One of the critiques I hear about social media is that it is interfering with our ability to connect with others. This comes from studies and observations that we no longer connect the way we did in earlier times (sitting on your front porch or visiting with neighbors over the backyard fence) and somehow social media gets blamed for these societal changes.
While it is true we are no longer connecting in ways we used to, I would argue that social media can and does help us connect and form community in new ways.
For example, how might we use social media to help the introverts become more active in our congregations?
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the difference between introverts and extroverts. Introverts are not shy. I am actually an introvert and no one has ever accused me of being shy. I am fairly certain my daughter is an extrovert and she is rather shy.
The best way to differentiate between introverts and extroverts is to think in terms of energy. Extroverts are energized by social interaction. Introverts are exhausted by it. An extrovert comes home from a big social event pumped up and has trouble winding down. An introvert comes home and takes a nap.
Small talk usually comes naturally to extroverts. One of the reasons introverts are so worn out by social interaction is the amount of energy that is spent simply thinking about what to say and how they are going to go about “mingling”. It’s not that introverts can’t mingle and interact socially, it’s just that it is more work for them.
An introvert might be willing to expend that energy at work, but for church, it’s just too much. They may be reluctant to go to coffee hour or come to a committee meeting or work party, not because they aren’t willing to become more involved in church activities, but simply to avoid the awkwardness of meeting new people and figuring out what to talk about.
In her book “The Social Media Gospel”, Meredith Gould talks about how social media helps her, an introvert, become more connected with others.
She cites a #chsocm (church social media) tweetchat from 2012 on personality types and social media where introverts note that social media;
- Helps me connect with people I’d probably not talk to in a public space because I dislike crowds/groups;
- Makes it possible to interact with lots of people in a way that does not drain me
- Gives the opportunity to meet someone before meeting in person so we can connect more easily in real life
- Enables me to extend a conversation I might not risk face-to-face
- Allows me to respond at my own pace without putting me on the spot
Imagine how participating in a group discussion in a church Facebook group, or even chatting a bit on the page might help a newer or even long time introvert member be more willing to attend a meeting or even coffee hour if they knew someone they had gotten to know better through Facebook or twitter was going to be there.
It doesn’t even have to be about being introverted or not. Congregation members have shared how they have gotten to know their fellow members better through Facebook.
“I have been a member here a long time,” comments one congregation member, “and there were some members I didn’t know very well. But when I became friends with them on Facebook through the church page, I would see what they liked to do and were interested in and then I had something to talk to them about when we saw each other at church.
As I have been saying, using social media in the church is about much more than putting up announcements. It’s about relationships. How can you use social media in your congregation to build relationships?
How about simply asking people who are willing to friend other church members to make themselves known on the church page? How about a group page for bible study or just fellowship and support? Or a group to share prayer concerns?
How have you used social media to build relationships in your congregation?
By Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson
Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA