I can recall standing in my pantry at the beginning of the pandemic, exhausted and weary. The first two weeks of being at home with my family was fun and restful. We did everything from playing games to having family workouts, movie nights, baking, bonfires, campouts, and even managed to figure out how to do schoolwork at home. But, here we were, two weeks later, and the weariness of our situation was beginning to weigh on me. It wasn't long before I was standing in the pantry, weeping. I desperately needed my community, my support network, and my church to speak words of hope and encouragement. However, like every organization, churches were scrambling to find ways to platform their voice among millions of others now flocking to create online content.
Now that we have been doing this work for almost two years later, it is safe to say that we understand the importance of having an online presence on social media platforms. The challenge before us is moving from creating content for social media to doing ministry in these digital spaces. Over one billion people gather on networks such as Facebook and TikTok. People crave connection with one another. Our responsibility, as the church is to find ways to create areas of sacredness for people to find community, hope, love, and belonging. So, how do we begin to create transformational spaces that our neighbors will be able to experience community?
#1 Worry less about tech and think more about audience
One of the most popular questions that I get as a consultant is centered around churches wanting to know what type of technology/equipment their church needs. While that will be a necessary conversation at some point, your first step to creating a social ministry platform needs to be identifying who your audience is. If you are using digital space solely for getting information to your congregation, your social media strategy likely will not involve much equipment at all!!
However, if you are creating space on a social media platform that will be for both your congregation and community, it is important to curate content with both groups in mind. Are you trying to reach single mothers? How does your content relate to those who are unfamiliar with church lingo? So, before you get lost in technology terms, establish who you are intending to reach and keep them in mind as you create your social media strategy.
#2 Tell your story authentically and invite others to share their own
Storytelling is one of our oldest traditions as human societies. It is where we share our daily lives, our faith, our traditions, our history, and so much more. People are not screen fatigued, they are content fatigued! Therefore, as you are crafting content, this is your opportunity to share about who you are as a congregation, what you believe, what you value, and invite others into the narrative. Not every post will be centered around storytelling, but every post should leave your follower with some invitation to join the story.
#3 Develop community
The 1990s movie, “Field of Dreams,” was a masterpiece of its time. Organizations bought into the concept, “if you build it, they will come.” Business owners and churches alike, began to build places for people to come and experience what they were offering. This attractional model of church can easily create spectators out of members and turn pastors into producers. Similarly, we can fall into the same pattern and apply it to our social media strategy. Community is at the heart of Christian life. We are meant to share our lives with others. This traditionally happened within our buildings, but we now have the opportunity within the digital world to cultivate relationships. Invest time in creating regular content that connects with the needs of your community, and then build your platform out from there.
As you and your team are creating a strategy that moves from social media to social ministry, think about your audience and how are you meeting them not only in the joys of life, but also the pain points.
When I was crying in my pantry, wishing that I could have coffee with my friends, the church had a unique opportunity to create a digital space to offer me hope and connection with others. For more on creating social ministries, check out Nona Jones’s Book, “From Social Media to Social Ministry.”
Rev. Jessica Blackwood serves in the Center for Congregational Excellence as Digital Ministry Specialist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.