From Pen Pals to Social Media: A Church Communicator’s Guide to Cross-Cultural Conversation

“While most ministers know that online connections are important in this day and age, there is still a lot of debate on whether or not you can actually have real community and discipleship online.  The reality is, while online discipleship is outside of what’s always been done and isn’t “traditional”, in today’s world, it may be the only real shot someone has at growing in Christ, learning what it means to follow Him and lead others to a relationship with Him…” – 3 Ways to Do Online Discipleship 

Remember pen pals? Before social media, I grew up in a time of letters and struggled with writing a basic Thank You note. I signed up to receive regular correspondence from a girl my age in Austria. At first, getting mail about a people and land so far away was exciting until the regular discipline of writing every month grew tiresome.  The excitement wore off.

Recently, Emily Roth said in Missions in Reverse

“The [American] hosts learned about Polish culture at the same time as introducing their [Polish] guests to American life. Bruce and Linda hope that they will stay in contact with the help of social media and continue to grow these new cross-cultural friendships.”

The missionaries took the Polish group to American churches. American church members were encouraged to connect online with the group to foster long-term friendships. Like writing a letter to a pen pal in another country, sending WhatsApp, Facebook, or even emails to new international friends can be exciting until the newness wears off and we forget about them. There’s also the problem with how the church body uses social media. As church communicators, we can help the congregation understand how to do a self-audit of their personal social media.

Ask them:

  • What does my social media say about my relationship with God?
  • Is my social media a friendly atmosphere for cross-cultural conversation?
  • Am I a chronic sharer or am I asking questions, sharing from the heart, and letting others walk this journey of faith with me?
  • Am I too spiritual online? Can nonbelievers find common ground with the visual story of my life online?

Pastor Guy Deckard from Grace Church in Chino Valley, Arizona asked the congregation if we had a heart for the lost. As church (and missionary) communicators, we can help the congregation see the benefits of using social media for digital discipleship and investing time in the discipline of conversation with people who are not like us. This is the fruit of having a heart for the lost.

Like writing letters to my pen pal, keeping up personal contact through social media apps still requires discipline. You can help your congregation create a new habit of communication through…

  • Accountability: If you know who in your congregation has connected with the visiting internationals, email or message that group to encourage them to pray for the person they have connected with. Perhaps, encourage them to meet once a month to pray for their online communication efforts.
  • Visual Story: Put them on a once-weekly email communication where you can help them use their personal social media to tell the visual story of their lives through video, pictures, and words. Turn them from chronic meme-sharing lurkers to people others can connect with.
  • Information: Connect with the missionaries who brought the internationals and glean cultural nuances from their newsletters to share with the group at your church and help them understand how to communicate cross-culturally.

Meanwhile, you might be curious about whatever became of my pen pal friend?

My letters started about once per month, dropped to once every couple of months, and eventually, I stopped writing. The act was too labor-intensive. It required a stamp, stationery, and an envelope. It also required me to mail it. Social Media is instant. Your congregation is already online, scanning when they are bored, responding to political posts, and only need your guidance on how to be the person online that people see in the face-to-face.