It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book here on Covenant of Love so let me give you the down-low. The following review is not meant to be a blow-by-blow analysis so that by reading my review you somehow don’t need to read the book. Quite the contrary, this review will offer highlights designed to peak your interest or save you time depending on whether you think, based on my review, if it’s worth a read. And that, of course, depends on if I’ve built a rapport with you. Do you trust me? My reviews are based on five stars. So without further ado…
The Social Church
By Justin Wise
3.5 Stars (out of five)
In my experience visiting pastors for my job there seems to be a sense of reluctance to embrace the new media world among more of them than I’d care to even count. There is some amount of justification for their reluctance (or fear, I suppose would be more accurate). First, it’s easy for a minister who has built his or her ministry and career upon Sunday morning services and actually hand to hand engagement to see the irrelevance of social media. There’s also the fear that by putting him or herself online the pastor may be opening themselves up for trouble. And also there’s the shrouded wisdom that says, social media does more harm than good, so I’ll lead by example by abstaining from going on and hope my flock follows suit (newsflash: they won’t).
But the reality is, social media is the latest globe changer. Just as writing changed everything, just as the printing press changed everything, just as the Industrial Revolution changed everything, the internet (web 2.0) and social media has changed everything again. The only question is, will churches adapt the everlasting message to the new medium or will they refuse change and – for sure! – fizzle out. God’s Church universal will never fail, Justin reminds us, but individual faith-communities have and will.
In his book, The Social Church, Justin Wise makes a compelling case for why churches cannot not be online. This book is a call for heretics to rise up – not doctrinal heretics but the kind of heretic who knows that the only way for faith-communites to be effective are those who go against the tradition of tradition (“this is the way things have always been done“) in order to meet people where they are. The great commission applies to Facebook too. If your people are there; if the people you want to reach are there, you need to be there.
The book is incredibly helpful in its insights and the information it provides. For example, a recent study showed that 47% of those surveyed said they would not visit a church for the first time if the church in question did not have a website. And Justin reminds us that number is only going to go up. But not any website will do. It can’t be a website where your church sort of pukes up information-overload and text-overload. Your church needs a clear Big Idea and they need to communicate that Big Idea succinctly on its website. And your website needs to look good and be thought out, but it shouldn’t use “stock photos” because that will deceive people into false expectations when they visit. Your church needs a Big Idea and a website before it gets into social media because your website – the only social media avenue you own – is the “hub” of your internet activity. All of this and other great advice and direction are provided throughout the book.
I also found the chapter called “Looking for a Mouse” to be insightful in its direction on how to use social media. Here’s a hint: it’s not about sharing “Jesus Loves You” pictures all the time or constantly trying to get people saved. Justin encourages the 80/20 rule. Make 80% of what you share to be about your community – ask questions, start conversations, be apart of conversations, provide inspirational and uplifting thoughts and so on – and only about 20% of your shared content should be about your direct message, your events, your witness.
One more point I’d like to highlight is how Justin puts his finger on the reality that social media is real life. That’s hard for slow moving traditionalists to wrap their minds around. But it’s true. There’s no such thing as “the real world” and “the cyber world.” The cyber world is just as real as the real world. What you do online does have real life consequences (as my friend Ryan often says), but that’s because what you do online is just as real as what you do offline.
What Could Be Improved Upon
The book could have been better had Wise not spent so much time elaborating on his Lutheran heritage at the start of the book. I believe he could have gotten his point across better by touching on the relevance of his background without making some of the doctrinal assertions and elaboration that may very well turn off non-Lutherans (and in particular, Catholic churches) readers who would otherwise benefit from his advice. I also found that at times he rambled which annoyed me I must confess. But that just might be me. A third critique is that I wasn’t always sure who the book was written for. Was it directed to church leaders? That seemed to be the thrust of the book so, in my bookstore, I would put it in the leadership section. But at other times he seemed to be speaking to a wider audience the way you might find, say, a book in the spiritual growth section of my bookstore. For example, he has a chapter called “Looking for a Mouse” in which he deals with the right and wrong type of content to share on social media – or perhaps I should say, the right and wrong ways we share our content. It was a really good chapter for everyone, but I didn’t feel any call-back for leaders to take the reins.
I would highly recommend this book and frankly wish there were more like it. The Church has always been a slow-moving machine. We’re called to be the body of the radical Christ, but sometimes it feels like we’re the body of a slug. Thick-skinned, resilient but slow as molasses. Paul used the technology of his day – writing instruments – to reach more people and provide a “presence” and “community” even when he couldn’t be with them physically. Luther and the Reformers used the technology of their day – the printing press – to spread their message and God’s word rapidly across the Western World. We need to utilize the technology of our day for the greatest benefit for the Kingdom of God.