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Facebook Sermon Prep

A late adopter discovers a surprisingly useful tool.

For years friends pestered me to sign up for Facebook, the social networking website that keeps you up to date with people you know well or not so well. Since I wasn't that interested in the movie preferences of my ninth grade lab partner or in the gossip from my mother's third cousin, I figured, Why spend precious time online that I desperately need for face-to-face relationships?

Then, on a whim, I signed up for Facebook. I have been surprised by how useful it has been as a ministry tool, especially for preaching.

Over the past four months as I've mentioned being on Facebook, more than 35 percent of our congregation have become "friends." I've also added as "friends" a couple of dozen folks who have dropped out of church altogether, plus a number of unchurched people (from my kids' soccer teams and school, mostly). I now have a new level of interaction with these people, which I'm finding very helpful. Here's how:

Understanding the hearts of my people. For a recent sermon series about fasting, I must have read a hundred comments about what our people were learning, struggling with, and giving up. Each week I could spend ten minutes on Facebook and read a couple dozen comments about people's experiences, which helped me calibrate where the church was on our journey. Comments like this helped me prepare the coming week's sermon:

"I feel a sense of urgency to learn something. Problem is that I'm so concentrated on not breaking the fast (I've slipped a few times) that I might be missing the point … "

Understanding the hearts of the unchurched. Facebook keeps me connected with people outside the church with whom I'd otherwise have little contact. I keep their struggles in mind as I prepare messages. Just this week, I read this status update from a "FB friend" who dropped out of church a decade ago:

Each week I could spend ten minutes on Facebook and read a couple dozen comments about people's experiences.

"If you pray, do me a favor and pray for me. I'm having a really rough time right now. Even though I don't show it, I'm dying inside. I don't know who to talk to, and I'm just overwhelmed with hurt and everything else. I just feel like I need to let go, but I don't know how."

Bringing people to church. Besides praying for this woman, I also contacted her and invited her to an evangelistic service we were having that evening—and she came! Well, I should say, she stood outside while another leader and I talked with her. She didn't actually step inside. But it was a huge step for her.

Besides her, six other unchurched FB friends whom I've personally invited have shown up to Sunday services.

Generating sermon material. A story we used at our Easter services was one that popped up on FB from a lady from church. It just showed up in the daily flow of postings. I grabbed it and used it. This week I tried something more intentional. The sermon needed an illustration about extending forgiveness. So on Monday, in my status field, I posted a request for stories. I received seven forgiveness stories in response! Yesterday one of our college students videotaped one of those people sharing her story, and we're showing it on Sunday—tears and all.

Extending the sermon's impact. Recently one of our leaders posted "Great sermon!" on my Facebook page, so I wrote back asking why she felt led to say that. That led to a significant online conversation about the spiritual growth that was sparked by how the preached word intersected her life. I've also posted quotes/testimonies from my sermon afterwards and had many people connect with that material. Once I even published an entire manuscript of one of our more controversial messages. In response I had some really good interaction over the Scriptures and their meaning, an interaction that many people followed as it unfolded online.

I'm still new to Facebook, so I'm still learning. Besides the benefits, there are plenty of dangers—including wasting time and inappropriate content. Just like any other form of relationship building, Facebook takes time, energy, and discretion. But it's a useful tool for preaching.

Bill White is a church planter in urban Long Beach, California.

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