Using social media as a church can be time-consuming, frustrating, and worse yet, seemingly fruitless. A church posts a video of its sermon to Facebook and it gets 1 like. Your cousin posts a photo of a dog hugging a baby, and it gets 357 likes. It can be agonizing.
Despite the challenge of engagement, a shift is happening – more and more churches are using social media to communicate with members and the community. In a 2012 survey, over 30 percent of churches reported that they update Facebook every day1, a number which has grown over the past year.
How has social media changed the way Michigan District, LCMS congregations communicate? To get answers, I posed that very question to a few Michigan District church communicators, and asked their advice for churches just starting out.
Messiah, Grand Rapids
[Social media] provides a level of communication that has the opportunity to be two-way during the week. It also allows the opportunity to link to articles that members (and others) may find interesting. [However], getting a majority of members to use it is the biggest challenge.
[My advice to folks just starting out is] keep multiple avenues and means of communication open. Some will see social media as the “cake”; others prefer to view something else as the “cake,” so for them you make social media the frosting or maybe the rose in the corner.
Rev. Tom Bartzsch, Senior Pastor
Trinity, Lansing Child Care
We have an older congregation and most barely use email, though our new prayer list is turning people around. I think the duplication [of information through different avenues] is key; it keeps people from feeling left out and left behind.
Social media seems to be helping my church look outside the box. Our [childcare] director sees that people really do use social media while shopping for child care and loves the response she gets from parents. [Using social media has been] a huge success, not only in bringing in new parents, but in creating a closeness among our current parents.
If you have a resistant church, just go forward one step at a time. Talk about results as part of the conversation. Talk to the people who are open to the idea. Keep plugging away at it, and enjoy the task for the Kingdom’s sake.
Mrs. Vicki Dulebohn, Child Care Office Manager
Journey of Faith, Byron Center
Our people have embraced [social media] very positively. It’s just who we are now; it’s expected that we’ll use the tools of social media for ministry.
In a basic sense, social media keeps the church on people’s minds. There’s a tendency toward compartmentalization in our lives; I do the church thing on Sunday and then I’m done with it for a week. When Christ’s church is prominent and useful on Facebook or wherever your people are throughout the rest of the week, they’re staying engaged.
Our biggest hurdle as a church was understanding how people use [the content] you put out. [Learning about] the 90-9-1 rule (90 percent of people won’t engage with what you put out, 9 percent will respond, 1 percent will contribute) changed my life.
I think our biggest success that we had on Facebook was our live chats during The Bible TV series on the History Channel. We had lots of people talking and commenting together. People still ask when we can do it again! That’s one of the great things about social media: finding out your church’s online personality and playing to your strengths!
[Social media work] is on my agenda for Monday mornings. I had to schedule it in so that it didn’t get pushed aside. [My advice to folks just starting out is] stick with it. Especially if it’s new to the church you’re in, you’re not going to see results overnight. But stay consistent, keep a high level of quality and people will notice.
Mr. Matthew Starner, Vicar (SMP)
It’s How Folks Communicate
What do Facebook and the telephone have in common? They are both great tools for communication. Information will travel either way, Facebook is just one of the latest tools available to the church. That said, for younger generations, Facebook, Twitter, and texting have already replaced more traditional communication tools like phones and mail (even email). Do you have to use the new tools? Well, no. Is there a growing expectation from younger generations that you do use them? This is most certainly true.
There are no social media experts; new platforms come out every day and we’re all learning and trying to keep up. Facebook may be around in five years, it may not be. But the way in which members expect to communicate with organizations and the church has tilted toward social immediacy. It’s time for the church to embrace social media and explore the opportunity that comes with it.
Want to learn more about social media and church communication? Join us on the Michigan District, LCMS Facebook page every Monday at 10:00 a.m. EDT for an online chat. Every conversation is archived on Facebook for future viewing as well.