How to Use Social Media Effectively in the Church
By Dr. Ralph Day
Over the past few years, I have seen an explosion in social media being utilized by the Church.
What Is the Point?
For the most part, Churches use the social media phenomenon to increase their exposure, and to broaden their reach when they post announcements and updates.
This is only effective because people like you and me spend a ridiculous amount of time on Facebook, Twitter, and networks that are similar. The same goes for blogs as well. The main reason that it is ‘recommended’ for Churches to have blogs is because of the same reason Churches have Facebook and Twitter–everyone has them.
However, our addiction to these social sites is a topic for another time. The question I am addressing here is why Churches need to be in on the frenzy. The answer is a lot more complex than this one argument that I am going to make, but I think it would be safe to say that one of the main reasons Churches use social media is in order to be relevant to a disconnected generation.
When a generation spends untold amounts of hours in front of Facebook, the main way to get their attention is to be in Facebook; thus, the creating of a Facebook page happens.
Is It Really Effective?
Debatable as it may be (because different Church cultures produce different results), a Church having a Facebook page doesn’t produce much. It may produce a little (such as community in a forum discussion, or other such uses), but in the end, most announcements that are posted by Churches on their pages are something along the lines of, “Gonna be a rockin’ service tomorrow. Come and join us for fellowship!”
How many people on Facebook are going to respond to this invitation? Chances are, the only ones seeing this status update are those who are fans of the Church, and most of those fans are members.
So is social media effective for a Church? It can be, but in most cases it probably isn’t. The shocking reality is that I bet most Churches know that their Facebook page isn’t producing anything; that is, except an image.
What happens when you see that a Church creates a Facebook page? Immediately, you think that Church is trendy, up-to-date, and something that you can relate to. So in most cases, a Church’s Facebook page will boost their image in the minds of the members. The problem with this is that now we are sounding more like a business than a community.
Could it be that we are more concerned about our image to members and the secular world more than our fellowship with the members on a face-to-face basis?
Why Should a Church Use Social Media?
So what would be a viable reason for a Church using Facebook?
My suggestion is that Churches use social media as their official representation in the network.
However, this isn’t for all Churches. Many Churches are closely knit together, and anything needing to be said to the community can be said on Sunday from the pulpit. But some Churches, like those whose reach extends far outside of their boundaries (like IHOP, Bethel, and others) are likely more in need of social media than smaller Churches.
These Churches, who have a network in the hundreds of thousands, need an official representation of themselves in these spheres. This is only because, like I said at the beginning, the majority of the people that they reach have a Facebook or Twitter.
But an even greater reason is that in reaching this large amount of people, they also reach plenty of people who would wish to spread lies about them. Thus, a standard of their beliefs and teachings is vital for clarification and for people to find out for themselves if the lie is true or not.
What does a social church look like?
A social church speaks the language of the culture. Simply put, our society is moving more and more online. A social church heeds the words of Jesus when he says “Go, and make disciples of all nations.” Social church takes into account the communication preferences of others before their own comfort level. A social church has the mindset that says “we are in a dialogue now.” The monologue status the church has enjoyed for decades is gone.
How can churches get started in social media? What’s a good first step?
The best way to get started with social is to understand what you want to accomplish with social media. And this really goes beyond “we want to have more Facebook likes” or “we want to have more followers on Twitter.” It’s knowing who you are as an organization, what you want to accomplish and then building a strategy for how social media can help you get there.
So, for instance, if a church doesn’t have goals, if a church doesn’t know what the finish line is that they are running toward—social media is not going to be helpful; in fact, it is going to be a detriment to that church. So really the first step in social is understanding who you are as an organization, what you want to accomplish and what your values are. And from there building a social media strategy on top of that.
I know that sounds a bit abstract but it’s really the best way to get started. Social media will just make a poor vision fail faster. Social media has a fantastic way of exploiting weaknesses and exploiting organizations without a vision, without an overarching purpose for their work. So the first step in getting started is to know who you are as an organization, what your big idea is, what you want to accomplish and what your goals are. And then build a social media strategy that helps support those goals.
Number one, a big idea or an overarching guiding purpose, can and probably will change throughout the years for churches. Once you pick a big idea doesn’t mean that you have to stick with that one for all of eternity. Staff members come and go. Congregation members come and go. And, therefore, you have to build a big idea for the people who are helping build the church; both on staff and in the pews. And so while I do advocate for a single, focused big idea, it doesn’t mean that once you pick a big idea it has to stay that way forever. You know, businesses like Pepsi, and fast food chains, and banks, change their big ideas, so to speak—their slogan, their tagline, their mission statement—all the time.
And the other part of this too is that a big idea can have many different applications. So a big idea is going to have a different application in youth ministry as opposed to adult ministry. A big idea is going to look different for the hospital visitation team than it will for a women’s ministry. So the application of the big idea can change and that’s really where ministry leaders come into play; where they work with leadership to discern what the application is for their specific ministry area.
First and foremost, I would say at least they are moving in the right direction. I come across many different churches who don’t even take the time to put in that six months to come up with a vague idea, let alone a focused idea. And so I would rather people get started and go through a process and come out of the other end with a vague mission statement than no mission statement at all. And if they were to move further down the road, that’s where I can help.
But seriously, basically a big idea boils down to: What are you passionate about? In other words, what gets you out of bed in the morning? And who do you feel called to serve? That’s really the basic elements of a big idea: what are you passionate about and who do you feel called to serve? And typically the senior pastor, executive pastor or the leadership team will need to have input on those questions, but ultimately that’s what a big idea comes down to: What are you passionate about? Whether that’s a cause or a specific geographic location or a denomination, and who do you feel called to serve? That’s really what it comes down to.
Those are based off of spiritual giftings, right? We see this all over the place in scripture where certain individuals are tasked or given a skill for a specific purpose or throughout their lives. And I believe that local churches operate in the same way as individuals in scripture, where we can look in the book of Revelation, and we can see how Jesus speaks to each, all of those individual churches and basically says, “Hey, you guys were created for this and you’ve ignored it,” or “I’ve gifted you guys to do this, or I’ve given you this task and you’ve completely ignored it.” Even look at what Paul wrote in the New Testament. He’s speaking to churches all the time and in all different regions of the world. And you get a sense after studying these Epistles that Paul is writing to a very specific group of people with a very specific purpose in mind. So really the big idea is nothing new. We see it all over scripture.
It’s really partnering with the Holy Spirit to discern what your congregation has been called to do. What gets you revved up on Sunday morning and who you feel called to serve.
Being successful online is not easy, says Biola University’s director of innovation, Dave Bourgeois. When it comes to churches, having at least a minimal digital strategy has become crucial in expanding Christian outreach even locally within their own communities.
Social Media Church podcast
The rise of social media has provided for churches both challenges and opportunities. Long-lost connections have been restored giving way to extra-marital affairs. Marriages have suffered as one spouse or the other has been lost in a world of faux-farms, patience challenged fowl, or tales of crushed candies. “Fasting” from social media has become as common as nuns staying away from romance or Tweedledum avoiding the gym.
On the other side are those who have pondered how social media might be used as a means to spread the gospel. As Clark Campbell said on this blog in January:
Social media is a tool for interaction and connection, not merely a megaphone to announce the next church program and party. Social media opens doors and opportunities to engage with people who rarely, if ever, step foot in a church building.
How can your church use social media?
1. Facebook searches are influenced by friends “likes” on Facebook.
2. Says Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land:
With Facebook Graph Search, the objects we search for aren’t Web pages but instead virtual representations of real world objects: people, places and things. The connections are primarily Facebook Likes. Did such-and-such a person like a particular photo? A particular doctor? A particular restaurant? Those likes are the ties that bind the information in Facebook together.
One reviewer calls it the “friend powered engine.”
One way to take advantage of Facebook search is to get every person in your church to like your church’s page, then encourage them to suggest liking your church page to their friends.
Think of it like this: When a person moves to your town, they may use Google or Bing to find a church. But after they have been in the community for a while, have made friends and have connections on Facebook, they may use Facebook search instead. The number of people who have liked your church’s Facebook page can influence the search results.
2. Your church need not be on Twitter, but your pastoral staff needs to be.
Men and students populate the Twitterverse making it a great place to interact and inform. Tweeting about big time events (Superbowl, World Series, the Olympics) allow much cross-communication with those who may not know Christ. Using hashtags for a sermon series (#GenerousLiving) allows members to find what others are saying. Non-members can see it, too.
3. A pastoral blog
Many, many pastors I know blog. Blogs are a way to add to or prepare members for a sermon, address an issue not in an upcoming sermon, share a devotional thought, and point members to other web content. I think blogging can make pastors better preachers as it helps one refine thoughts and have a focus on clarity.
Even with social media, do not overlook your website.
Long gone are the days of using the Yellow Pages or the Church Directory from the newspaper. Today people use Google, Bing, Yahoo or other search engine. If your church does not have a website, or if it looks like it was assembled with wheat straw and baling wire, you may lose guests before they ever step foot on your campus. Often when searchers find your Facebook page, the next thing they do is click the link to your website. If the site is out of date they will assume the same thing about your church. (The will assume the same thing if you do not have a Facebook page or if that page is a digital wasteland.)
If your website looks like it was assembled with wheat straw and baling wire, you may lose guests before they ever step foot on your campus.
Your website must be visually appealing and easy to navigate. The landing page should be oriented toward non-members rather than members. Do not load the landing page with announcements, activity lists, a Twitter feed and the like. Create a member area for sign-ups, announcements and calendars. Make the landing page (home page) attractive, clean, and, above all, easy to navigate. Directions to your campus, service times and contact information should be in plain view. (Also, the site should be mobile friendly since people increasingly access the Internet on mobile devices even from home.)
Social media, like TV, radio and other technologies, are tools to be used for good or bad. The intent of the user says much about the effect of the tool. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs and other social media, may be used by churches and believers to impact a dying world with the gospel. Says author Andy Crouch:
Churches should find ways to use social media to do what you most care about doing well. They just have to be who they are…It can be done beautifully; it can be done well. It’s an opportunity to bear witness to things we care about anyway.
Do you worry about reaching the people inside your church as much as those outside?
You can use social media to reach people inside your church, too.
Social media isn’t just for church outreach
Most discussions about social media and the church focus on the ability of tools such as Facebook and Twitter to help a church either better reach people (i.e., outreach) or explain how to “market” a church.
But using social media in churches can be much more useful than that.
Let’s take a look instead at how social media tools can be used to reach people inside a church (don’t forget that people inside the church often need to be reached just as desperately as those outside).
Using social media for internal communication like this is distinct from use for outreach, though similar in many ways.
Using social media for churches: On the inside
The similarities with using social media internally are that you will be social, interactive and conversational here too, just as you would need to be for outreach.
In other words, you won’t simply be broadcasting information.
Focusing on what your audience needs to hear is just as critical as when you’re doing outreach, as is the importance of engaging them, capturing their attention and getting them to respond or take action.
Just because it’s communication inside your church, don’t think you’re limited to the “church newsletter”-style of information or presentation.
Church newsletter-type information is fine to pass along (though not everything is well-suited for social media). But not going any further won’t let you use the internet to its full potential.
Reaching “out” inside
Effective social media-based communication within a church involves both passing along critical information and reaching out to members of a church (to engage them in 2-way dialog).
I recommend looking for ways to do both.
4 getting started tips
Here are a few tips for getting started (regardless of the tools you’ll use):
1. Before starting any new communication channel (such as launching a Facebook Page), find out whether your church’s members are already interacting online. There may be no organized effort, but there may be groups of interconnected people on Facebook.
Get involved in these conversations already taking place.
2. Listen at first. I don’t mean eavesdropping (which is a foreign concept in social media anyway). I mean really listening to what’s going on, what’s being talked about, what issues people are facing, and so on.
This will be incredibly more valuable to you than simply jumping in, saying “I’m here, listen to what I have to say!”
3. Don’t awkwardly interject yourself into every possible interaction online. Let’s face it, your aim isn’t to remind your people that “pastor is watching” so that they’ll watch what they say.
4. To save time (this tip will be extremely valuable to you): don’t feel you need to read every word written. It’s not the way social media works There’s no expectation that everything written must be read by every person connected to the author. (Bonus points for you if you’re able to remember this point when you start posting your own material.)
How to use social media for church “inreach”
I also want to give you a bunch of ideas to get you thinking and to show you what all I mean by”inreach” and “internal communication”.
It’s not intended to be all-inclusive, just a list to get you thinking. And I’d love it if you expanded it by leaving a comment!
It’s also not intended that every item is something that you, as pastor (or whatever role you may be in), need to be personally involved in. Some things you should be or may want to be involved in. Other things can be managed by others.
Remember when implementing any of these, just about every one ought to be presented in a way that encourages interaction.
? Post your sermon audio
? Post other recorded audio or video messages
? Express your viewpoint (especially when done in a teaching way) about issues (especially complex ones)
? Post an idea and look for feedback
? Conduct an online Bible study
? Conduct other online discussions
? Spread church newsletter-style material
? Discuss progress of one of the church’s ministries
? Discuss progress of some church-wide project or activity
? Share interesting, insightful, or provocative (in the sense of challenging you) things you’ve read
? Keep church members up to date on things they want to hear about
? Help build relationships, encouraging members to get to know one another better
? Communicate with those difficult to reach or those unable to be with the church family
physically. This can include shut-ins, the elderly (an ever-increasing number are on Facebook!), students away at school, members serving in the military, and members who have fallen away (or are in the process of falling away)
? Get a “buzz” going (and build enthusiasm) about an upcoming event or worship service
? Follow-up with new members (can be combined with teaching)
? Broaden the definition of “church” we’ve used here to include groups of churches (denominational, local, or whatever), and then use social media to communicate between churches for growth, reinforcement, support, etc. A great example of this is the Church Social Media blog and Twitter discussion topic (#chsocm)
? Teach something
? Bring attention to some issue or social need
? Share your passion for a topic
Reaching out…and in
Social media’s opportunities for churches go beyond reaching out into the world. You’ll also get opportunities to reach inward, building a sense of community and family.
Rev. Dr. Ralph E. Day, Jr. is the Vice-President for Social Media Coordinator with ICOF. He resides in Bridgeville, Delaware. He is married to Mary Beth (Tarnow) Day and has four children.
The above article, “How to Use Social Media Effectively in the Church,” was written by Dr. Ralph Day. The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes