I have been privileged to be able to help congregations and pastors work on how they communicate. In particular, I often teach about social media and online tools for ministry. And in doing this, I have heard the same objections many times.
Here are the 6 most common objections to having an online presence that I hear from leaders in congregations, and my answers to them.
1) People just use social media to avoid real relationships.
This is far and away the most common reason I hear for churches avoiding an an online presence. It also comes in the form of "I don't care what you had for lunch."
It's true. People talk about some pretty inane stuff online. Things that we may not care about, or which we might think are pointless or meaningless. But this is true of every mode of communication! Traditional print publishing has giving us both the works of William Faulkner and trashy romance novels. The same medium gave us both the Washington Post and the National Enquirer. And in the same way, along side the trivial conversations on social media are very deep and meaningful conversations about faith, community, and the world.
And even more importantly, some of the most important conversations are built on these "trivial" conversations. At the end of the day I spend time with my spouse, and we talk about our days: what we had for lunch, who we talked with, the things we did at work. Those so-called trivial conversations are often the mortar that bind together the relationships in our lives.
2) No one in our community is online.
I don't believe you. Period.
It's true, some communities are more wired than others. Communities that are near large cities tend to have better connectivity; younger communities tend to be online more than older communities. I get that. I live in a rural area. High speed internet access was not easy to come by when I moved to this community. But mobile connections have changed everything.
As of 2012, 78.6% of the North American population is online. 50% of all Americans have a smartphone. More people in your community are online than you think. The number of older adults online (and on social media) is growing exponentially.
Even if the people currently attending your congregation are not online, the rest of the community around your congregation are. The people that you want to invite into your congregation are online.
3) Social media is just a fad.
Next year, Facebook (the current social media leader) will turn ten years old, and it continues to grow every year. The world's first website is 20 years old (and still online, an archived info page about the CERN "world wide web" project). The first BBS (bulletin board systems, an early form of online community) came into being 40 years ago!
Social media will change. New platforms will become important, and others will fade away. But people will continue to use online media to build community and communicate with one another.
4) We can't afford to be online.
You can't afford not to be online.
The days when you could just be listed in the phone book or put an ad in the newspaper and be done with it are over. 60% of people start their searches for information online. If someone in your community is looking for a new place to worship, the chances extremely good are that their first stop will be online - either a google search, or via a friend's recommendation on social media. You want to be there.
More to the point, it is very easy to develop an online presence with little or no budget. It is free to develop a presence on all of the major social media platforms. FREE. There are many ways to build a website for free, or on a very limited budget. FREE.
5) Social media is just for ________ (large, suburban, wealthy, young, etc) congregations
Some of the best social media ministries that I have seen come out of smaller congregations. In truth, larger institutions often have trouble with new ways of communication - it has to go through the proper committees, and be voted on ten different times, etc. Smaller institutions tend to be more nimble and able to adapt to new ways of being.
In addition, smaller congregations need online media more. The large, wealthy, etc, institutions have lots of resources for building a community and raising awareness. It is smaller communities that are often looking for the low cost alternative (see #4).
6) Online interaction will never replace face-to-face interaction.
You are absolutely correct. There is no replacement for face-to-face interaction. But nobody is suggesting that congregations and pastors abandon face-to-face interaction! It is not an either/or choice.
Your newspaper ads do not replace face-to-face interaction. Your phone line does not replace face-to-face interaction. Your print newsletter does not replace face-to-face interaction. They are all tools to help facilitate good face-to-face relationships, and help your congregation proclaim the Gospel.
And the same is true of your online ministry. It is one tool (among many) to help facilitate communications in your congregation and your work of proclaiming the Gospel and building community. It does not replace anything. It works alongside other tools.
If you are just getting started using online communications for your congregation, I highly recommend the books The Social Media Gospel and Click2Save as a starting place.
As you get online, I would love to connect with you on Twitter.