*Note: the following article comes purely from the writer’s personal experience as a full-time media and public relations coordinator for a non-denominational church.
In today’s fast paced, technology-oriented world of iPhones, Blackberrys, and computer tablets, more and more businesses, both corporate and independently-owned, are turning to the world of online social networking in an effort to enhance their market visibility. With countless Americans surfing the web while on-the-go, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become valuable marketing tools for many companies. Their strategy is simple: reach a wider and more diverse audience by acquiring “followers” via a Facebook page and Twitter page, where users can track our daily and/or weekly updates, view photos, respond to posts, acquire more information about our company, share information with friends, etc.
So if this strategy seems to work for so many businesses, why can’t it work for churches and other faith-based ministries as well? Not surprisingly, countless churches and evangelical ministries around the globe are utilizing social networking and, for many, it has become an irreplaceable method of communication. No matter what size your church may be, or how new your ministry is, social networking can play an important role in reaching beyond your walls and sharing your message, events and other information with your local community and even the world.
If you are a senior pastor, associate minister, church public/community relations director or even just an attendee curious about the benefits of social media, here are a few reasons to consider integrating social networking into your ministry, as well as some tips on how to get started:
Why church social networking?
- 1. Social networking sites are no longer a “teen craze” only.
Remember the MySpace” craze of the early 2000s? Remember when it became the most popular social networking site in the world in 2006 (according to Pete Cashmore, 2006-07-11. “MySpace, America’s Number One”. Mashable.com)? In the early months after its inception, preteens, teens and college students were the first and largest demographic to hop on the new social networking bandwagon MySpace had created. After all, kids aren’t afraid to try new things, right? Or perhaps they aren’t as suspicious as adults.
It wasn’t long, however, before adults ages 30+ began to join the site and the world of social networking was forever changed. While our youth and college students were keeping in touch with friends, discussing movies and ranting about who kissed who at the party last weekend, millions of adults around the globe were building career profiles, company pages, and using the site to their advantage in a new technology-based job market.
When Facebook took control of MySpace in April 2008, social networking took yet another massive leap forward. Company pages created by businesses became increasingly common and, for most, necessary to succeed and compete.
Whether you pastor or attend a mega-church or a church of less than 200 attendees, social networking will reach both your younger and older generations. If you are curious about how many of your members engage in social networking on a daily-basis, or how many have accounts with sites such as Facebook and Twitter, conduct a survey. You may be surprised at the results.
- 2. Social networking keeps your flock connected and informed.
Sure your church has bulletins. You know, those little, paper brochure thingies you’re supposed to pick up when you walk in the door? Or perhaps your church has an usher who distributes them. You know who I’m talking about. He’s the 200 year-old hunchback who stands more poised and ready than a Vietnamese sniper, so eager to hand you this golden document filled with yummy church information and secrets that he physically tackled you last Sunday like an NFL linebacker and in the process knocked over your eight year-old child, gave you a black eye and spilled his searing hot coffee on your face. Don’t worry, I’m sure he meant well.
While bulletins are great, they are easily lost and overlooked. How many times have you wanted to remember the date or time of your church event and spent hours searching through your house, purse or briefcase looking for last week’s bulletin?
With a weekly-maintained social networking presence, your church members can quickly and easily access all the information in their bulletin with just the click of a mouse. A church Facebook page will not only allow you to post and schedule event dates and times, but you can also send out “invites” to church members who have Facebook accounts. Each member will then be able to decide if he or she is “Attending,” “Not attending,” or “Is not sure.” The administrator of the Facebook page is able to view who is and is not attending the event, as well as those who are not yet sure. Having this information at your fingertips will allow you to better plan your event and adjust it if necessary, according to attendance numbers. You may even wind up cancelling an event if attendance numbers seem low.
“Tweeting” your event information across Twitter is a great way to keep all of your Twitter page followers updated. Having both the Twitter updates and the Facebook event posted simultaneously will serve to enhance the online presence of your information and will connect with both the younger and older generations. After all, as previously mentioned, more and more adults are accessing both Facebook and Twitter.
Your church’s contact information, mission statement, web site address and additional information can, and should, be posted and made available for viewing on your church Facebook page as well. This way, visitors to your page (potential visitors to your church) will be able to contact your church to find out more about your ministries or visit your official church web page to access full descriptions of those ministries. Linking your Facebook page to your church web site (and vice-versa) is an essential part of maintaining a healthy web presence for your members and visitors.
- 3. Social networking promotes connections with other ministry opportunities.
Odds are your church is affiliated with, or works closely with, other various ministries. Whether its missionaries, local community ministries, overseas ministries or even your city’s homeless shelter, having a strong social networking presence will allow you to promote those ministry connections to your congregation, as well as a larger audience.
Do you have a missionary couple scheduled to speak at your church next month? Start promoting the couple on your Facebook page! It may not constitute as an “event,” but this is irrelevant. Post the announcement as a Facebook status and encourage your followers to attend next week’s service, and then insert a link to the couple’s web site. In your post, include something to the effect of: “To learn more about Sam and Lisa’s amazing work in Africa, check out their web page at the link below!” In one post you have both informed your followers of the couple’s upcoming presentation, as well as promoted their work and their web site. Sam and Lisa will get hits on their site, your followers will find out all about their work, and who knows, you may have a few interested visitors at next Sunday’s service.
With a solid social networking presence, you also open your church up to potential connections with ministries you may not yet be aware of or affiliated with. Once your church is alive and well on Facebook and Twitter, the possibilities are endless. Friends and followers are constantly sharing information back and forth, tweeting, posting, uploading, down-loading. Other local ministries who may desire to work with your church can easily discover you through a social media site such as Facebook.
- 4. Photo albums on Facebook keep your ministry visible and real.
Did your church’s mission team just return from an amazing two weeks in the jungles of Africa? Did they take hundreds of photos? (If not, shame on them). The administrator of your Facebook page can quickly and easily upload photos, create and name an album (for example, “Africa Mission Trip 2011′) and your followers will have instant access to the photos. This is a great way to keep your congregation and followers up-to-date in a visually appealing way. Now, they have not only read about your church’s mission trip in a status update, they have seen photos from the journey as well!
- 5. Sermon notes on Facebook
Your Facebook page administrator should also make use of your pages “Notes” option. Here, he or she can post the Sunday sermon notes for your members to utilize and reflect upon during the week. This is also a great way for members who missed last week’s service, perhaps due to illness or an unforeseeable situation, to stay updated and informed. This way, they will be prepared for next week’s message, particularly if your pastor is in the midst of a multi-part series. There are also plenty of ways to “tweet” your sermon notes across Twitter!
These possibilities and reasons are just the tip of the iceberg! There are countless ways in which a social networking presence can and will promote your church and its various ministries. Get started with these and before you know it, you’ll be a church social networking pro!