I love to live-tweet events. It is one of those elements of Twitter I absolutely enjoy. I live-tweet sporting events to keep up with my team and celebrate, or sometimes commiserate with fellow fans. I live-tweet conferences I attend, sometimes just to get some of the free stuff they give away. I have even live-tweeted the Oscars with a group of friends, just because.
Social Media is such a great way to stay connected with people all over the country and at times the world. If there is an event happening: sports, entertainment, natural disaster, or even crisis you can be sure that someone, somewhere is live-tweeting, making a Facebook post, SnapChatting, or creating an Instagram Photo.
This got me thinking that if we can do these things within culture and society, could we do this in worship?
Social Media & Worship
Can you Live-Tweet Worship? Can you take pictures and post them on Instagram throughout worship? Is it permissible to SnapChat worship and add stuff to a SnapStory? Can you open up Facebook and not get sucked in to the happenings long enough to post about church, while in church? Is that even “legal” in church world on a day set aside to “worship” and be focused on God? What if the church crumbles on its foundation when an electronic device is on and being used in worship? We constantly hear the mantra, “please turn off all electronic devices.” Plus, won’t the pastor be distracted seeing all those devices on and glowing? Better yet, what if other people are distracted and find us in the parking lot seeking to have a post-worship conversation about our “unchristian” like behavior?
These are all great questions, and ones I was intrigued to find out. I decided to seek out some of those answers and asked 14 people to join me for 8-weeks in a Social Media Case Study during worship at my church, Fairborn UMC. I wanted to see if anything happened, positive or negative. Did using social media during worship change them in any way? Was their worship impacted in any manner? Also, moving forward did it change how they interacted and engaged on their personal social media accounts throughout the week?
For 8-weeks we worshiped and for 8-weeks we live-tweeted, posted and took pictures before, during and after worship.
Before the 8-week study a pre-study survey was administered for baseline purposes to all participants.
- Most participants were 35 yrs. old and younger with just a few outside that range.
- Before the study the majority of participants stated their social media use was moderately active to active during worship.
- Then during the 8-week study the social media use was well proportioned across the board, with most participants posting and/or tweeting 5 or more times before, during and after worship.
- Throughout the 8-weeks Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were primarily used. Please note that this study was before SnapChat’s explosion into epic-ness.
- All participants used handheld devices, i.e. smartphones.
After the general survey questions I asked a few more questions requiring the participants to answer openly and honestly.
The first question I sought to answer was, “does the use of social media within a worship setting deepen one’s involvement, engagement and understanding of the scriptures, music, message?”
From the responses of those who participated in the study, the answer would be yes. In fact 9 of the 14 who participated answered yes. In addition 12 of the 14 found the entire study beneficial overall.
Participants explained that when they typed out their posts or tweets this allowed them to focus and reflect more on what was being said, and it helped to drive the points home even more. Also, noted by the participants was that posting and tweeting was similar to taking notes, only in digital form, and when those notes were posted online it allowed them to go back and read days later what was said. Furthermore, posting those comments and notes online allowed the opportunity to see what others were able to discover from the message in real-time.
The participants indicated the use of social media helped them “think of the points on a deeper level than just sitting and listening.” Thus, the participants were actively engaged with what was going on in worship. Those surveyed also noted that one of the most beneficial elements of the study was the opportunity to share with others what they were experiencing.
According to one participant, the study “ . . . provided an intentional forum to spread the word of God rather thank [sic] just ‘keeping’ the message for me alone.”
The second question I looked at was, is there a connection between the amount of social media activity and one’s faith journey?
This question was harder to measure based on the participant responses. However, through observation during the 8-week study, it was noted there was a minimal increase in social media activity. The increase came in the type of Facebook and IG posts and tweets made. Those who participated during the 8 weeks seemed more likely to post a positive or uplifting post or tweet throughout the week; a post or tweet having to do with their faith or church; or a reference to a significant part of the service or message, than those posts and tweets made in the previous weeks leading up to the study.
We could assume that this change could show a heightened sense of awareness. An awareness that others were seeing what was posted on Sunday mornings; therefore, perhaps more care may have been taken in weekly posts.
Another possible explanation of the increase in positive, faith-driven posts could have been the added elements in their worship experience that helped connect the points and deepen the overall message, resulting in the desire for the message to be shared with others.
Finally, the increase in social media activity could be the digital transformation of an inward change occurring. The data was unclear as to what exactly caused the change in the type of posts and tweets that were made, but, according to the observations, a digital transformation did happen slowly.
The final question I looked at was, “Is the use of social media during worship distracting or disrespectful?”
The data in a pre-study survey given suggested that those who have never used social media during worship thought doing so would be a distraction to their worship, as well as disrespectful to the individual speaking and those around them. According to those who participated only 2 felt distracted or as if they missed portions of the service while using social media in worship.
The remaining 12 had a positive experience using social media in worship, and found it deepened their experience, and heightened and augmented their worship.
No one surveyed reported feeling as if they were disrespecting those leading worship or speaking. In fact, one individual stated the following: “In my opinion, we live in a world where less and fewer people are attending church. The only way for the church to stay relevant is to embrace new technology [sic] does not discourage it. Too much tradition will only lead to an empty church in my opinion.”
The study findings proved that individuals participating in the study at least, had a positive digital and social media experience in worship. These findings led me to a few insights.
- First, if the church was more intentional about inviting individuals into an atmosphere where they were permitted to use their digital devices, rather than being told to turn them off, people may have a deepened worshipful experience.
- Second, the deepened experiences may potentially lead to a lifestyle transformation in how one communicates on their social media accounts.
- Third, this deepened experience is not for individuals in worship alone; the study showed that those connected on the outside (friends and followers) with those in worship were also positively affected. The study allowed for a range of influence to go well beyond the church pews, and onto the news feeds of people across the world. By the simple invitation to turn on and open a digital device, instead of the command to turn it off, the church speaks words of value and acceptance to a culture that lives and breathes the digital.
- Lastly, when the church engages with individuals throughout the week online, there is created a greater sense of community, connectedness, involvement, and pride in the organization. This engagement can be through likes, comments, retweets, mentions, shares, responses and a general sense of being in the digital space outside of Sunday morning.
The outcomes of the study were pleasantly surprising and provided for me a confirmation of where communication within the church needs to be now and moving forward. Granted this study primarily looked at the social media activity on Sunday morning, but it also provided a launchpad for others to share Jesus throughout the week on their channels.
We have a great opportunity to preach the gospel at all times, not just for an hour on Sunday mornings. Jesus said, Go into all the world.
Go ahead and live-tweet worship, the church will not burn down. Go ahead and post to Facebook that you are in worship. Go ahead and create a SnapStory for your friends. Go ahead and capture an image of what worship was like for you and share it on Instagram. Most importantly go ahead and invite others to share Jesus on whatever social media platform they are on.