We've all been there. Don't pretend like you haven't. Ministry is awkward. It's difficult. It's intense.
A pastoral leader has to be removed because of sinful behavior.
False accusations are leveled against senior leadership.
A core family leaves on bitter terms after squabbling with another family.
The husband who taught the marriage small group for 20 years decides to divorce his wife.
A church member winds up behind bars.
Gossip. Rumors. Backbiting. Fallout. Damage control. Ministry can be ugly. Sometimes you're in the trenches. This is real life, people.
In a Digital Age where everyone is connected 24/7 across social media platforms, tensions can often escalate faster than Apple's next MacBook Pro release. Our culture has never been more divided, ostracized, and argumentative, and now — thanks to networks like Facebook — it's easier than ever to fire shots at other people anytime we feel like it. Obviously, we have some control over our social feeds when it comes to who we decide to friend, follow, or retweet, but there's one thing we tend to have less control over: that pesky comment section. This is especially true for administrators of public pages. Even the "share" feature on a post can be used for ill purposes when someone exploits it in order to take a jab at a fellow believer. The content itself is usually innocent. A verse about friendship. A sermon reel on unity in the Body of Christ. But, in the wrong hands, they can be weaponized against a brother or sister-in-Christ where a grudge or root of bitterness has laid dormant for years and, before you know it, you've got a mess on your hands. These things happen.
As a church communicator tasked with managing social media, how do you proceed? Let's be honest here: People in those comment threads can be downright brutal. Social media is a two-edged sword because it propagates obscurity and anonymity. It's easy to ratchet up the intensity of your attack when you're not on the receiving end and when you can't visually see the person you're ripping to shreds. How do we go about disarming some of those shots and alleviating the tension?
1. Take the high road.
"Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself." [Proverbs 26:4] It's that simple. Don't engage. Don't enter the argument under your own personal profile or as the church. Don't throw coals on the fire. There is absolutely no reason, under any circumstances, to ignite an all-out social media war on your church's public page. Also, don't stoop to that person's level. If they are posting content with the intent of gossiping, badmouthing, insulting, or disparaging, rise above that. Post positive content that encourages, ministers, and deescalates the situation. This is the heartbeat of digital ministry. And, whatever you do, don't poke the bear.
Mark Twain famously said, "Never argue with stupid people, because they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."
2. Never hesitate to delete or hide comments.
These features and settings are available for a reason. If you continuously receive rude, negative, offensive, or divisive comments from someone — whether it be a church member, previous attendee, or random troll — you can always delete or hide their comments. The hide feature will keep their comment from being seen by other people who follow your page, giving you greater control over the tension of the situation. Also, the person who left the comment will not be notified that their comment was hidden, keeping you safe from any recourse that person may wish to take against the page or against you as the admin. In fact, that person will still see their comment on the page as if it's actually there [even though it's hidden from everyone else.] As a last resort, you can always delete the comment entirely and/or block the individual. The latter should only be done in extreme cases and, in my humble opinion, with your pastor's permission or, at least, in tandem with notifying your pastor that you plan to do so. And, no matter what, don't poke the bear.
3. Integrate humor.
Nothing defuses tension and drama better than comic relief. When a bitter or angry person is hellbent on leaving rude comments or weaponizing your page's content against someone else for the sake of petty spats, it will be harder for them to do so with posts that are lighthearted, silly, and downright goofy. Of course, you can't post funny content for several days or weeks on end. You don't want your church page turning into the meme bin of the Internet. [Ok, maybe you secretly do want that.] But, you can sprinkle sporadic humorous posts throughout your standard content or even lace your pastor's next sermon series graphics and branding with a dose of whimsey or wit. Be creative. Know your audience. Pray before you post. [Pro tip: Funny reels and video content work wonders here.] In the midst of it all, don't poke the bear.
4. Enter PR-mode.
In some rare situations, you may have to work tirelessly to protect the image of your church in the community. This is a good place to mention that Jesus certainly does not need our talents or require our services in order to defend His bride. He's perfectly capable of doing this Himself. However, He will often use willing and obedient servants as part of His plan. When you are confronted with social media tension — particularly when it involves someone dragging your church's name and reputation through the muck and mire of the Internet — you may find it necessary to post social media content that counteracts the negativity or criticism. For example, let's say that a former disgruntled member, who left on bad terms, is bashing your pastor online. If all attempts to contact this person prove futile, it may be necessary to post positive photo/video content of your pastor. His involvement at the next homeless outreach; his pop-in with the kids ministry on Sunday morning; or his last missions trip. You get the idea. Granted, this is likely stuff that you would be posting anyway, but you will need to be more mindful of it in these situations. By the way: Don't the bear.
Always post the sort of content that fosters positivity, builds ministry, and elicits cheerful engagement. You are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the digital sphere. Serve, love, post, design, edit, market, brand, and communicate with love and grace.
And remember: Don't. Poke. The. Bear.