“Engagement is everything”

Mobilizing social media for mission trips

StephenMorrisonStephen Morrison (Twitter: @imstephenvictor) has variously worked in local church ministry, as a songwriter and worship leader, creative director, journalist, actor, director, design strategist, researcher, bartender, record producer, video editor, motion graphic designer, social media strategist, and all-around loving advocate and creator of new media. (He hasn’t done Kung Fu Warrior quite yet — but probably that’s next.)

Morrison is also a consultant to Vision of Twelve, an organization launching a brand-new conference for senior pastors, online pastors and others sharing the faith through social media: Going Digital for His Kingdom. It kicks off in Dallas this month and continues to five other cities this year — Chicago, Washington, Nashville, Las Vegas and Tampa, FL.

So, when the topic arises of how a church can mobilize social media for mission trip engagement, Morrison comes by his insights honestly — and he’s passionate about sharing them with his peers in ministry.

Is social media an integral part of the international mission trip experience, now?

I think of it in these slightly storified terms: I have friends who regularly seem to swear off media like Facebook and Twitter because, variously, “It’s not real” or “I’d rather connect with you in real life.” They treat what’s essentially the new version of the telegram or USPS as if it were ripe for dangerous addiction.

But, Facebook isn’t “the new thing” — it’s the new way of doing a very, very old thing. When we say that social media, as communication, isn’t “real,” we might do well to wonder if the first audience for photographs — or early daguerreotypes, for that matter — met the technology with declamations of, “But, it’s not really me! It’s only a picture, and I’m giving it up for Lent.”

That’s a little strong, I admit. And when it comes down to it, I don’t mean to question someone else’s convictions arrived at through prayerful searching of God’s will. But, the point still stands: Social media is as real as the world we live in, because it’s very much a part of that world. So, the question isn’t so much, Is it common practice for churchgoers to share missions activities? Rather, those churchgoers are often already sharing almost everything.

As believers, let’s talk about whether we can get more, and deeper, value from this thing we’ve been doing constantly without consideration. I believe wholeheartedly that we can — and are!

Among the churches that do use social media in this way, how many have a formalized, structured approach to its use mapped out before they depart on a mission trip?

This is a beautiful question, and I would dearly love to hear a good answer to it. I’d say the lack of ability to give you any kind of estimate is part of why Going Digital for His Kingdom is so important.

Conversations about formalized, structured approaches to social shareability — formed well ahead of major events — just haven’t been had yet at scale. We’re a part of the rise of that conversation in the local church.

In an era when division and segmentation has plagued the Church, and the world, it’s difficult to overestimate the potential impact of a Body expansively connected, open and transparent in the ways that social media not only permits, but encourages.

And, that last word — “transparency” — watch that one become a bigger and bigger deal this year, and in years to come. I think the Church has positive things to offer here.

Before a mission trip, what practical steps/groundwork should a group leader ensure are in place?

Social policies in groups and organizations are important. Guidelines should be agreed upon and established beforehand to clarify who will and won’t be posting, when, how often, to what media channels, and what kind of things are and aren’t good for posting. Each social media outlet is unique — good for some things, not so good for others — and each has a particular audience. Consider where your people are and how you want to have a “conversation” with them, and focus your efforts. Don’t try to cover every single medium.

There would, of course, be mission fields where security (both of the team as well as the locals) should be taken into consideration. Whether or not people should and are willing to be “tagged” in posts is important. Scheduling certain group members to post on certain days could be an exciting perspective for the audience.

Also, there are real plusses to having the entire team direct the attention of their own network to a central feed set up expressly for the purpose. It can energize the community, centralize engagement/conversation, and give the team a chance to keep the engagement they build through the trip to grow the experience back home, as well.

socialmedia-thumbsupAsking questions like what “voice” things should be communicated in (for example, verbal style and visual style) can have great repercussions for how aware people are of themselves and each other because, ultimately, the voice of a social media feed should be the honest voice of the person or people using it. It can be a great way for a team to consider what unique gifts they have to offer. What an affirming process!

What are some common ways churches are already using social media for missions trip engagement?

Pictures are big. In fact, shareable pictures might be one of the cornerstones to good social policy. Some media — like Instagram or Pinterest — are almost only about sharing images.

Facebook posts will get exponentially higher engagement with a photo involved. And now, with things like Vine, as well as video having arrived to Instagram and Facebook, most of us are now walking around with high-quality cinema tools in our pockets. Why not enrich the experience by making little, lightly edited movies right there in your hand?

Artifacting the experience like this has lots of upsides, among which is an amazing experience for people tuned in online. And, it’s a great source of memories and moments for trip-takers once they’re back home, which can be used both as personal moments, as well as thank-you’s for sponsors, or outreach for increased involvement in the church program later on.

It’s an odd twist on the axiomatic advice that it’s more effective to show than to tell. We need to pay attention to how we share our stories. This is how the Gospel gets told.

Have you observed any particularly creative uses of social media to this end?

None come to mind. But, if you or your readers see any, PLEASE share them with us on our Facebook or Twitter pages. We LOVE hearing about this stuff.

Are there any overarching “do’s” and “don’ts” for mission trip leaders?

Beyond what I mentioned? There’s really more than I can fit into this paragraph. (Which is why we’re gathering the best of the best of the best on social media in the Church for these conferences!)

But, I will note this: Engagement is everything. Whenever anyone interacts with your posts or pages, et cetera, view it as an incredible opportunity. Affirm the good. Bless the negative, anyway. Use social media as just another medium for communicating grace and love and patience.

We all know how acrimonious Facebook threads can get. What kind of sign would it be if the Church showed love and gratitude for every connection someone made? Treat your pages as your church building.

We sometimes struggle to get people to visit our services. How ecstatic would you be if suddenly they all showed up to have the most real conversation they were capable of? You might find the mission field stretching farther — and closer to home — than you imagined.

Everything is a conversation. If Nicodemus were around today (and in a way, he really is), he’d be tweeting back and forth with Jesus from an inscrutable user name, and it would be as “real” as ever. And we could all follow along, as we do now.

— Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh


Going Digital For His Kingdom
Get all the details about this six-city social media and technology conference!
On the Web: goingdigitalforhiskingdom.com
On Twitter: twitter.com/DigitalforGod


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