Social Media and Spirituality: The New Reality for Churches
By Rachel Gilmore
The Coronavirus has forced many of us to stay home and find connection through social media. While social distancing will end when the threat of COVID-19 diminishes, the shift to creating and cultivating community online will remain with us. If the church cannot embrace this new reality, we will find ourselves “flattening the curve” of our impact on all generations.
Eighteen months ago, I wrote a grant to receive funding for a “Digital Discipleship” program at my church plant. I had avoided social media evangelism for years, wanting to stress the importance of gathering in person; but our culture is shifting. As of 2018, ninety-six percent of young adults, ages eighteen to twenty-nine, own a smart phone, and seven out of ten Americans use social media to connect with others. But it’s not just young adults who are embracing an online life. The Bureau of Labor statistics reports that in 2000, only fourteen percent of adults older than sixty-five used the internet, but now seventy-three percent of those sixty-five and older are online, and the time spent online is growing exponentially as well.
While social distancing will end when the threat of COVID-19 diminishes, the shift to creating and cultivating community online will remain with us.
With more people spending time on technology, the church can embrace the art of digital discipleship in intentional and meaningful ways. Rev. Dr. Martin Quick, an associate pastor at Journey United Methodist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, wrote his doctoral dissertation on social media evangelism years before many churches wanted to embrace the concept. Journey UMC has been live-streaming Sunday morning worship and using a variety of social media platforms to bring people closer to God and to one another. Rev. Dr. Quick was interviewed for our Field Preachers podcast and shared that even John Wesley was willing to let “the mission determine the method,” as he embraced innovation to reach those who were not connected to the church.
So how can churches lean into digital discipleship now and into the future? The staff at Discipleship Ministries developed some of the following suggestions for how to use social media to spread messages of love, hope, and peace.
- Make video posts specifically thanking and tagging nurses, doctors, health professionals, and emergency responders.
- Create a Snapchat filter that inspires hope.
- Create a Facebook prayer group or book club.
- Add online lessons through Facebook and YouTube – record short Sunday school lessons or a devotional; capture and share inspiring stories of disciples building relationships in their communities.
United Methodist Church planters from around our nation have shared some of the other following suggestions:
- Provide a downloadable egg hunt for folks of all ages to do at home or to put up in the community as a social-distancing-appropriate Holy Week activity. (Discipleship Ministries is working on providing this resource to you in the next week.)
- Offer a “Heal the Space” sermon series to help people find hope and healing in the rooms throughout their home.
- Create volunteer forms for people to fill out on your website that will connect them to safe ways to serve others in their community during this time of self-quarantine.
- Use websites like streetfoodfinder.com to find local food trucks that let you order online to support local businesses safely; or arrange for everyone in your faith community to use Grubhub, Uber Eats, We Deliver, or other online food delivery service to order food one night each week.
- If you pre-record your Sunday service, arrange for a Facebook “watch party” on Sunday so people can communicate with one another during worship.
- Host Zoom room dance parties or playdates for kids to see and interact with one another and close in prayer together.
- Organize Zoom room scavenger hunts for youth.
- Organize a virtual choir and share the video on social media. Click here to see a recent virtual choir with a link in the comments about how to create your own.
Rachel Gilmore is the former Director of Recruiting, Assessing & Training for Church Planting with Path 1. She stays away from foliage but loves to plant other things like churches, preschools, and ideas in the minds of those looking for innovation and inspiration in the church.