By far, one of the greatest benefits from social media that I have experienced in my own setting is in the area of pastoral care. Specifically, this pastoral care has been as it relates to the pulse of the congregation in the area of spiritual, physical, and personal needs.
Social media allows people to stay connected to friends and family that live far away. One of the primary reasons that my wife had gotten into social media years ago was because of that fact. We had moved far away from our family and social media allowed for us to stay in contact with pictures, comments, and notes to our family, making the distance between us feel a little less significant than it really was.
Over my time as a pastor, I have experienced the communication struggle that exists within the church, primarily when people in the congregation are having health or other struggles or concerns. There have been numerous occasions when I found out about a church member or attendee who was in the hospital after surgery had already occurred. No one had told me of this person’s admittance into the hospital or their surgery, but it was presumed that I “should just know.”
As I explained to those people that pastors were not mind readers, I struggled with how to stay in the loop with what was going on in and around the congregation. Social media has provided a great resource to stay in tune with what’s going on. Granted, not everyone is forthcoming with the things in their lives on social media, but my own experience has shown that people are fairly willing to share prayer requests, needs, and concerns with those who are among their social media loops.
Spending a few minutes a day checking into social media to see what’s happening with people connected to your faith community is a worthwhile investment. It takes discipline to ensure that you don’t get completely off track, but perusing your “wall” to see the latest and greatest of what’s happening has been beneficial.
Recently in my congregation, a young woman was hospitalized for six weeks. I first learned of her illness through social media. All along the way, as the doctors tried to discern what it was that they were dealing with, her mother and father were diligently updating social media to ensure that they were getting the same update out to everyone with whom they were connected.
If you have been around a faith community for any length of time, you probably remember the prayer chain. They still exist but are growing less effective in the days of technology, texting, and social media. Now, instead of picking up the phone to call the next person on the list, a mass update can be posted to social media, altering hundreds (or thousands) of people to any prayer requests and needs.
Another case in point that was not within my own congregation but involved a friend of mine from seminary who lives in Haiti with his wife and family. He had been burned in a grease fire and had to be transported to Florida and eventually his home state, Iowa. Along the way, he and his wife were updating social media and keeping everyone current on their needs and concerns. It literally shrunk the world and allowed them to connect, in seconds, with their own network. As he continues to recover, everyone can stay updated by visiting his or his wife’s social media wall for the latest.
Social media is simply a tool in these circumstances, and it’s important to realize that. Many times, follow up phone calls, emails, or texts have been sent to find out more specifics of the needs. Relying completely on social media to find out about concerns is not advisable, but as one more means to keep a pulse on the things that are happening around your faith community and the community in which you live, it’s a worthwhile investment of just a few minutes a day.