Social Media & The Church

by | Facebook, Social Media

You’ll find this article in The Light Magazine  and SocialMediaToday

With more than one billion people worldwide having a profile on the social media giant, Facebook, many in the church are either concerned or blissfully unaware of the opportunities this social network presents for them.

But many churches and ministries have set up a Facebook page as they look to connect with and strengthen their own communities and reach those outside the walls of the church. They often do so with high hopes, and unrealistic expectations.

Getting started with social media is the easy part! Maintaining and growing it, is another thing altogether. Often churches and ministries launch into social media with a Facebook page and become frustrated when the results they hope to see don’t materialize quickly.

“Social media is a great tool/forum but like any other tool, you have to learn how it can work for you, and understand its strengths as well as its limitations,” notes James Fam, an Associate Pastor at Coastal Church in downtown Vancouver.

Coastal, an enthusiastic and serious user of Facebook, has a good size following on their page. Even more impressive is the number of ‘fans’ (those who have liked their Facebook page) who check into the page on a daily basis. In social media, it is rare for fans to check into a page daily. But for churches this makes sense when you consider that many people are on Facebook to connect with family and friends. Most churchgoers consider their local church in the ‘family and friend’ category.

This makes Facebook a tool for the local church, to help build community by sharing interesting information, teaching and inspiration on a daily basis. And it can be used to reach those outside the walls of the church.

“In a general sense, the key difference between social media and traditional media is the higher level of interactivity and immediacy in communication,” notes Fam. “Whereas print and other broadcast media is largely one-way communication, social media thrives on user interaction and user-generated content.”

Coastal, along with Broadway Church and Relate Church, to name a few, seem to have mastered the art of getting the majority of their fans to check into their page on a regular basis. One of the challenges churches and ministries face, along with businesses, is getting their content into the news feed of those who have liked their page, on a consistent basis. Thus, if a large number of your fans aren’t visiting your page daily, you may need to look at other ways to ensure you are showing up in their news feed, at least periodically.  The challenge is to post content that fans ‘like’, ‘comment’ or ‘share’ with others.

One thing to watch out for when managing a page is “unnecessary or overzealous censorship,” explains Fam.  It can kill conversation on social media quickly and churches need to be “comfortable putting up with a few negative comments on Facebook.”

Ministries and individual missionaries are using Facebook and social media too.

Award-winning journalist and past editor of Charisma magazine, J. Lee Grady shares: “I absolutely love all forms of social media, especially Facebook. For me, ministry is about relationships and connection…and social media helps me do that. This media allows me to connect with the people I have met in the places I visit. My ministry connections stay strong because I can be in constant contact with people.”

Founder and Director of Women Together, Marg Gibb shares: “Building awareness of the ministry through regular postings has created, for Women Together, a new larger community of women who are interested and want involvement – women who were not in my former circles of resources.  Providing spiritual inspiration and mentoring, again through regular postings, has given me the sense that ministry does happen through social media.”

Tim Ernst who ministers with the Navigators among business and professionals in Vancouver notes: “Like all forms of communication, social media can add either inspiration or cynicism to the earth’s atmosphere. My cyber-neighbours are a mosaic of faith journeys, religions, ages and stages.”

But churches, ministries and individual missionaries can overdo a good thing too, if they don’t understand their audience! Facebook and social media in general, require prayerful and thoughtful planning and use. Simply posting content that adds clutter to our already busy online world won’t cut it! People are drawn to authentic content that offers hope and inspiration.

In addition to prayer and planning, time, a passion for people, good communication skills, perseverance and commitment are needed.

“Church ministry is all about people; building community with people. Engaging people in spiritual conversations takes on a whole different level with social media,” notes Coastal’s Fam.

So how does the church, in our rapidly changing world, stay relevant and in touch, both with everyday Christians and with those who do not yet know Christ? Social media may have part of the answer.

As Ed Hird, pastor of St. Simon’s Church in North Vancouver puts it: “Social media is the new Guttenberg Press. It is here to stay, like it or not.”