My Granddad led a church. He didn’t own a computer and none of his church did. I remember the photocopier was the size of a small European city. The internet didn’t exist and social media involved inviting people round for dinner to read the newspaper together.
The job description of church planters changed dramatically the moment the internet came into the public consciousness, I doubt my Grandad would understand half of what I do or why I do it. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube moved the goalposts.
Church planters now have to exist online as well as in person. How you behave on Twitter is possibly as important as your preaching in terms of influence and growing your church plant.
So what does the average church planter/leader do? They sign up to Twitter and start slamming out Spurgeon quotes. Stop. Stop right now.
How should church planters and church leaders use Twitter most effectively? Let me tell you.
- Understand what Twitter is and what it is not.
Twitter is like a loud pub. Music is playing. There is a fight in the corner. Someone is definitely drunk.
Imagine you are in this pub. You sit with a group of friends and you discuss the issues of the day, your interests, your hobbies, your successes and your failures. Your friends respond, comment, console, provoke, laugh at you and laugh with you. Sounds like a normal night out. Right?
Then a new guy wanders into the pub. He sits at your table and then starts shouting quotes at you. Weird.
Another guy walks in. He sits at your table. This guy has a book to sell. He spends the evening repeating the nice things people have said about his book and ignoring the rest of the pub. Everybody moves to a different table.
Twitter is a community. It is a place to hang with people you already know and make brand new friends.
I found that Twitter works best for me when I view it as a tool for local engagement. I have spoken to some church leaders who think it’s a loud hailer that the whole internet hears. Local, for me, is my church, my city and my tribes.
So I make sure I follow people in my church and interact with them. Online community is as important to people as face to face contact.
When I moved to Manchester, I followed local marketing firms, designers, bloggers, journalists, social media managers, promoters, writers, local politicians and leading business types. I got a quick inside track on the culture of Manchester.
I also follow my tribes. For me this is just groups that interest me that I identify with in some way. So I follow other church leaders who have interesting things to say (they do exist), music bloggers (because I love music) and a variety of different friends. They are my tribes!
- Tweet people
Get into conversation. Simple really. There are people in my church that I met on Twitter.
The best part of Twitter is when someone new responds to a tweet and you meet someone completely new. The world just got a tiny bit smaller.
- Don’t just tweet quotes
A few quotes are OK, but if you fill my twitter feed with quotes and retweets (RTs) of other people’s quotes then I am going to unfollow you. If you just tweet Piper, Keller and Spurgeon quotes, it does make you seem a little narrow-minded. Tweet your interests outside of church stuff.
- Work at it
Longevity is the key. Keep checking your followers and follow back the people you are interested in. It’s also worth glancing at who they follow or are followed by. This doesn’t take masses of time and can be real benefit to you and your church plant.
- Watch your tone
Rick Warren says, “Arguing with people on the internet is like a wrestling a pig. Everyone gets covered in mud and only the pig likes it”. I honestly don’t bother seriously debating or arguing on Twitter. It has no nuance or subtlety and you often end up looking ridiculous.
I find it frustrating when Christians get into fights over Twitter. It’s so rare that people actually change their minds and it is never dignified. Anytime Rob Bell releases a book, I usually stay off Twitter for a few days. The arguments are excruciating.
Twitter is largely a liberal place (certainly in the UK), and so I think very carefully about what I tweet or retweet. If I hold a particularly counter-cultural opinion then I want to be able to explain it to people clearly, compassionately and I want to hear their opinion. That is not easy on Twitter.
- Don’t tweet angry
Just don’t. Trust me. Nobody wins.
- Don’t retweet compliments
It is hard to explain how vain this looks. Instant unfollow. If someone tweets a compliment at you, say thanks. Remember the pub scenario, if someone compliments you in a pub, do you wander round the drinking establishment telling everyone that “So and so loves my new book!”. No you don’t. Unless you’re drunk.
- Enjoy Twitter
You will find plenty of people like you, and you will find people who are completely different to you. It’s funny, irreverent and so very useful!