Josh, the youth pastor, was looking at a very frustrated teen. Chris, a fourteen-year-old in Josh’s youth group, refused to speak with Pastor Josh about anything. Josh had tried talking to Chris about sports, music, and even girls. Chris wouldn’t respond with anything but monosyllables. Then, Chris would shuffle away when the silence got awkward. Josh was in a tough situation. If he could simply break through the communication barrier, he could actually reach Chris and help him out. It was obvious that Chris needed help. But how could Josh help someone that you he couldn’t even talk with?

“You on Facebook?” Josh asked Chris, attempting to revive a dead-end conversation.
“Yeah,” Chris replied in typical monosyllable fashion.
“Hey, well, I’ll send you a friend request, ok?”
“Sure,” came the monosyllable back.

Later that night, Josh looked up Chris on Facebook, and clicked “add as friend.” Seconds later, Josh got a notification: “Chris accepted your friend request.” “That was fast,” thought Josh.

As soon as Chris appeared in his “friends online” list, Josh sent him a chat. “Hey, you’re quick!”
Chris chatted back immediately–“im alwayz on fb.”

Chris and Josh kept chatting. They chatted for a long time. In fact, Josh had the longest “conversation” he had ever held with any of his teens. As they chatted, Chris opened up about struggles he was facing, an addiction that he was experiencing, and the problems that he had with his parents. Josh was able to give help and provide Scriptural counsel.

This isn’t just a fairy tale counseling story about a pastor who finally broke through to a teen. It’s the real-life experience of many pastors who are able to connect better with their people on Facebook than they are in face-to-face settings. It’s not just teens that open up on Facebook. Lots of people do. That’s why pastoral counseling on Facebook is becoming one of the means that an intuitive pastor can use to better reach his people.

Why Facebook Works
So, what is it about Facebook that makes it such a powerful tool?

  • It’s familiar. People become very accustomed to Facebook. After a while, navigating, friending, chatting, and likeing on Facebook become second nature. People become very familiar with using it.
  • It’s private. People are naturally hesitant to approach you at church. It’s a public place. What if people see them going to talk with the pastor. What will people think? Facebook removes this problem, and allows them to approach you confidentially
  • It’s easier. Scheduling meetings and taking time to sit down and talk is tough to do. Hopping on Facebook and chatting is not hard to do. In fact, people spend hours doing it each week anyway.
  • Facebook is focused on self-revelation. The whole point of Facebook is opening up to your friends with statuses, pictures, updates, and “about me” information. Using this self-revelatory tilt of the network for counseling means that you can counsel on a platform that is already helping people to open up.

Simply put, Facebook removes a lot of the barriers that are inherent in a traditional counseling setting. But these are pretty basic facts about Facebook. Why does Facebook have such particular potential for pastoral counseling?

Why Facebook Works for Pastors

  • Facebook makes the pastor accessible and approachable. Most pastors want to be “approachable.” What does it mean to be approachable, though? In a web 2.0 world, it means being online and using the same networks and social hubs that your people are using. When people see their pastor on Facebook, they can access him with just a click.
  • Facebook takes away the pressure. As mentioned above, Facebook is a very comfortable medium of communication for many people. It’s casual, yet effective. It is a “neutral” setting, much different from meeting in a pastor’s office. Facebook takes away the possible nervousness of a direct conversation with a pastor.
  • Facebook puts the pastor on common ground with his people. Part of approachability is having shared experiences. Facebook is a shared experience that pastors can have with their people. Plus, people feel comfortable using it. It is a “neutral” setting unlike a pastor’s office. Taking away the face-to-face pressure of a direct conversation
  • Facebook is all about connecting with people. Pastors should be about connecting with people. The more the people see their pastor connecting with other people, the more likely they are to seek his help. People ought to know that their pastor loves people and loves to connect with people.
  • Facebook helps the pastor understand his people. Counseling is not a one way street, i.e., you only administering counsel to someone else. Counseling must begin with the counselor’s understanding of the other person. Facebook can give a counselor vast amounts of information which contribute to his understanding of a person’s situation. In counsel-speak, Facebook provides the “halo data” that helps to facilitate a productive counseling session. People are likely to reveal their movie preferences, favorite reading material, current activity, and their network of close friends.

How to Use Facebook for Pastoral Counseling
So if Facebook has such powerful potential for pastoral counseling, how do you use it? What’s the best way to maximize the medium of Facebook? Here are five suggestions.

  • Be on Facebook. Let’s start with the basics. You’ve got to be on Facebook. Acknowledge that this generation uses Facebook as a medium of communication, and engage them. Facebook is where people are. Facebook is how people interact. Use it.
  • Be active on Facebook. Being on Facebook is just the starting point. Being active on Facebook is the next step. “Being active” is as simple as putting up pictures, updating your status, commenting on other people’s status, writing on walls, and using the “like” button on people’s pictures, statuses, or other activity. A lot of pastors are concerned about the time that Facebook may consume. “Facebook?! As if I had the time to add another whole activity to my life!” is an understandble response. Sure, it’s tough, but Facebook is pretty easy to integrate into your daily activity. Use an iPhone app to stay connected. Update your status via your cell phone. Pop on Facebook for a minute or two throughout the day. Facebook can become a huge time drain if you let it, but it doesn’t have to take up an enormous amount of your already-busy day.
  • Pursue your people on Facebook. See a status that you like? Like it. Find out that someone is going on vacation? Write on their wall. Treat Facebook like a conversation. Why? Because it is. Engage your people in the Facebook conversation. If you haven’t spoken to someone for a while at church, see if they are on Facebook and send them a message.
  • Use the “chat” capability on Facebook for counseling. Major point of advice:  don’t make counseling a public issue on Facebook by posting counsel on someone’s wall. That’s a big no-no. Counseling ought to be a confidential activity. Keep it to Facebook messages (like email) or in a confidential chat. Chat is best, since it provides real-time interaction and back-and-forth dialogue.
  • Use Facebook as a conversation opener in other contexts. Facebook is not exclusively a tool for counseling. It’s a way to open up conversation in face-to-face contexts, too. “Hey, George, I noticed that you guys were at the beach last week. How’d it go?” Things that you learn on Facebook can turn into conversation starters and open doors with people.

What do you think? What are some other things that you do to use Facebook for pastoral counseling?

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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