What We Read: From Social Media to Social Ministry: A Guide to Digital Discipleship

Book CoverNona Jones, From Social Media to Social Ministry: A Guide to Digital Discipleship. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020. 176 pages.

What if there were a better way to ‘do church’ online? The COVID-19 pandemic and the various lockdowns associated with it spurred a massive shift towards online church. While social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook Live provided free vehicles to share Sunday worship online, these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital mission and ministry. From Social Media to Social Ministry is based on the premise that church online involves much more than just worship, and that church social media should be used to build community instead of simply advertising.

This is not a book to read if you’re simply looking to increase your church’s followers or views on social media. When all is said and done, those numbers can be increased through paid advertisements. Instead, Jones (who coined the phrase ‘social ministry’) argues that relationships and communities built on social media are the ideal forum for the process of making disciples as a central response to the Great Commission. Rather than present digital ministry as an either/or alternative to in-person, she makes a compelling case that churches that are serious about discipleship need to be engaging in both. In many ways, this is a very missional approach. Pointing out that three out of four Americans are on Facebook, she asks ‘If 75 percent of your community were located on one side of town, in one neighborhood, would you refuse to put a location there? I don’t think so.’ 

Through most of the book, she lays out a roadmap to planting an online church, as a supplement to a physical one. In a world of seemingly limitless social media options, she unapologetically promotes Facebook, for reasons that are alternately sound and self-serving. On one hand, she is right in pointing out that while other platforms allow interaction through comments and reactions, no one else offers as robust an array of community-building tools as Facebook. On the other hand, as the director of Facebook’s global faith-based partnerships strategy, Jones is clearly a less-than-biased advocate. Notably absent from the conversation is any discussion of the privacy concerns that have plagued the world’s largest social network for years, and which can be stumbling-blocks that keep people from fully engaging in online communities, church or otherwise.

While this is a significant flaw in Jones’s case for social ministry, its omission does not invalidate her premise: that Christian discipleship is built on caring, nurturing relationships, and that these relationships can be forged and encouraged on Facebook. If the pandemic has taught the church anything, it has been a reminder that we don’t need a building to be a community of faith. There is an exciting new frontier for the Church to navigate as we leave physical buildings and engage with people in their hybrid lives that blur back and forth between online and ‘in real life’. From Social Media to Social Ministry may not be a one-stop complete guidebook to this new frontier, but it is an important resource for the conversations and discernment ahead of us.

Jonathan Rowe, Contributor