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Story by Ann Carter.

Reflecting God OnlineSocial media has a bad reputation these days as a place where political opinions and personal insults are hurled with a lack of respect and downright cruelty, where you are shouted at for posting what you think and where you can’t tell real news from fake news. Many people I know are taking a break from social media because they can’t stand the hate and the vitriol. And I can’t blame them. Some days I have a hard time reading my newsfeeds. But I won’t give it up. You see, I love social media. It is where I connect with friends I have made from every stage of my life and every place I have lived and traveled. It is where I find interesting newspaper articles and blogs and daily devotions. It is where I watch a giraffe waiting to give birth. It is absolutely the best on my birthday when I get literally hundreds of birthday wishes. What’s not to love? Oh yeah, the political posts. But you know what? I think social media has great value in our society today—even with the political posts. “Why?” you may ask. Because it is a place where community happens; a place where people of different views can show up in my news feed and get equal reading time; a place where we can be called to action as well as called to encourage or pray or comfort; a place where we can share our joys and our sorrows and be joined in our grief and celebrations.

Reflecting God Online

Ann Carter

In January 2016, I was asked to take over the social media accounts of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I gladly said “yes” because I love being on social media. First of all, it gives me the perfect excuse to be on social media. You know, “I have to be on here for work!” But seriously, just about everyone else in the world has a voice in social media and the church needs one too.

What is the purpose of church social media platforms? I believe there are three main purposes. First of all, social media can inform our congregants about what is happening at church. Second, it can provide an avenue of invitation to our neighbors for events that may be of interest to them such as the Church Choir Concert, Upward Basketball or The Physician Within. Third, and I believe most importantly, it is a place where we are the presence of Christ.

I believe the church should be the voice of peace and justice and hope and love in our broken and polarized world. Many churches are just that for the people who come in their doors and sit in their pews. But what about people who don’t come into our buildings and sit in our pews? How are they going to hear words of hope in their times of despair? How are they going to feel the loving presence of God in a world filled with hateful, judgmental words? How are they going to experience peace in the midst of so much political and social conflict? How are they going to know a just God in an unjust world? And so as I administer our social media, I try to capture moments when our church reflects a God of hope and peace and love. I try to capture God at work in our world through the people of FBC. I try to invite people into the adventure of serving God with us. I try to highlight where God is at work in our world through people outside of Richmond’s First Baptist Church—good things are happening all around us if we only take the time to look!

But I don’t need to be the Social Media Associate for a church in order to do these things. I can do them through my own personal social media accounts.  I can be the voice of peace and justice and hope and love in my own world. I can give grace-filled answers to my friends who disagree with me. My social media accounts can reflect a God of peace and hope and love and a God at work in our world. And so can yours.

Meredith Gould, Ph.D., is a digital strategist for churches. In her book, The Social Media Gospel, she shows how our faith provides a framework for using social media. I want to highlight a few of her points:

“Believing in a gracious and merciful God calls us to be gracious and merciful during online interactions.”

She also says that “believing in Gospel teachings calls us to model what we believe while using social media by offering helpful information, providing comfort, sharing joy and engaging in conversations that build and unite, rather than tear down or divide the people of God.”

And in 2010, Gould created this contemporary take on Saint Teresa of Avila’s prayer, “Christ Has No Body”:

Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours,
Yours are the tweets through which love touches this world,
Yours are the posts through which the Gospel is shared,
You are the updates through which hope is revealed.
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours.

This is what guides me as I post both on the church’s social media and on my own. And I hope it can guide you as you evaluate your own social media presence. May our social media pages be used to touch the world with God’s love. Amen.


Here are a few of our most popular Facebook posts:

Reflecting God OnlineJune 19, 2016 – the youth leaving on their mission trips: Ahhhh… I love this image; the doors of our church flung open and all of us spilling out to go be the hands and feet of Christ wherever we find ourselves in our world.

Reflecting God OnlineJuly 14, 2016 – This picture was snapped in the pool in Helena, Arkansas where a team from Richmond’s First Baptist Church has been serving this week. I was immediately struck by the beauty and the power of this image – especially in light of the recent racial tension our nation is facing. Let this image inspire to us open our hands and our hearts, reaching toward one another in love, as we venture into the waters of reconciliation.

Reflecting God OnlineNov. 9, 2016 – A prayer for whatever it is you are feeling this post-election morning. And now…Church, let’s go be the presence of Christ wherever we find ourselves today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. And for all the days.

Reflecting God Online

April 16, 2017 – Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

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Social media and our church

By Jess Ward.

Before you blame social media for rotting the minds of young people everywhere, causing traffic accidents, inciting bizarre and useless flash mobs, and pretty much ruining the future of all mankind, consider the fact that social media is a tool. Its usefulness is completely dependent… on the user.

calloutLet’s start with the basics: Social media is vicarious technology. You get to visually experience what’s happening in your friends’ lives with platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram. It’s rather like a choose-your-own-ending book (remember those?): you create your experience based on who your friends are. It can be positive and personal or just a complete waste of time. Don’t get me started on “twitpics” of people’s lunches. I mean, really?

Social media also has infinite potential to be used as a tool for meaningful communication. When I was interviewing to work here at FBC, one of the search team members asked me what kind of role I thought social media would play in the life of the church. I explained that social media is not a silver bullet, but it’s a free and easy way to turn people’s attention toward what you want them to see: volunteer opportunities, a need for donated books, a not-to-be-missed series on happy marriage.

During my eight-year career as a local TV news producer, social media was one of the quickest and most effective ways to drive the audience to our broadcast. It didn’t subtract any worth from the product, like so many people had feared. Social media was the perfect “teaser” for our content. That’s exactly how I use it here at FBC. I’ll tweet the link to our live webcast along with a sentence like: “you don’t need to get out of bed to be at #FBCRichmond.” (A hashtag, #, is basically used to indicate a thread of related tweets.) On Facebook, you’ll see posts that include upcoming events, the menu for Wednesday night’s dinner, a link to Dr. Somerville’s latest blog post, and our daily devotional. Our social media content is meant to encourage personal interaction with the church and its congregation.

The ultimate goal for the Ministry of Communication is to use Facebook, Twitter, and any future social media to invite people to be part of our community. Just like using a tool. And I’m pretty sure Jesus is okay with tools; He was a carpenter after all.

FBC Facebook page

First Baptist Church Facebook page

FBC Twitter page

First Baptist Church Twitter page


Jess WardJess Ward has served Richmond’s First Baptist Church as Director of Communication since September 2013. She comes from a live, local TV news background and loves all things to do with journalism. Her vision for FBC is to make the worship services easier to access digitally (webcast, broadcasts, podcasts) and most importantly: in person.

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Story by Allen Cumbia. Photos by Paul Bickford.

David Powers in the Control RoomDavid Powers, FBC’s Associate Pastor for Communication will retire September 1, 2013.

Since January 2013, a Communication Visioning Team has been studying First Baptist communications in the past and present, as well as technology advances that might impact the future. The team has presented a final summary report to the Personnel Team, as background for a more informed search for a new Pastor of Communication.

Following is a synopsis of the full report.

A mission statement was adopted to act as a guide in the discovery process:
• Take a comprehensive look at how First Baptist has communicated and is currently communicating its message.
• Determine which methods are most effective or accessible.
• Evaluate how the current social, technological and cultural changes will affect future communication habits and preferences.
• Offer background to assist the search team in making informed choices for an individual to guide FBC’s future communications ministry.

From staff interviews and research into the current and potential future states of communication a number of things became clear. The relevance of many past ways of communicating has changed, and the following trends will only continue.

Print media is rapidly declining due to rising costs and the speed with which news becomes stale. With the exception of the Sunday bulletin and First Family News, most of our printed material has transitioned to electronic forms.

Broadcast does not hold the same status it did only a few years ago. With the rise of the internet and mobile devices, media consumers have many more options for content.

Social media has become a powerful and growing force in communication.

What does all of this mean as the church moves forward?

We will likely continue to communicate in many of the current ways, though to lesser degrees. What will be different is the amount of communication that will become electronic in nature. Fewer people are entering the church doors during a given week, month or year. That is not indicative of poor leadership or a lack of good programming. It does reflect that our culture is now engaged with churches in vastly different ways than in the past. People have more demands on their time, are involved in more activities, and connect with a church in different ways than have in the past.

First Baptist needs to recognize and work with the emerging trends. We have some unique opportunities for congregational life if the coming technological, social and church changes are embraced –

• embraced to tell our story in effective and meaningful ways;
• embraced with the understanding that we have many more options to tell our story to the world;
• embraced with willingness to adapt to new possibilities;
• embraced because we have a good story to tell, one that the world needs to hear.

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