It started in a New England church: Trinity Episcopal of Tariffville, Connecticut. In 2013, Social Media Sunday (SMS) began as a way for members to highlight what was going on inside weekly services.
A kind of holiday formed in the millennial era and celebrated the last Sunday every September, it has since grown to include people of faith and entire communities, an event described as a “day set aside for Christians everywhere to use digital services intentionally to share their life of faith with the world.”
Last year, thousands of people participated - sharing status updates, check-ins, photos, videos and links on social media accounts. One of the churches embracing SMS this year (#SMS16) was Southside United Methodist Church in Jacksonville.
Members of the congregation were encouraged to go onto Facebook and post – telling friends, neighbors and the world that they were at church. Included were selfies, pictures taken in front of Southside on Instagram, shared Bible passages and other quick bites delivered throughout the service using #SUMCJAX for the church and #SMS16 representing Social Media Sunday.
“The idea is that if enough people use #SMS16, it starts trending and pops up in people’s feeds,” said Jeanette Yates, communications director at Southside. She suggested that Twitter users can check out event posts, sermon quotes, scriptures and other gospel centered material – in the end, hoping to attract as many participants as possible.
One of the posts by Yates was #sermonnotes: “Real & lasting change does not happen in an instant. Grace takes time … We are being trained, but we are not alone, the cloud of witnesses encourages us to endure. #Hebrews12 #sms16 #sumcjax”
The event is said to encourage church members to share, post, like and tweet to communicate what they are doing with online friends not only on Social Media Sunday, but every Sunday.
“My passion is trying to educate the congregation and other Christians about what a tool social media can be,” said Yates. “Our church started encouraging members to check in when they got there to use social media to share their faith.”
One such member who participated in Southside UMC’s SMS effort was Cathie Clark, who has been part of its congregation since 1992.
“This is the first year I heard of it, and I was excited to participate,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing and, as it becomes more well known, people will want to participate more.”
Clark, who is 55, said that sharing a photo of herself in church with friends was rewarding, a subtle way to share her faith.
“Checking in [online] is a great thing,” she added. “But having a photo gives a little more life—it’s more welcoming and fun. It feels like an easy thing to do and attracts people since you don’t do it in a preachy way.”
She also talked of receiving many likes on her photo, the best kind of feedback in the Facebook realm, and offered that it felt good to share her religion with people who might not necessarily know that she’s a Christian. Clark is said to believe SMS is a great contribution to Christianity in general and Southside UMC in particular.
Next year’s date will be September 24 with the hashtag #SMS17. Many churches tweet every Sunday, as well as post photos on Facebook.
“For me, I think it would be great for members to check in every Sunday, share something they heard or part of the sermon that really moved them,” Yates explained. “Engaging in conversation about your faith with other people on Facebook is an organic way to connect.”
Yates, who has been with Southside UMC for three years, said the Jacksonville church barely used Facebook when she first came onboard, but that it’s now one of the organization’s main channels of communication.
She views SMS as an introduction to how to incorporate faith into social media and raise awareness about the effects of religion on people’s everyday lives.
“I really value online networking and have experienced real connections through it,” Yates said.
“I want to encourage people to think about posting with a purpose. I want people to share that they go to church, not necessarily just on Sunday, though. Including faith into individual social media experiences is an opportunity for real connections.”
--Jessica Chapman is a freelance writer based in Lakeland.
Editor’s Note: For more information and ideas on how to get involved in Social Media Sunday, visit www.facebook.com/groups/SMS15. If your church participated in Social Media Sunday 2016, please share about it in the "comments" section below.