21 March 2011
Six Ways Social Media Can Improve Your Preaching
Insights from my Mutual Ministry Committee
Social media has made me a better preacher. At least that’s what my mutual ministry committee tells me.
At our meeting last month, the committee reflected on how my work in social media - and blogging in particular - have really improved my preaching. Such is the digital age that we live in!
Here are six ways I think social media has made me - and can make anyone - a better preacher:
Tapping the Conversation
Sermons are inspired by all kinds of things, but, in my own experience, the sermons that really connect are the ones inspired by conversations I have throughout the week. These conversations shape how I look at the text, understand my context, and what will speak to the hearts and minds of my people.
Whereas I might only have a few conversations during the week that would influence my sermon. Through social media, I’m now connected to hundreds of them. Social media allows me to participate in a giant conversation - actually thousands of conversations simultaneously - and to listen, participate, and learn. And these are conversations, not just with my parishioners - but also with colleagues and friends around the world - people who share my faith and those who don’t. If we listen carefully, and perhaps even prayerfully, (and remember, “listen” is the first rule of social media) we can tap into these conversations.
It is especially helpful to identify commonalities - things that seems to strike a chord with many people. For instance, when something you posted gets an unexpectedly strong response, or when many friends are sharing the same thing - an article, link, or news. Also, pay attention to social aggregators like Twitter Trends, just to see what the world is buzzing about.
Getting Instant and Ongoing Feedback
By posting my sermons online, I can get much more feedback than I can after church on a Sunday morning. People can leave comments on the sermon blog itself (though, like most blogs, this is rare). I get statistics about how many people read each post, so I can tell what resonates. I also share my sermon on both my Facebook profile and the church page. This is where I get most of my feedback. The likes, comments, and messages (or lack thereof) give me an indication about how I’ve connected, or not.
Capturing Your Audience
Preachers are fortunate - and rare - that we have a captive audience every Sunday. People agree to sit still for 10-15 minutes and listen to us each week. Does this happen anywhere else? Definitely not online. When you write for the web, you are competing with the world for attention. If you want any kind of audience, you must get really good at capturing people’s attention - right from the beginning - and holding it throughout. Having this same sense of urgency in my sermons has helped me to preach with greater force.
Also, knowing that my sermons will be posted online and seen by people beyond the congregation, makes me write for a larger audience, so I always have in mind people that might not be Lutheran or Christian. Thus, my sermons always seem to contain an element of explanation and teaching - and hopefully welcome.
Inviting Others Into Your Preaching Process
Preparing a sermon is often a solitary process. It doesn’t have to be. Invite others to participate with you. You can do this by simply posting your favorite line from your upcoming sermon or your key Bible verse. Pose a question. Ask for help. See if and how people connect. For example, see how Nadia Bolz-Weber used feedback from Facebook on her sermon on John 3:16 "Weirdos and Violence" and how I used it in my sermon "The Problem with Organized Religion."
Getting into the Word - In Advance
Inspired by an interview with one of our members about how she creates value in social media, I have started posting a verse from the upcoming Sunday lectionary on our Facebook page (which goes to our Twitter feed) each morning at 7:30am. I schedule them all in advance using Hootsuite. This practice forces me to read the text more carefully - verse by verse - and in advance - so the texts are in my head earlier - a week or weeks in advance.
I also recently started a series of 2 Minute Bible Studies on our YouTube channel (see below) where I share some first thoughts on the texts for the upcoming Sunday. I post it on Tuesday, so I have to get the main points of the texts in my head early in the week. This is another fun way to invite people into my preaching process.
Get Inspiration from Others
Many preachers are now either blogging or podcasting their sermons. Check them out. See how others approached the text, their stories and style. Hearing the Gospel in a different voice is good for our souls as well as our sermons.
How has social media shaped your preaching? Have you invited people into your process? What would you add to the list?