Do you remember “Six Degrees?” Yeah, me either. Six Degrees was actually the first social media platform launched in 1997. It was named after the idea that everyone is separated by no more than six degrees of separation or six connections with any other person in the world. The site allowed users to create a profile, make connections with other users, and send messages. People could list their interests and connect with others of similar interests and backgrounds to build networks of friends.
Although Six Degrees didn’t take off like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, it paved the way for the development of other social media platforms and demonstrated the potential of social networking to connect people and build online communities. What I love about this first iteration of social media is the focus on shrinking the world and finding the commonalities we all share. Its purpose was to unite and bring people together, creating conversations and bridging gaps.
What is Social Media meant for?
Why was “social media” invented? Because being social is important to our health and happiness. We were created for connection. Engaging in conversations with friends and family, attending gatherings, learning from others’ stories and experiences, and offering mutual support and encouragement to those around us are all key in our ability to thrive. Social interactions help us form relationships that bring us joy, comfort and a sense of belonging. They help us develop empathy and understanding for others. When we are in social situations with people outside our normal communities, we learn new ideas and perspectives that challenge us to think in new ways.
“But can true social interaction really happen online?”
“Can true discipling relationships really happen in online platforms?”
These are questions the church has been grappling with for years. In the attempt to engage social media platforms, many churches have taken the “social” out of social media and used it as a one-way communication tool with livestreamed services and daily bible verse graphics. While this is a great place to start, this inhibits the richness of what social media was intended to do, create social connections and bring people together. So, what would it look like for you to dive into the messy, beautiful space of putting the social back into social media? Of using these social tools for accomplishing the mission of making disciples?
How to be social on social media
- Engage in authentic conversations: Social media is a great tool for starting conversations and connecting with people. In every post, encourage a response and then respond to every response. Send messages to people, inquiring about how they are doing and connecting with them about their stories and posts. Talk about everyday life and infuse it with faith. By being genuine and open we can let people know they are seen, known, and loved.
- Share inspiring stories: The church can use social media to share stories of discipleship, service, and faith. In response to the stories that you share, encourage others to share their own stories. By sharing stories, people will be able to see what they have in common with others in their community and make real connections where friendships can form.
- Host virtual events: Create opportunities for virtual events like online Bible studies, prayer groups, or even online virtual church services. This helps unite us as community, whether we are across town or around the world.
- Use social media to serve others: Use your social media platform to promote organizations and start conversations about problems and issues your community is passionate about. Find opportunities for people to engage and volunteer online as well as in-person to build unity and understanding around a common goal or solution.
- Be accepting: All kinds of people are on social media. This means that you will bump up against people who don’t vote like you, think like you, or have the same experiences as you. The benefit of social media is to expand your thinking, open your mind to new people, and seek to understand where others are coming from, even if you disagree. Teach your church members to use social media as a way to shine the light of Christ instead of causing division and contribute to division or demonizing a group of people.
What would it look like if the church put the social back in social media? It would mean we would open our hands and our minds to what God is doing in others and connect in new ways so the Gospel can spread through relationships as we all seek to make disciples.
What do you think? What are some other ways you can put the social back in social media? Share your ideas below or on social media.
Through the Digital Church Network we are helping physical and digital churches better understand the discipleship process, and helping churches and church planters understand this and other decentralized mindset shifts. Joining the DCN is free and be encouraged!