Book Review: From Social Media to Social Ministry: A Guide to Digital Discipleship
From Social Media to Social Ministry: A Guide to Digital DiscipleshipFrom Social Media to Social Ministry: A Guide to Digital Discipleship by Nona Jones. Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 2020. Number of pages: 151.
Nona Jones, a well-known speaker and author who, with her husband, leads a church in Gainesville, Florida. She also works for Facebook as the head of global faith-based partnerships. More information about her can be found at www.nonajones.com.
Jones started writing this book in 2018 as she came to terms with the reality of declining church attendance and increasing numbers identifying themselves as a religious “nones.” When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020 Nona quickly finished writing the book, seeing that it was timely for the church. Her expertise in social media and her heart for the church to be more than just the in-person worship service during these pandemic times and beyond motivated this work.
Nona organized the book in three sections. The first section, titled “Part 1: The Why,” gives an overview of why we should embrace a new way of thinking about social media and it being extremely important to the ministry of the local church. For me this is the most beneficial section of the three because it inspired new ways of imagining and using online platforms for ministry. I am discovering the vital importance of social media to the online culture that COVID-19 has forced us into on account of physical (social) distancing.
Nona stated her thesis on the third page sharing what she thinks Jesus would do if he were on social media today. “He would be calling us to move from social media to social ministry. And this would require a radical paradigm shift in how we do ministry today.” She went on to say, “We must become less concerned about the number of likes we get on a post ... or video and more concerned about the number of lives that were changed because of them.” Her stated purpose for writing this book came from her desire for her readers to use social medial to change lives.
This requires a radical paradigm. I agree. The church experience must become more than what happens at a physical address and facility. Today people live online, and each church needs to be in both a physical place and a virtual space. This does not mean just a website and social media pages, but actually sharing life in both spaces. Nona backs this concept up with the fact that “Jesus taught in both the temple and on the street corners. Jesus prayed both in the temple and with people in need whom he found along his journey. Jesus didn’t limit his ministry to a location or a method, and we can learn a lot from the one who started it all (p. 13).”
With the development of COVID-19 and the closing down of gatherings for corporate worship and collaborating in person to do ministry, many church leaders simply hope to wait-out the pandemic. The author offered two thoughts about “online church” and building an authentic church community. “First ... whether you build an authentic church community is less a question of the modality of church and more a question of the intention of the church (p. 15).” Like never before, using online platforms and websites have more potential than ever before to reach people for Jesus. This seems especially true for younger generations who are fully comfortable and used to doing everything online, from education to shopping to friends to.... We have the opportunity to engage others in spiritual life and community online as well.
Second, the author stated, “The fear that online church will replace in-person church is simply not rooted in data (p. 16).” Online church has no intention of taking the place of in-person church. Rather, the author stated, “I believe that you will find that a strong digital ministry lends itself to the reward of driving online connections offline eventually.” She went on to say, “Discipleship requires conversation beyond content consumption. People are far more likely to visit a church where they have built relationships rather than one where they simply saw an advertisement. Online church is real church because it is filled with real people who need a real Savior (p. 33).” With COVID-19 driving us away from our physical buildings and in-person gatherings, today’s church leaders must develop an online church that will lead to future in-person gatherings.
For years, many churches have provided live streaming of their worship services. They already experience having two congregations—the online congregation and the in-person congregation. Now, with COVID-19 forcing us to do ministry online, and with the development of the technology for virtual meetings and events, online gatherings, recordings, and streaming services have become relatively inexpensive and even “normal.”
The second section, “Part 2: The What,” described how to use the components of Facebook to develop a social ministry platform for one’s church. The author explained how to develop a “Facebook Campus” as part of a church’s ministry. The three chapters in this section include: The Anatomy of a Facebook Campus, Planning Your Facebook Campus, and Building Your Facebook Campus. As I read through this section I did not gather a lot of additional insights that were helpful to me. I did learn some new features of Facebook that would be valuable in developing small groups online. This spurred my imagination for churches to develop their church websites as an online campus using Zoom meeting room links embedded into a password-protected webpage. These could function as a virtual church facility where people gather for church services, Sabbath Schools, Adventurers and Pathfinders, and other church activities. Indeed, websites no longer serve as merely content sources, but can be developed into community connection spaces.
The last section, “Part 3: The How,” covered launching, leading, and growing a Facebook campus. Again, as I read through this section I found myself shifting to the development of an existing church website and how it could be transformed into a virtual church facility as an additional “campus.” In the chapter on leading, the author made it very clear that the goal of the virtual campus is to eventually get your “congregation” off-line and into physical, in-person experiences with others. She stated, “While you can do incredible and impactful work in the group (referring to small groups online), fostering real-life connections will be the pure gold of your online campus (p. 136).” She went on to say, “The underlying assumption is that growing a real-life church and growing a digital church must require different approaches since their nature is different. I’ve discovered, however, that a physical church and a digital church are governed by the exact same principles when it comes to growth, because a digital church is filled with real people (p. 140).”
The author finished the book with an outstanding section titled “Engage People,” where she gave a list of best practices for growing both an online campus and a physical campus. This reiterates her concept that “growth is not a destination; it’s a journey. And one thing fuels the journey: engagement” (p. 140).” Jones followed with a list of engagement topics. These make the book worthwhile by themselves. I encourage you to purchase the book, get out your highlighter, and begin a journey of discovery, learning how to use the digital platforms you have available to design and develop your virtual church campus. Yes, it will require that you lead in two worlds—the in-person world and the virtual world. But this book convinced me this is our calling as leaders of ministry at this time.
Tracy Wood, DMin, Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.