A lot of times when we in churches and ministries think about social media the question is, “What do we need to do on social media?” And that is a good question to ask. Knowing your purpose and knowing what platform is the best fit is important.
But there’s another key in building relationships over social media that is sometimes overlooked:
The internet is a noisy place. We tune out some important things that people are saying because we’re focused on something else or because we’re scanning quickly.
Listen for the emotional content or, as Ronald Heifetz calls it, the “song beneath the words.” People will post things on social media they would never say to a pastor’s face. Social media can help us see the everyday emotions people are going through. This isn’t true for everyone. People censor themselves online or may seem more angry than they actually are because they forgot to take the caps lock off. But the song beneath the words is worth listening for.
Listen for the disconnect. People are passionate and use social media to talk about things they’re interested in. If someone has agreed to be your friend on Facebook or has tweeted about taking art classes, they’re not going to be surprised if you bring it up in conversation. Someone may be active in a local non-profit that your church could partner with. Take that disconnection, that “I didn’t know s0-and-so did that” and turn it into connection.
Listen for the longing. People often post about things that trouble them. If people are asking for prayers about a situation you’re not aware of, ask them how you can be in prayer for them and the situation. If people are posting about an issue in the world, maybe that’s an issue you can speak to in an upcoming sermon. People also post about joyful things they want to share with as many people as possible. They long to share their joys and concerns just as we do in worship services.
Listen to people outside your church. Many people follow other community organizations and churches to keep up on what’s going on locally. Many also follow churches or individuals across the country who are doing different things to keep new ideas churning. Many follow people passionate about similar issues but who come at the issue from a different point of view to keep perspective.
Social media is just like any tool for ministry–it’s there to build relationships and help us live out our faith. We need to use it wisely. We need to listen more than we talk or post or tweet.