Your Church Needs to Engage in Social Media!

Posted at May 17, 2011

Last week we sponsored the Dynamic Church Conference in Dallas, and I was fortunate to sit in on a couple of the sessions.  Much more than just a user or technical event, this conference brings together some of the best minds in ministry to discuss process, strategy, and best practices.

One of the highlights was a session on social media, led by Anthony Coppedge.  Anthony leads the social media segment for the Faith division of Active Networks, and has also published a book entitled Twitter for Churches.  Anthony’s talk has amazing parallels to the session I normally lead on social media (whew! great confirmation that my material isn’t entirely off base!).  He had some great points and I thought I’d share them here.

If you’ve been pleading with your pastor to formally adopt a social media strategy for your church, keep reading!

Social Media Ministry is Not Optional

The portion of your church members who use Facebook is huge. If you’re in a relatively tech-savvy market, it could be as many as 80% to 90% of your people.  Nationwide, Anthony cites a study revealing that 38% of Americans are on Facebook, and 15% are on Twitter.  These numbers grow monthly.

He recounted one of my favorite stats: if Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest in the world—larger than the United States!

Churches, as a whole, are “10 to 20 years behind” the rest of the world when it comes to technology.  (I’m a bit less pessimistic myself, but I do agree with the overall premise. Churches need to be LEADING in this area!)

Why don’t so many churches pay attention to social media? In addition to the overall reasons that church leaders may not place priority on the web, they don’t “get” social media either. It’s seen as a fad, something for the youngsters, or not a serious way to reach people.  The above numbers should be enough to erase any of those objections.

We’re called to “go and make disciples” in Matthew 28:19.  That call extends to every aspect of our ministry. We made the transition to printed books. We made the transition to radio. We did it with TV. Why should the Web be any different? The Web and social media is all about people, and so is the church. Perfect! As Anthony puts it, we should be all about creating “digital disciples.”

An Opportunity that Demands a Strategy—and Hard Work

This goes way behind simply putting basic info on your home page. Think of the boundary-erasing potential of something like Facebook.  It transcends time and space, making your message available to people who have a proven interest in your subject matter, and/or who already know someone else in your church.  The “viral” effect has never been more real.

How are you engaging with your people outside of the Sunday morning experience?

“We use printed newsletters”: Expensive. Wasteful. Seldom read. One-way. If you’ve ever helped clean up your church sanctuary after a service, you know how few people actually take the bulletin home with them. Hope you don’t expect people to remember something important!

“We send out an Email newsletter”: Better than print. Still mostly one-way. Not real-time. Only engages people if you have clear links and action items. Can be very effective when combined with an overall messaging strategy.

“We use direct mail”: Expensive. Imprecise. Easy ignored. Best for targeted appeals to an audience who has already demonstrated loyalty and interest. For example, a personal letter from your pastor to church members could be an effect capital campaign tool. But it’s not the most effective outreach tool nor is it an effective way to keep members informed about ongoing events and opportunities.

What are you doing so that your people will share your church and message to others? When people share something online (especially in their social graph), it makes their friends curious. When I click the Like button on your Website or Facebook page, you just got a free position in my news feed, and my followers will notice.

UPDATE: Here’s a handy blog post on 10 Things We Wish Pastors Would “Get” About Social Media.

In our next post we’ll get practical, and talk about some specific things you can be doing with social media right now.  Hint: it takes a lot of work, but the payoff can be immense.

Question: have you found ways to convince a skeptical pastor or church leader as to the value of social media?

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