Mission Essentials Five: Social Media

“There might be something more, from MySpace to Facebook and Friends Reunited enjoy all those pictures, just don’t get excited”  (© Roy Stride)

I have a confession to make.  I find social media frightening.  I sometimes can’t stand it. There; it’s out there..  I don’t know whether you agree with me, but it sometimes feels like the world of social media is akin to the Wild West.  Signing up for an account at one of the beautiful behemoths, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, Snapchat or LinkedIn can feel like entering an unkown territory, where any danger could lurk around any corner – or is it only me who thinks like that?

unsocial media

Most social media companies have more members than most countries have people.  When we become part of one (or all) of them, we are effectively grafted into a new community and given a new e-identity.  Each one is different.  It may be that one feels more like home?  Maybe there’s one you only use briefly, almost like a tourist?  Maybe there’s one that you can’t stop looking at or checking?  Social media has become a brooding prevalence in our culture and it is one that none of us can ignore.  What does it mean for our churches and can we engage with it in our mission?

I cannot give an entirely depressing view of social media.  There must be some good to it?  There must be some positives.  I think some of these positives can be found in the way that churches can use social media with regard to mission.  I noticed last week that a church in South London is seeking to appoint an Online Missioner to actively ‘further parish mission through social media’ (see Church Times no 8084 for the ad).  What a fantastic idea.  I wish them well with this project.  In our churches, we see that the use of Facebook and Twitter can greatly enhance the life of the church and the community. It is a way of expanding the boundaries of our church, to include those who may not so readily come to a traditional service or event.  Social media keeps people connected and could help us be connected with new people!

Let’s explore three possible approaches to social media in our mission.  I am extending the meaning of mission here to include all of our communication and interaction with those outside of our church gatherings.

The Full Embrace  – using this approach could involve the employment of somebody to manage your church’s social media profiles.  This could be a paid or voluntary position. The full embrace of social media would entail the creation of pages or groups on Facebook, running a twitter account with regular updates, having a fresh, creative Instagram account. Are you tired or confused yet?  It is true that many people log in to social media on an hourly basis – some people log in more attentively than that; their phone or tablet becoming a chirping appendage that is always bringing them an update, a story or hashtag to follow.

There are dangers to the Full Embrace approach. Individuals can become obsessed, pre-occupied and paranoid about how their social media is – some people even forget how to walk down a street or how to eat an un-interrupted meal or how to hold an actual conversation.  We mustn’t let the church get like that.  We are not necessarily called to be a slick, corporate social media account – we are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. If we can do that on social media, then perhaps the Full Embrace approach is for us, but.. if the Full Embrace would lead to social media becoming a distraction or a pointless, self-aggrandaising waste of time, then maybe it’s not.

The Tentative Side-Hug – is a more polite approach to social media.  The kind of approach which might lead to us having a presence, but not updating it very often. This approach can also come from us not fully understanding how the social media platform works.  In our experience in Warlingham, we have found that posting on the general Warlingham community pages on Facebook is much more beneficial than posting on our own pages. We can reach many more people that way.

This approach is one that many churches go with.  If we have this approach, we must always remember to keep our main information up to date and ensure we have advertised other ways for people to be in touch.  Maybe ask around in your church and see if someone is willing to look after your social media on a voluntary basis?  With this approach it wouldn’t be too onerous.  This way of engaging with social media is arguably the best way – it can lead to social media as part of our wider interaction with the community.

The Not-In-MySpace – this approach involves the snubbing of social media as a postmodern irrelevance.  Our modernist ways of communicating are fine.  We have a noticeboard, we have a weekly news sheet, we have a website; we do not need social media.  If this is you, and your church, then I applaud you for your approach.  We are free to interact with social media as much or as little as we wish – if that amounts to no interaction then that’s OK… but… it could just be that it’s worth giving it a try!

To conclude, I hope that social media has a place in the mission of your church.

St Paul says:

I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.                       1 Corinthians 9:19-21, The Message

These words of scripture should echo in our communities.  It could be that they are relevant to how we use social media.  Whatever your current approach is, social media is something that we cannot ignore.  It is here to stay, so we ought to take the words of St Paul, and find our approach.  Perhaps we will be surprised as to where God takes us on social media.  Perhaps he will show us new ways in mission.  Perhaps social media will help us reach more people with a positive message of what God can do in their lives.

Mission Essentials Two: The Meeting

The papers are shuffled.  The chairs scrape into place.  The low-level chatter comes slowly to a pause.  The coffee has been sipped. It’s time for the meeting to begin.  You look around and work out how the meeting will go.  Will it stay on time? Will there be any drama?  Will I get across what I want to? I wonder what the football score is?

Meetings can be dull.  I wonder what coping mechanisms you have developed over the years to cope with the tiresome travails of interminable meetings?   In the church we are guilty of perpetuating the need for meetings. Almost to the point where everyone is unaware of why they happen in the first place! The BCC show W1A brilliantly satirises the aimless sycophancy of some meetings – production meetings in the show are punctuated by inane mumblings and thoughtless reactions to a pre-arranged agenda. Ring any bells?

Maybe your meetings are otherwise.  Maybe they are fantastically run, creative, thought-provoking and always achieve their aims.  Maybe.  I find the idea of some meetings intriguing:  How do certain national leaders behave in meetings?  How did the England cricket team’s Ashes debrief meetings go? Any meeting behind a closed door holds a moment of mystery for us.

a meeting

In the church we have loads of meetings.                                 Meetings to plan things.             Meetings to discuss things. Meetings to choose things. Meetings to brainstorm things.   Meetings to network.               Meetings to feedback.         Meetings to arrange meetings. Meetingszzzzzzzzzzzzz – sorry, I nodded off for a moment….


How can we use meetings effectively and efficiently in our Christian mission? Let’s explore some ways that we could make our meetings as relevant as possible. We will use Acts 15 as a blueprint for good, positive mission-focused meetings.

Where? is important

“Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem. (…) When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders.. ”   Acts 15:2, 15:4 ESV

Paul and Barnabas were keen to spread the news of the Gospel to all people – they wanted Gentiles to take their place in the church.  They knew that there were certain barriers to this happening; cultural and religious matters which could prevent this expansion. They promoted their cause at a meeting!  The Council of Jerusalem was the place to be.  Everyone who mattered was there, from each wing of the fledgling fellowship of early Christians to the hardline Pharisaical thinkers.  Paul and his friends got their timing just right.  For us it might be a challenge to know where and when to discuss things that pertain to the church.  Maybe we could find a local forum that is already meeting to promote our cause or to tell people what we are doing.  It may be that your local council has an open part to it’s meeting.  It would be brilliant to go there and speak clearly of the life and good news that we can share with those in our community.

When? is important

Just before Chapter 15, we read that Paul had “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles”. (What an excellent phrase.)  This was due to the work that Paul had done in spreading the message amongst those who didn’t believe.  But in the Council of Jerusalem, Paul and his friends give a passionate discussion about how they could overcome the issues that could potentially divide the church.  Both Peter and James speak about the covenant faithfulness of God and work their way towards a resolution.  This meeting was timed to coincide with the effect of growth in the church.  Growth lead to certain growing pains and a possible split in the church.  The early apostles met together at this time to find common ground and to best move the church forward.

Who? is important

All the important people seemed to gather in Jerusalem for this council meeting.  The apostles (Paul, Peter, Barnabas, James etc), the elders of the church in Jerusalem, believers from the Pharisees and other members of assembled church.   A real mix of insiders and outsiders, the leaders and the led, the important and the less-so. We read that there was “much debate” between those who were there.  This is an encouragement to us in our meetings, because we don’t always see eye-to-eye with everybody.  Healthy disagreement is good, as it helps us to see things from other perspectives and discover a richer understanding of the things we might be in disagreement about.

What? is important

At the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 it was religious practices such as circumcision that was high on the agenda.  It could be that we have other, more pressing matters to discuss at our meetings.  Let us make our meetings be part of the vibrancy of our mission life together and not just a dull necessity.  Let’s meet in the key places, let’s meet at the right time for our community and people, let’s do our best to include the right people, let’s include some prayer, let’s include the views of as many as possible. May our meetings be positive, full of God’s Holy Spirit and worthy of God’s mission in our church life. It could be that the where, when and who of our meetings follow the blueprint of the council of Jerusalem and lead to the kind of growth that the early church saw!





Mission Essentials One: A Good Idea

When was the last time you had a good idea?  Some people are good at ideas.  They think of a good idea every hour of the day.   Others might feel like their reservoir of ideas has run dry.  In our churches it might feel easy to have loads of good ideas; but are they simply that?  Do they just remain merely ideas?  Maybe they are never even given a voice, maybe they are left hanging in the air, maybe they are squashed by a louder voice. It is a real challenge to turn a good idea into something that actually happens.  How do we work out which ideas are the ones which will enthuse us?  How do we discern which ideas our community will love? How do we transform a good idea into something which leads to spiritual and numerical growth? Perhaps we all know the frustration of our fantastic theoretical idea never having the public exposure it deserves…

a good idea

I’ve had some great ideas over the years. I have often thought it would be a fantastic idea to combine the function of a washing machine and a dishwasher into one unit…. I’ll probably sit on that idea for quite a while.  Equally silly is my idea of expanding the range of assistance animals for the deaf and blind – I think I’d choose a ‘guide chimpanzee’.   I realise that idea must stay where it is – in a Monty Python-esque parallel universe.

So, we can usually acknowledge when an idea is rubbish.  In fact, it could be true to say that most ideas stay on the shelf, never to be implemented.  It is very possible that this is because they are the bad ones… But, how do we uncover the gems?  How do we ensure that the good ideas stick?  How do we give life to a good and positive notion, concept or belief? Let us turn to our churches and explore how a good idea can be an essential in our mission and community interaction.

Whilst making the following comments, I am aware that the key good idea for mission, is to put God before everything we do.  We need to pray.  We need to tell people about Jesus. We want to show people that following God is OK.  God’s all-ecompassing forgiveness, love, grace and mercy, in and through what Jesus has done for us and the ongoing indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the key good idea.  I do get that, and in a way, this foundational good idea underpins everything we do as Christians in our mission and community work. That said, here is some (hopefully) pragmatic comment on how to develop good ideas to carry into our church life.

Who can provide a good idea ?  Very often, the best ideas for mission and outreach do not come from church leaders or vicar-types.

IMG_2792 (2)
maybe not a good idea..

It’s sometimes hard for those in such roles to admit this, but a sound theological and spiritual education doesn’t immediately confer an ability to relate effectively with the community they abide in.  A good idea can come from anywhere or from anyone.

So, what is the key point here for identifying where a good idea will come from? Let us listen to one another.  If you are a leader in a church – talk to those around you. Listen to them. Carefully. Ask the younger members of your church what they think is a good idea for mission. Listen to them. Carefully.  Ask the older people – their experience is vital!  In fact, ask everyone..  ask the local shopkeepers, ask your local headteachers, ask your local councillors, ask the staff in local businesses, ask the people in the street.

But what shall we ask them?  Here are some ideas of questions…  you might just get some good ideas in response…

  • What is the best thing in your community?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What would you like the church to do in the community?
  • How do you spend your leisure time?
  • Is there anything missing from your local community?
  • What do you think is the most important area for growth in the church?

If you are able to ask questions, then don’t forget to collate the answers together and get a diverse group of people to look at them and work out what are the most prominent themes in the answers.  And don’t be surprised if the best answers come from unexpected places or people!

When do good ideas get implemented? When a list of good ideas (see Appendix One) is being discussed, how do we discern which ones to put into action?  This is the really tricky bit.  It is where many churches stall and become overwhelmed by the task at hand.  These are some of the traps we fall into as churches:

  • Trying all the ideas at once – this rarely works, and can often lead to exhaustion, negativity and a feeling that nothing can ever get done.  Trying to deliver on six good ideas, when resources are stretched can be counter-productive.  Why not spread six good ideas over a couple of years?  Or longer? Perhaps we sometimes need to wait.  To assess our resources, so that one or two good ideas can be done well.
  • Filing the ideas away – sometimes there are so many ideas generated, that we just roll up the big sheet of paper, tidy the post-its away, file the notes neatly in our study, because we cannot face the task of discernment and implementation.  If we have asked people for their opinion and their ideas, we must do our best to process them to the point of some kind of action.  So.. pray that somebody will volunteer to work through the ideas and collate the information, so it can be easily presented and seen.
  • Waiting for the right time – this sounds good in theory, but can lead to an endless procrastination..  Give the best idea a go! Find a completer-finisher and get them on board.  Talk to people, get them enthused and take some action!

‘I will never say the word procrastinate again, I’ll never see myself in the mirror with my eyes closed’  (Flansburgh and Linnell 1990)

How do we get good ideas that work?  It might sound straightforward, but the answer to this question is simple.  As churches we are guilty of over-complicating things. We have our foundational mission, we know what we are trying to achieve.  We might even have several good ideas to choose from.  We can have everything in place: a good idea, a good team, the perfect timing, sound finances and the Holy Spirit with us, yet sometimes it still doesn’t work!

In Christian mission our task is to keep praying, to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, to keep the message of Jesus at the front of all we do.  Everything else can just be a load of good ideas.  Let’s work together and pray that we will see our churches grow.  May we all find our role in the God’s mission in our communities and this week especially thank God for those who create the ideas that transform our church life together..


Appendix One – A list of good ideas

  • Clear up the litter in your community
  • Start a regular, clean, family comedy night
  • Put some encouraging messages on your noticeboard
  • Hold a youth talent night
  • Have a regular team at your local pub’s quiz night
  • Hold a thank you/celebration event for your local shopkeepers
  • Dog-walking club
  • Organise a community recipe book


Mission Essentials

IMG_9449Yes this is my top drawer of my desk.  Full of essentials for my work and life.  It was an unplanned snapshot of exactly how it is today.  The sticky notes seem to take precedence, but in there you can see such vital items as pens, paper clips, scissors, highlighters etc.  There are always some random things too – the wire that doesn’t appear to attach to anything in particular and the purple earphones that nobody likes.

How do we prepare ourselves for life and for our life in the church?  It can be hard to be resourced correctly.  Sometimes it can feel like we are way off target.  When we ask ourselves “How am I going to ensure I have what I need?”; sometimes the answer is straightforward. For a fried egg, we need eggs, a frying pan, some oil and a spatula.  For a walk in the rain, we need good shoes, a waterproof and maybe a map so we don’t get lost.  More complex parts of life need more thinking about, more planning and, often, more experience to really feel fully prepared for.

This is true for our mission as a church – there can be so many formulae, blueprints, projects and visions, that we end up not having a clue which resources we actually need.  For the next part of this blog, we will be looking at 12 Mission Essentials.  From the beginning of 2018, we will take one essential each week and see where it takes us.  We will explore it and try to see how it can enhance our mission together. They are intended as a provocation and encouragement to action.  There may be some lightheartedness along the way, but our mission as churches is a serious one.  Here we will try to ensure that we have the resources that we need.  Are you ready for the journey of Christian mission? In your community? In your church?  In your life?  Well, for that journey, we may need some of the following Mission Essentials:

  • A Good Idea
  • The Meeting
  • Stationery
  • Prayer
  • Social Media
  • Words
  • Food
  • A Good Ear
  • The Plan
  • The Arts
  • A Destination
  • Trust

Maybe you’ll join me on the journey?  I hope so, as feedback and a discussion is always welcomed.  Have a great Christmas adventure, and see you in the New Year.