When I attended the Bayside Thrive conference last month, I had the pleasure of attending a break out session called, “Social Media Bootcamp” where I met Margaret Feinberg, acclaimed Christian author of two dozen books and multiple Bible studies. She was gracious enough to let me interview her about how the Church must view, use, and embrace social media:

1.    How has social media technology affected your faith and profession as a Christian author?

I don’t think social media has affected my faith as much as it has opened up avenues for the way I express my faith and journey with Christ. Whether it’s trying to sum up a God-moment in 140 characters or less on Twitter (@mafeinberg) or engaging in a discussion on Facebook on how to handle the awkward silence that comes with leading and being in a small group, I’ve seen technology affecting the way we engage and discuss issues of faith. The potential reach as well as opportunities for cross-polination of learning is mind-boggling.

2.    What is the biggest stumbling block for church when it comes to using social media as a viable communication tool?

I think the biggest stumbling block is simply buying into the myth that engaging in social media is somehow optional for the church today. It’s a requirement. I have friends who I can call repeatedly without response, but when I message them on Facebook I receive a response in less than three minutes. The way people engage in conversations, commit to attend a gathering, and share their lives is changing—and the church must be at the forefront.

3.    What are the top 3 suggestions you have for church communicators to get over this hurdle?

First, make sure the person who handles communication in your church loves social media. If the person you’re considering for the role hears the word “mac” and thinks of a quarter pounder with fries, you’re not choosing wisely. Church communication is shifting from handouts and phone trees to online, and the person responsible for communicating what’s going on in your church needs to passionate about both—recognizing it’s not an either/or as much as a both/and.

Second, leverage social media to “shout out” what God is doing in your community. Instead of being frustrated or overwhelmed by online activity, choose to carve out a space to testify to the good things God is doing in the lives of those in your church. This can be as simple as grabbing quick videos of testimonies to post on You Tube or Vimeo or writing up a quick interview and posting it on Facebook or the church’s site/pastor’s blog.  Begin intentionally contributing to all the “good” social media can do.

Third, recognize that the social media world is messy. You’re going to see people post ugly comments. You’re going to encounter images that make you blush. You’re going to find out that what happens in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas. But if we, as the church, as passionate followers of Jesus, aren’t intentional about engaging and shaping the conversation taking place in the online world, then someone else will. And I have a hunch you won’t like what they’re saying.

4.    For churches who haven’t connected with their attenders through social media at all, what would you say to them?

Get an iPhone. That seems silly but it really puts the whole social media world at your finger tips. Then, find someone who is younger than you to coach you on the “unspoken” rules of social media (like the importance of mentioning someone’s name when you respond to them) and how to navigate the terrain. Start small with your own personal account before you launch something with the church’s name. Get to know how the medium works. Then you’ll be better equipped to help support whoever is handling the online communication for your church.

About Margaret Feinberg
A popular speaker at churches and leading conferences such as Catalyst and Thrive, Margaret Feinberg was recently named one of the ’30 Emerging Voices’ who will help lead the church in the next decade by Charisma magazine and one of the ’40 Under 40′ who will shape Christian publishing by Christian Retailing, she has written more than two dozen books and Bible studies including the critically-acclaimed The Organic God, The Sacred Echo, Scouting the Divine (Zondervan) and their corresponding DVD Bible studies. She is known for her relational teaching style and inviting people to discover the relevance of God and His Word in a modern world.