By V. Michelle Bernard
“Any church that doesn’t have a Facebook page may not be doing relevant ministry,” says Noah Washington, former senior pastor at Allegheny East Conference’s Bladensburg, Maryland church. Washington and the media team updated their Facebook and Twitter accounts with pictures from the church service and videos of their praise team and groups. Bladensburg has a weekly attendance of between 375 and 400, but their Facebook page has more than 1,200 fans. He says that the church’s social media efforts have had a tremendous impact. “We’ve had people attend service because of our Facebook and Twitter accounts.”
David Franklin, pastor of Miracle City church in Baltimore uses Facebook to interact with his church community and viewers of Let’s Pray!, a Hope Channel show he co-hosts. “We respond to every post and share encouraging messages as a way to provide hope for folks going through difficult and/or dark moments in their lives,” he says. Franklin continues, “Social media is a neighborhood. In the same way building relationships with the neighbors that live next door can (possibly) result in leading them into a relationship with Jesus and potentially becoming active members of your church, … building relationships through social media can [also] grow a ministry.” Social media has played a big role in how Adventist HealthCare interacts with their consumers and the community in recent years says Bronson Arcuri, former social media and video specialist at Adventist HealthCare. Adventist Healthcare has more than 26,000
Twitter followers and more than 10,000 fans on their Facebook pages. They also have a blog,
(http://blog.adventisthealthcare.com/) which shares health tips, community and health news and other useful news.
“We’re able to be more accessible to a bigger audience than we’ve been able to in the post. This has gone a long way in helping us spread our message of wellness to the community. It has also helped us address any community concerns brought to our attention,” he says. “It’s kind of cliché now, but a lot of it comes down to speaking with your audience rather than speaking at them.” Chip Dizárd, a social media expert and member of Chesapeake Conference’s New Hope church in Fulton, Md., agrees that the goal of social media should be listening and giving. “We need to have two-way communication instead of just a push, we need to pull and push information out.” Besides regularly interacting with your followers, it can also help to encourage your community to interact with you. Washington gets his church members active by encouraging them to tweet quotes during the sermon.
How To Do It
Dizárd says your content is what will drive people to your church or ministry. “The old stale stock information is no longer relevant in this information age.” He says a church can aggregate content from ministry blogs then add their own opinions to it, and post current world events as conversation starters. One commonly cited roadblock to starting a social media ministry is lack of free time or a perceived lack of good content. “I believe you make time for what’s important and if social media is important you will find time to share. … You create content every week you preach a sermon.” Dizard says that transcripts of a sermon, audio of a sermon, tweetable moments from a sermon and updates about upcoming events are all good content for social media. Some larger churches can be active on many platforms. For example, the New Hope church runs Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo and Spotify (goo.gl/YbNk9I) accounts.
Smaller churches might not be able to do that. All the social media channels can quickly overwhelm people when they’re first starting out, says Arcuri. “You should start by focusing on being where your audience is, and for most demographics right now that means Facebook,” he says.
Christopher Thompson, an associate pastor at Allegheny West Conference’s Ephesus church in Columbus, Ohio, says his church has had a Website for years and has ramped up their use of social media in the last couple years. They use them to share encouragement, information about projects and events, and to reach out and stay connected to the people in their circle of influence. He says, “It’s absolutely essential for church leaders to have a web presence. … When we want to know more, we google it. It’s even true for people we want to know more about. We just google them whether it’s the president or a pastor. With that said, I think it’s safe to say that [to many people in today’s world] if you’re not online, then you don’t exist.
Follow these social media tips from Adventist HealthCare:
· Don’t get discouraged. Getting social media followers can take a long time, so don’t sweat it if you get stuck at a number. Just keep on posting and offering useful, regular updates
· Set realistic goals. If you have a church with 200 members then 100 Facebook fans could be a huge number for you.
· Publicize your channel. Make sure your printed materials list your social media addresses so people know they can find regular information there.
· Post relevant topics. In addition to sharing information about your group, make sure to share information your followers find useful. A social media site needs to be useful to your followers, not just to your organization.
· Highlight people. Highlight individuals as much as you can. It does not have to be all the time, but it’s a great way to get people to learn more about your group and the services you provide.
· Keep it fresh. Don’t forget to show the personable side of your organization; be informative and approachable.
V. Michelle Bernard is the assistant editor and digital media manager for the Columbia Union Visitor.