Churches: use social media to reach your community
In the last few years, social media has become a major component of the Internet. Why is it so popular? Anyone can do it. No technical or writing skills are needed. There are huge opportunities, both for individuals and churches.
This awareness is growing, and there are frequent social media training days springing up in towns and cities. There are many webpages explaining how to use social media, either as individuals or churches.
The biggest social networking tools are Facebook and Twitter. Pinterest and Google+ are also becoming significant. There are regional equivalents of Facebook in some countries. YouTube is also a strategic component of social networking, because video clips are so frequently shared within Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.
There are no clear boundaries within social networking – all its elements intertwine, integrate with fixed websites and blogs, and frequently enhance existing face-to-face relationships. We should not try to compartmentalize these opportunities, or even think of an offline/online divide. It all joins up!
Social networking basicsMany people and organizations have mistakenly tried to apply an old ‘print culture’ model to the Internet in general and social media in particular. Print was largely one-way, mass-media, proclamational, preaching, publicity, or informational. Perceiving the Web as ‘print on a screen’ is limiting, even misleading.
We are now in a ‘digital communication culture’. It is not just that the tools we use to communicate are different. The very way that we communicate, even think, is changing. Len Sweet’s book Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival explains this quantum leap.
These are key elements of social media:
- relational and personal, not anonymous and generalized
- dialogue and discussion, not proclamation and preaching
- widespread use of the visual – photos and videos
- frequently accessed 24/7 on mobile phones, not computers
Don’t try to use social media as a ‘pulpit for preaching’, or as a one-way publicity tool. The foundational key is to perceive it as a ‘cafe for conversation’.
The best way to understand the different social media tools is to use them and observe the etiquette and procedures that others employ.
Church use of social mediaPersonal and church use of social media obviously differ somewhat. That which is published in the church’s name represents the fellowship. Personal use relates more to an individual set of friends and followers. Check these challenges and issues:
- Many churches, including individual mininistries such as the youth group, use social media to communicate internally. This is great, but should not be confused with reaching out into the community. On the Web in general, and social media in particular, you have no automatic audience, and there is virtually no ‘trickle-down effect’. In other words, your insider communications about faith will not normally interest outsiders. Why should they, with the possible exception of people who are already seeking? Do you follow, on Facebook or Twitter, posts from groups (eg. a sport or hobby) you have no interest in? Why would you do that?
- The Web is not a broadcast medium. Each user is highly selective, and only views material they choose. This can, of course, include randomly-found unexpected eye-catching material on topics that interest them.
- To reach out into the community, a church should demonstrate interest and commitment to the local community, by frequently posting about local issues, events and concerns (though never, but never, party political views, or criticism of other’s social agendas). Popular culture is also a valuable area of common interest, with built-in spiritual parallels that we can use as conversation starters.
The respect and following you gain will then allow you to also share about church activities or spiritual insights, sensitively positioned without use of jargon.
- It is good for a church to create and train an informal social media team, who understand the strategy and can share posts on Facebook and Twitter in the name of the church.
- If a church has a Facebook fan page or Twitter stream, members can be encouraged to Like, Share, or Retweet posts in their personal Facebook or Twitter streams. This is one role of a digital advocate – to enable the rest of the fellowship understand and use digital outreach opportunities.
- YouTube video shorts also have huge potential. Our digital communication era communicates best through visual story. Video shorts can be posted with one click into Facebook or Twitter. Church teams and members can post resources from curated lists of recommended conversation-starting video clips, such as YesHEIs.com.
- It is also relatively easy to produce evangelistic or conversation-starting video shorts. This could be a great project for your youth group. Learn more about all aspects of using video shorts.
- Pinterest can also be used both by individuals and churches. Learn how.
- There is also a specialist way to use Twitter to locate and engage with hurting individuals in your town or area.
- It’s also important that your static church website is outsider-friendly. Test it with our
- Internet Toolbox for Churches is a one-stop resource for all things related to church digital outreach, including websites, but especially social media. Subcribe to the newsletter, listen to the podcasts.
- Using Twitter – one of the best practical introductions to this medium.
- Using Facebook in outreach – as an individual and a church.
- Books on social media and other communication issues, some as free ebooks.
- Our recent blog posts about social networking.