Twitter Lessons from Rick Warren

Twitter Lessons from Rick Warren

August 16, 2010 by

Last week Rick Warren challenged any church in America to a who’s godlier contest with this tweet:

“I challenge any church in America to match the spiritual maturity, godliness & commitment of any 500 members of Saddleback.”

Reaction was swift and incredulous. Before the day was over he removed the tweet. He followed up with several tweets defending the idea of challenging and comparing, and replied with the explanation that, “I delete tweets when people misjudge motive. It’s a waste of time to blog a full explanation to those who want to argue.”

Rick Warren gets a tough break. Being the biggest name pastor in America means all sorts of attention, especially when you do something people don’t like. Rick Warren tries, but social media isn’t very forgiving.

But we’re not here to poke fun at Warren’s flub, we’re here to learn a little something from it:

1. Get out there and try.
You have to hand it to Warren—he gets out there and tries. Social media isn’t very forgiving, so the safe thing to do would be to sit back and ignore it. But Warren dives in and tries it. You’ve got to take some risks in communication if you want to connect with people.

2. Failure happens.
If you’re going to take risks, you’re going to screw up. Those are just the odds—you can’t always be perfect. The important thing is to remember that, have an attitude of humility and move on. Social media may be harsh, but people can be forgiving (sometimes).

3. There are no take-backs.
Warren may have removed the tweet, but what’s said is said. You released that statement on to the Internet and now it’s permanent. If you want to take it back, well, you can’t. You’re better off leaving it up and admitting it was an ill-conceived (or misunderstood—pick your own description) tweet.

4. Don’t argue with trolls.
In Warren’s response we see little patience for people who want to argue. This can be a tricky one, especially for leaders like Warren who are in such a prominent position. People give you less slack and expect more from you. Social media is a conversation, but it has to be a helpful back and forth. There’s a time to offer an explanation and a time to just move on.

As pastors and churches experiment more and more with Twitter and social media they’re going to experience ups and downs, wins and loses. The important thing is to learn what works, what doesn’t and how you can better connect with people to effectively deliver your message.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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13 Responses to “Twitter Lessons from Rick Warren”

  • Michael Buckingham
    August 16, 2010

    Well said Kevin.

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  • Tony Alicea
    August 16, 2010

    Regardless if you think it was right or wrong for Rick to post that tweet, it makes me sad that Christians can be some of the most ruthless, critical and unforgiving people out there.

    Personally I think it was poor judgment for Rick to post a tweet like that but I don’t have a personal relationship with him so I don’t feel it’s my place to call him out on it. I don’t judge his motives or think less of him for making a statement like that.

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  • Jon McLeod
    August 16, 2010

    I no longer follow Rick Warren because of posts like this.

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  • Mark Abernathy
    August 16, 2010

    I personally didn’t see where the offense was in the tweet. Just a pastor expressing his personal feeling. So, don’t judge him for opening up to his friends.

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  • Brandon Cox
    August 17, 2010

    It’s funny. I’ve heard Rick say pretty much that very statement within the context of talking about how proud he is of his church members, which I tend to think of as a pretty good thing. It’s only offensive to some when it’s 140 characters surrounded by no context at all. People judged his motives without knowing his heart.

    I receive social mention alerts about Rick daily, and Tony is right. Christians can be ruthless. The internet provides us a quick way to slam someone from behind a screen and a keyboard, which is pretty cowardly.

    Nonetheless, may we all learn some lessons from such experiences. I agree with your conclusions.

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  • Keith E
    August 18, 2010

    So much of communication is non-verbal (i.e visual) and what might be written in one tone could easily be read in another. Add the lack of greater context involved with 140 characters…someone will likely get their pants in a bind.

    I think the major cause of the anger was because of a perceived arrogance in what Rick tweeted. In fact, he was making a judgment call and in doing so broke the cultural rule that making a judgment is sinful.

    I do applaud any church that is actively engaging in social media. If a church doesn’t meet trolls along the way, it means they aren’t really in social media (or just a Christians Only Social Media site).

    Should he have tweeted what he did? Perhaps not, and maybe creates more of a smokescreen for people to look through, but I agree with Kevin that we need to get our and try.

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  • Len Sweet
    August 22, 2010

    Appreciate your constructive spirit, Kevin. “Disciple” is another word for “learner” . . . we’re all in the business of learning from Jesus and from each other. Thx! for this learning re: Warren

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  • Gary
    August 25, 2010

    I’m glad Rick had the confidence in his congregation to say such a statement. I take from this that he is proud of his people and is giving them an affirmation that they are the greatest congregation in this world to him. My wife is the most beautiful woman in all the world to me, but you may not feel the same. A pastor should feel that way about his congregation, it shows his love and belief in them.

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  • Chad Smith
    August 26, 2010

    Much better to say, “take any 500 of my members and I guarantee they suck compared to your church.”

    I guess when you say things for effect, then you should be prepared for a negative response at times. I personally just see a pastor who has stayed at the same church for many years, who loves his people and is proud of the maturity of the believers there. You know, Paul commended some believers in his writing as well…

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  • gary modine
    September 1, 2010

    i read the tweet last week and interpreted it as a pastor who is very proud of the people of saddleback church. It was similar of how I would brag about my own children. it was surprising to see how many people got offended. are we Christians really so bored and small minded that we get amped up over a tweet like that? really?

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  • Barry Farmilo
    October 5, 2010

    I read the tweet, just demonstrates Warren is human and gets things wrong like the rest of us. Even if you’re someone famous it’s better to think twice before pushing the tweet button

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  • Matthew
    January 18, 2011

    Me and my buddy visited Saddleback Church a couple of days ago and actually met Rick Warren in person. At first, we thought he was a humble guy who doesn’t mind taking photos and meeting new people. But then when his ‘security guard’ came by and told him about something, he just up and left the place. He didn’t even take the time to know anyone there. We even witnessed a lady with a note in her hand that she wanted to give to him and he just shoved her off like “I’m an important man and I have no time to worry about your petty life. My face is more important to my church than it is for a minute of my time to share and listen to your situation”.

    Even Saddleback doesn’t even look like a church. It looks like a tourist attraction. I bet over half of the congregation isn’t even interested in Jesus or God and is just there to enjoy the activities they got there. To me, this isn’t a church and Rick should be ashamed of himself.

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    • Joshua Cody
      January 19, 2011

      Thanks for the comment, Matthew, but I’d ask you take a step back before you post this sort of vitriol.

      There are many things in this situation that are speculative at best, and I don’t think your description leaves the room for the slanderous conclusions you draw. Perhaps this ‘security guard’ was informing him of an issue with his family. Perhaps it was an urgent prayer need. These are both legitimate reasons that he would not have time to continue meeting new people or taking a photo with you.

      What’s more, in your description of Saddleback as a whole, you are in fact describing something you were touring as a tourist attraction. And, unfortunately, the fact that “you bet over half of the congregation isn’t even interested in Jesus or God” isn’t worth much of anything. In the long run, I’m thankful we won’t all be judged on unfounded suppositions like this.

      The long and short of it is this: we appreciate your comment, but we hope you’ll be more civil and gracious in the future. In this case, I don’t think Rick is the one who should be ashamed of himself :)

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