By Rachel Reiff Ellis
Whether the faces in your church pews number in the hundreds or consist only of a faithful few, every member of your congregation is a potential ambassador, poised to spread word of your church’s mission. One simple way the church can help spread that message? By engaging thoughtfully and intentionally in the social media realm.
Many churches have not hopped on the social media bandwagon, in part because they don’t consider the implementation of a social media strategy beneficial to their outreach. But according to Meredith Gould, PhD, a digital strategist and communications consultant for mission-based organizations, and author of The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways, social media engagement can be as important to a church as a telephone, photocopier or front lawn marquee.
“Social media platforms are tools that have become normative for communicating information and news, as well as building community. Any church, regardless of size, needs its leadership to engage with the world via social media, even if the church itself doesn't set up social media accounts,” she says.
With that in mind, here are five easy steps to get you started, or—if you’re already plugged in—to help you audit your social media usage so your church can plug in to the rich connections already taking place on the World Wide Web.
1. Set a strategy
Facebook is the place to start. If your church doesn’t yet have a Facebook page, create one. But don’t plunge in blindly—have a plan.
“Strategy is an essential first step,” advises Gould. “Most people don't quite ‘get’ how social media work until they try it, which is fine for personal accounts. Setting up social media accounts for a church without first thinking through some key issues? Don't do it! Take the time to ask these questions: What do we want people to know and do as a result of engaging with our church via social media?”
If you’re having trouble knowing exactly where to go after answering those questions, look to expert resources (like Gould!) for help. Once you know what you want to share (for instance something as specific as your VBS registration or something as broad as all the outreach you do in your community), they can help you figure out how best to share it.
2. Enlist an emissary
The concern some pastors have about having enough time to “do” social media is a valid one—in order for your church not only to be on social media, but to be present there, you need someone who can devote a few hours a week to the task.
Appointing a volunteer social media coordinator—or hiring one—is a time-efficient tactic to address this challenge. The ideal candidate is someone (or a few someones) with intimate knowledge of your church and its ethos, who is invested in and savvy with social media. Depending on their level of expertise, your social media coordinator could help develop your social media strategy. But be sure one is place before handing over the reins.
3. Cultivate a community
Simply posting to Facebook is not enough—respond to comments, reply to mentions, tag other organizations you collaborate with, share content from sites and pages that further your mission and like posts that involve people of your congregation to fully engage with your page audience.
Gould emphasizes this interaction as key, adding, “Be good citizens of the community—follow other churches and organizations like the Red Cross, and recognize the work they do.”
4. Motivate your members
Remind your church family that you’re around on social media channels, and available for liking, tagging, sharing and promoting. Print your social media handles in the bulletin and include them in your church’s email signature. Sometimes all it takes is one member’s ‘like’ to introduce a whole new group of eyes to your page.
And don’t forget: outreach to those already in your church is just as important as the outreach to those outside. By following the church’s social media streams, existing members can easily keep up with the events and prayer concerns of the church.
5. Work your website
Though social media is a great tool for church outreach and engagement, in person interaction is the paramount goal. Include a link to your website on the social media channels you use, and then make sure that website accurately reflects the current projects, activities and mission work your congregation offers—including directions to your facility!
If your website is in dire need of an overhaul, Gould recommends prioritizing the visibility of the most important information for the short term, if a redesign is not in the cards. “People want to know worship times, location and what activities might be available or interesting,” she says. You can also include this information in the bio section of your social media account.
The world is already out there, connecting and commenting and sharing its stories—make sure your church is part of the conversation.
Rachel Reiff Ellis is a freelance writer in Decatur, Ga. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.