Shepherding And Social Networking: Can The Church Capitalize On This New Technology?


How Do You Prepare God’s People For Works of Service? Part VIII

If shepherding is nurturing, caring, and developing, and social networking and new technology is influencing our current society, the church just needs to look reexamine how it shepherds. I read this week that Google is thinking of invading the television business with major capital investments because the 18 to 34 year olds are beginning to watch their entertainment on their smart phones, or IPad devices rather than having to sit in their family rooms in front of their televisions sets.  This “mobile” society is about to see another paradigm shift away from traditional family time, traditions, and cultures and the way we are use to do things.

My age group attends High School and College Class reunions because we have “lost contact” with almost everyone after graduation except for a select few.  That is not true with the younger age group, for they stay in contact through social media formats and tools.  By becoming “friends” they communicate through Facebook and join “circles” to keep in touch with different groups in their social strata. Every time they are on Facebook, they expose what they are saying and doing. You can almost “monitor” what is happening in their life just by following them on Facebook, or Twitter, or other forms of social media. They expose their backgrounds, share current pictures, and post daily comments.  Even the Foursquare software program allows you to “check in” and gain rewards when you notify where you are currently located. All this information and data about people is available, and they are not even in your physical presence.

Mentoring is most effective when done 24/7, but who can be with the one they are mentoring in their Christian growth when you are not in their presence.  Today that can become a reality.  If you are discipling or mentoring a younger believer in the Lord, you can monitor their social patterns, where they hang out, where they shop, who they communicate with, their interests, hobbies, etc. Availability is crucial in a successful mentoring program, and today’s technologies make that possible with smart phones, that not only let you talk to one another, but also see one another. One being mentored can easily and immediately contact their mentor orally, visually, or through written communications like texting or tweeting. If one needs help, prayer, or advice, contact and help can be immediate.  Interactivity is a key to successful social network connectivity.

So shepherding can now be 24/7 and connectivity almost instant.  Part of the Smartphone culture is the need to react to the ding, ping, or sound effect that comes from our phone. It is almost like an immediate response, and instant reaction. Connectivity and availability is crucial.

The danger lies what one does with all this data and information about a person.  In the 1970’s the Shepherding Movement from the Fort Lauderdale Five was birthed out of the need to help younger Christians mature under the direction of older more mature Christians. We have learned through them that unfortunately, it is so easy for the mentor to fall into a “control” mode, guiding every decision of the young Christian rather than teaching them how to make decisions on their own. So far, social networking is not about “control” but “contact” and “communication”, the transfer of information from one to another. That “loose” relationship can actually be a healthy one, for you have to allow everyone to “work out their own salvation”, to “walk their own spiritual walk”, and learn to “hear the Holy Spirit for themselves”, because eventually they will have to walk and stand on their own and hopefully mentor others in future journeys.

The church needs to embrace the power of social networking because it has permeated our American culture. The question is what to do with it, how to effectively use it as a tool for communicating the gospel, and communicating with others in guiding them in their spiritual walk. Many churches are making websites basically to “advertise” their worship service and available services, but they must learn how to make their sites interactive.  If Facebook is only a tool to post information about their church and there is no interactive communication happening on that page, then the church has missed the mark of what social networking is all about.

So pastoral/shepherding skills may manifest themselves in new forms as we enter this social media culture of the twenty-first century. The challenge for the church is how to be open to change, technology, and new mindsets of thought and communication.