Celebrating its fifth birthday this month, it’s time to state the obvious: with 190 million people using the micro-blogging website, sending 65 million messages of 140 characters or fewer around the world each day, Twitter has become the people’s voice.
As Dominic Rushe writes in The Guardian, “Twitter is part of a social media revolution that is reordering the way the world communicates, shaking up politics, business and social life and even, some argue, fueling and coordinating historic upheavals from Iran and Tunisia to Egypt. The revolution will be twitterised.”
What is the secret to its success? Twitter is “the first people’s broadcast medium” observes author and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff. “You can do it now, it can go everywhere, and you don’t have to sit with it. The best thing about Twitter is that it is not sticky the way things like Facebook are. I can throw out tweets without having to field a zillion emails or nurse some profile or deal with anything else. I can fling and not receive.”
Or as Paul Kedrosky, Twitterholic investor and author of the Infectious Greed blog, the service has become the “ubiquitous fabric” of online real-time conversation. “Twitter is the dial tone,” he says. “It’s transforming how we communicate.”
In the social media universe, Facebook continues to be the all-purpose hub for posting everything social. Blogs continue to be the home for more substantive conversations. But Twitter is becoming the way we spread news, offer comment or feedback, disseminate updates, and even direct larger audiences to other social media platforms.
This begs the question: how best, if at all, to use Twitter for the church and its mission? A few thoughts:
First,we should embrace Twitter as a medium. Snide remarks that the gospel can’t be packaged in 140 characters or less are not only wrong (John 3:16 in the NIV comes in at 26 words, 105 characters without spaces, and 131 characters with spaces), but misguided. It’s not about reducing the message of the Christian faith to 140 characters, but about using a technology to communicate more effectively and efficiently.
Second,why wouldn’t you tweet to those who want to be tweeted to? To resist using a form of communication that is becoming the medium of choice is nonsensical. If people would rather receive a tweet than an email, phone call or letter – and the tweet can effectively convey the information needed - then serve them and your mission by communicating in the fashion they desire.
Third, we should use Twitter judiciously and with more thought and prayer than the medium itself invites. As John Dyer has written, building off of James’ warning that not many should presume to be teachers (James 3:1), not many should presume to be bloggers, either. Or tweeters. “Facebook and Twitter do not encourage this kind of self-restraint. In fact, they encourage an opposing value system,” Dyer observes. “Social media relentlessly asks us to publish our personal opinions on anything and everything that happens. There is no time for reflection in prayer, no place for discussion with other flesh and blood image bearers, and no incentive to remain silent.” So tweet away, but with soberness of thought and, hopefully, a prayer or two before hitting “send.”
Fourth, intentionally use Twitter in ways that help shape the cultural conversation. There are numerous times throughout any given week when current events, whether serious or simply on the pop-culture level, deserve a quick word or comment in reply. A good and timely tweet can be an influential participant in the marketplace of ideas.
Fifth,if you are in leadership, use Twitter to facilitate the dynamics of leadership. There are countless times when a word of encouragement, admonishment or simple reminder can be critical in the life of an ongoing mission. If it can organize a “flash” mob, it might just help facilitate strategic activities related to mission. If Twitter can organize a national political revolution, imagine its possibilities in organizing a planetary spiritual revolution.
Sixth, use Twitter to foster community. Not only do updates help people feel connected with you as a person or organization, but Twitter can also be used to quickly put out an anti-community fire, such as a baseless rumor, before it gains traction and becomes a raging inferno.
Finally,use Twitter to strategically steer people to more substantive platforms, such as a website, a blog article, or an event. Twitter is simply a means to an end, and the end is optimal communication.
So yes, I’m officially starting.
Follow me @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White
“Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter,” Verne G. Kopytoff, The New York Times, February 20, 2011. Read online.
“How Twitter has become the people’s voice on the eve of its fifth birthday,” Dominic Rushe, guardian.co.uk/The Observer, Sunday, February 13, 2011. Read online.
“Not Many of You Should Presume to Be Bloggers,” John Dyer, Christianity Today, March 11, 2011. Read online.
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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