Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ministry Implications for Social Networking

Attractional/Sales Models of Evangelism Do Not Accomplish Our Aims

A lot of the way that social networking is being used (beyond the actual social purpose for which it is intended) is in marketing and sales. Initial attempts to use Social Networking in ministry have tended to follow the research and approaches developed by these sales experts. For decades the church had been using these same sorts of strategies outside the internet in an effort to fulfill the Great Commission. This has proven ineffective in truly making disciples, multiplying Kingdom growth, and planting the sorts of churches that will plant more churches. In Central Europe, preconceptions about organized religion and suspicion of ulterior motives in salesmanship have shown these methods to also be ineffective in creating conversions (which isn’t even our goal). All of this leads us to the realization that we should not use a marketing approach to ministry in Social Networking platforms.

Branding and Platform Models vs. Cultivating Reputation (Presence)

Most people doing missions today would hold to some form of incarnational model of ministry. We need to live amongst the people we are trying to reach. However, the way that presence looks can vary along a very wide spectrum. Beyond issues such as location (you need to live where they live—near is good enough—a visiting presence for a couple weeks a year will suffice), the WAY one’s presence is lived out is highly debated today. Independent of access issues, some argue that a platform other than “ministry” is necessary. Other’s take the platform a step further and create a brand of their own to promote, that can then be used to pull people towards the Gospel. A Biblical approach to presence, looking at the examples of Jesus and Paul in particular, would emphasize reputation over platform or brand. Jesus and Paul became known as spiritual people who were on mission. People approached them because of the answers they offered. Paul was surely known as a spiritual teacher who happened to build tents, not a tent builder who happened to teach.

On the internet, and particularly in Social Media, platform and brand are very common approaches. Used as sales techniques, a person or company’s presence is promoted to attract followers. This can take the form of a platform that hides the true identity behind the brand, or can be as simple as promoting one’s identity as the brand.

Presence is an important aspect of social networking online. It is what differentiates between simple online “surfing” and participation in a network. One has to develop and maintain a presence in the form of a profile. However, the networks with the most impact (such as Facebook) tend towards authenticity amongst participants. (This is why security and privacy are such important topics.) We should treat our online presence as an extension of who we truly are—a supplement to the presence we have in our cities, developing a reputation as spiritual people and followers of Jesus, not people trying to promote a brand or sell an idea.

Households of Peace and Networks of Relationships are Biblical Models

The Biblical picture that emerges when we look at the way Jesus, the Disciples, and Paul did ministry is one of two parts: creating a reputation through public speaking or teaching (message), and expanding influence through training (method) in the networks of relationships in the regions they inhabited. This model lends itself quite well to the online sphere. We develop our reputation and share our message where large groups can see them and establish relationships through the networks of connection online. If we are intentional about the way we do this we can use the online means to strengthen our message and our relational networks outside the internet where we live.

click here for a look at this the other way around

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