The rise of social media has provided for churches both challenges and opportunities. Long-lost connections have been restored giving way to extramarital 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.
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. Nonmembers 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.
4. 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 engines. 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. (They will assume the same thing if you do not have a Facebook page or if that page is a digital wasteland.)
Your website must be visually appealing and easy to navigate. The landing page should be oriented toward nonmembers 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.