Reaching out to as well as proactively accommodating people with disabilities is the ethically right thing to do. As you review online strategies and tools, ask:
• Do we generally understand and respond fully to the needs of people with disabilities?
• Are we willing and able to make special accommodations for people with disabilities without isolating them?
• How will the social media tools we choose welcome more participation by people with disabilities?
The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways
(Liturgical Press, 2013)
Meredith Gould, author of The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways(Liturgical Press, 2013) is a digital strategist and communications consultant who works with churches and judicatories across denominations.
The Lutheran asked her (using social media, of course) about helping congregations and ministries use social media as tools for reaching out to the homebound and those who can’t physically attend church.
The Lutheran: How is social media both a mission tool and a mission field?
Gould: Newcomers to social media tend to view social media platforms as tools for communication, and rightly so. These platforms allow us to share content (e.g., links, pictures, videos) and engage in conversations from which relationships — and community — emerge. They morph into tools for mission when we share experiences of how God’s grace is revealed in daily life, when we articulate how gospel values are actively lived.
For example, posting to Facebook about the felt experience of grace while distributing blankets or food or cleaning up neighborhood blight is using social media as a tool for mission. Posting Instagram pictures or creating Pinterest boards with images that illustrate feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, comforting the sorrowful, etc., is also a way of using social media as a tool for sharing the gospel. Bonus points for adding captions like “Here’s where I saw God’s mercy today.”
Used consistently, over time social media becomes a mission field.
To illuminate this dimension, I invite people to think about who they connect with through social media. What percentage of those connections are from church? Generally speaking, their Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter networks are dominated by family, friends from school days, co-workers and others from the secular world.
Social media becomes a mission field when posting about the significance of faith and church involvement is so seamless (read: not pushy and obnoxious) that secular friends notice enough to ask about it. Using social media itself or through other means, these questions emerge: “Why do you post about your faith so much?” or “You seem to spend a lot of time at church. Why?”
Boom! Mission field, as well as mission tool.
Strategy is the foundation to using social media well. What should congregations consider as they seek to reach out to the homebound and people with disabilities?
I urge congregations to carefully explore the nuances of these special audiences before crafting tactics (e.g., how and when to connect) as well as choosing tools (e.g., which social media platforms to use).
I cannot overemphasize the importance of checking commonly held assumptions against the reality that:
• Not all homebound congregants are aging, nor should we assume that those who are can’t or won’t use online tools.
• Not all congregants with disabilities are homebound, although we may be forcing them into that status whenever the church-the-building is inaccessible.
• Being homebound and/or disabled doesn’t automatically mean the congregant is ill. That noted, some congregants are, in fact, ill with chronic conditions that make regular worship attendance and community participation impossible.
• Disabilities vary in type (e.g., physical, mental, learning) and intensity.
• Congregants who require care usually have caregivers who are also unable to attend worship and/or participate in church activities because of time and/or exhaustion.
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers