‘You have to take some risks’ in social media

“I wanted to help people fall in love with church,” said the Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein of her inspiration to engage with social media as a minister.

Weinstein joined fellow panelists the Rev. Meg Riley, senior minister for the Church of the Larger Fellowship; Andrea Lerner, district executive of the New York Metro District; and the Rev. Stefan Jonasson, large congregations director for the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, at the “Friendly Presence: Social Media and Ministry” workshop.

“It was also a way to create community,” Weinstein said of social media. Weinstein, also known by her social media persona “Peacebang,” advocated social media as ways for church leaders to broaden the community of people their message can reach. She stressed the relationship between popular culture and inclusivity in ministry.

“To be successful in social media,” said Weinstein, “you have to take some risks.”

Riley spoke about how social media are used as tools at Church of the Larger Fellowship. Social media represents a new way of engaging people. “Facebook is the third largest country in the world” after China and India, Riley told the attendees, who responded with surprise.

At CLF, joys and concerns are shared through Facebook. A new mobile phone app has just been released by CLF offering additional ways for people to get pastoral care and feel connected to a larger spiritual community.

Lerner said that social media provide windows into congregational life and allow congregations to learn about each other. “I’m not playing with my phone,” Lerner said of her use of social media during visits to churches in her district. “I’m sharing our good news. That’s what I want you to do.”

“I came to Facebook reluctantly,” confessed Jonasson. “I signed on to Facebook to monitor my daughters.”

Eventually, Jonasson came to view Facebook as tool for ministry and evangelism. Facebook is “an opportunity to be more pastorally responsive more quickly, and perhaps more casually,” said Jonasson. “I have intervened in at least three congregational conflicts” before they escalated enough to require repeated in-person visits.

Responding to a question on how congregations can use social media effectively, Weinstein suggested congregations use blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to spread information about events or projects and encourage conversation.

Be careful regarding humor or off-hand comments, warned Riley. Misunderstandings happen easily on social media.

For assistance using social media in your congregation, “Call your district staff,” advised Lerner. “We can be very helpful.”

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