Should Your Church Join Threads?

So Meta, owners of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, released a new social media app this week called “Threads” that is amassing users by the millions per day. At this point, you are probably wondering “good grief, another one, does my church need to be on threads too?” We’re going to strip back the hype and look at what Threads is and what the broader implications are for churches like yours.

It will be a while before anybody really figures out how best to use Threads in churches.

What is Threads?

Threads is a lot like Twitter and has been compared primarily against Twitter as a short posting social media app. The rapidly growing user count has a lot to do with Threads being more of an extension to Instagram and sharing accounts with Instagram. Aside from that, there’s a bit of political balkanization driving Threads adoption as Twitter had long been the home of left leaning urban elites who oppose Elon Musk, himself more centrist and populist with occasional libertarian swings, as the new Twitter owner. Meta and Mark Zuckerberg have made a lot of concessions to court the left leaning urban elites as well as the brands they represent.

Will Threads usurp Twitter? Nope, despite the drama surrounding Twitter, the company and technology platform have made some necessary changes to be able to move forward. Twitter still seems to be the entry point for news and conversations online and most established influencers and thought leaders won’t jump ship entirely because they don’t want to lose their audiences. That being said, Threads will probably introduce a lot of Instagram users who weren’t keen to use Twitter into a Twitter-like social media platform.

I think there’s something telling that most of the posts on Threads are either rubbish memes or posts about Twitter and/or Elon Musk underscores the issue. It’s a bit like going on a date and listening for an hour over dinner all about the previous boyfriend 🤦… there’s clearly some unresolved issues that would give caution from just running forward.

Is Threads Ready for Church?

Let’s just address the elephant in the room: Threads is not ready for prime time. Sure, a bunch of massive brands have already jumped onboard and started crap-posting and trying to extend their reach on the new platform (or grab the attention of their Instagram followers who are activating Threads accounts), but the feed is messy at best. It’s a deluge of stuff from people you don’t even follow and aren’t particularly interested in. It will take some time before they tune the algorithms for the feed.

The criminologist in me also doubts the promise of a “kinder” platform. The short text format of Twitter really removes nuance and always comes off as curt. This combined with the antisocial tendencies of pseudo anonymity (pseudo anonymity encouraging antisocial behaviors is like how when people drive a car, they are likely to be far more aggressive than if they met a person face to face), is why Twitter tends to be toxic and vitriolic… even in “Christian Twitter.” Threads doesn’t really change much in this regard, so I have my doubts that it will have the civility of a platform like LinkedIn where people take the time delve a bit deeper into ideas they are keen to share and expose a lot more about who they are.

All that being said, if your church already has an Instagram account, it doesn’t hurt to open a Threads account (they are essentially one account after all). I just don’t think I would assign staff time to it yet as there aren’t really any tools or API connectors to help with scaling your online presence.

The Bigger Story: Threads and The Fediverse

The biggest potential impact of Threads is that Meta commented that it will use ActivityPub to display social media from across the Fediverse. I know, that sounds like a goobbledy-goop… and you’d be right, it is… but in plain English, it means that all the social media and blog platforms that interact with ActivityPub like Mastadon or even your WordPress website, will be able to be followed and interacted with from Threads. So, users can follow your website and the things you blog will show up as posts inside Threads (as well as any other ActivityPub based social media clients) automatically. The comments they make show up right there natively regardless of whether they are following from Threads or Mastadon (or whatever).

This isn’t terribly surprising, technology tends to democratize and “web 3.0” was never going to be the crypto craze but rather the democratization and intermingling of social media platforms. What Threads goal is more than anything is to be the aggregation and access point for all this interconnected content of web 3.0 so that Meta can still gain individual analytics and offer advertising.

Threads: “Rented Land” vs.” Owned Land”

There’s two kinds of audiences, the ones that you own and can carry with you from platform to platform, this is known as “owned land” and would be things like email lists, SMS lists, and your website. Platforms where you can be banned and lose your audience are known as “rented land” and social media has traditionally operated in this fashion. It looks inevitable that the big social media platforms are going to start interacting with platforms that you control and can carry your audience with you. This means that it’s time to start investing in your website to make it ActivityPub friendly and start exploring having a presence on an ActivityPub social media platform where you own your audience.

Furthermore, as we move into this direction it will be easier to get “hyper-local” because churches can setup Mastodon servers for their local community that Christians won’t get kicked off of for holding to Christian orthodoxy and still be a part of the global social network. That’s the ultimate in having “owned land.”

The Advertising Dilemma

One final aspect as we watch the move to web 3.0 start gaining some traction over the next year or so on account of Threads integrating ActivityPub: this might be a last chance to capitalize on targeted advertising before audiences become distributed across the Fediverse. There will always be people on each of the big social media platforms, but if you want a maximum reach on a paid advertising campaign then this year is the year to do it.

Final Thoughts

Social media platforms pop up rather frequently. We’ve seen a myriad of them crop up just in the last few years like BeReal, Lemon8, and Truth Social… to name but a few… and more are certainly on the way. Try not to get blown about by the changing winds of social media and focus on getting people onto “owned land” where you can and engaging people on limited “rented land” where it makes sense. If the people God is calling your church to reach do predominantly end up on Threads, then it makes sense to dedicate resources to it in the future, but for now I would circle back around and find out if your congregation actually move over and engage on it after a month or two.

Isaac Johnson

Isaac has been in professional ministry since 2002, holds an M.Div. from Moody, and his goal is to equip churches to reach digital natives.

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