking to good articles. Although I call this my “hobby” and I do it in “downtime” there is of course much personal edification, education, and training going on also as I’m exposed to multiple thinkers and doers in Christian ministry.

As I used to spend at least an hour every evening reading the daily newspaper, usually The Times, I view this as a much better use of time for myself and for the Kingdom.

What time of the Day?
A second “When” question is “When in the day will you do this?” The three biggest mistakes you can make are:

  • To do this first thing in the morning. This diverts your attention and runs down your brain fuel before your main ministry work.
  • To do it during what should be family time. If you’re doing social media when you should be with your wife and family, you’ve prioritized the wrong community.
  • To do it non-stop throughout the day. Students, and ministers too, are discovering that non-stop social media habits make deep and long study increasingly difficult as the multi-tasking brain keeps demanding the short-term buzz of adrenaline that’s squirted into the body with every “Like,” “Retweet,” and “Comment.”

In The Digital LeaderErik Qualman, says “multitasking is junk food for the brain” and explains the self-harm that results:

A study at The British Institute of Psychiatry showed that checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment by 10 points. This decrease is the equivalent of the effects from not sleeping for 36 hours—and exhibits more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana.

And if you are posting non-stop Instagrams of your latest exotic coffee, don’t be surprised if hard-working people in your congregation begin to resent this and think that this is all you are doing!

Be Intentional
Unless you are intentional, social media can devour your days and ultimately your ministry. Keep asking yourself “Why?” and so much else will fall into the right place and proportion.