There are several wonderful ways to use social media to help enhance and enlarge your ministry and evangelism efforts. As well, simply understanding WHY social media works will be a great benefit as you learn how to use these reasons to adapt the way we worship.
First, it seems that most of those pushing social media upon the church seem to do it with the goal of marketing or branding your church. I know that some marketing is important for churches. However, I know that real growth, growth through conversions, doesn’t happen as a result of marketing. Marketing is basically a great tool if you are growing a larger or mega church and you want to attract other Christians who are looking for a new church home. By far, this accounts for most of the “church growth” in America, which is not really growth, but Christians moving from one church home to another.
In a recent blog and podcast, Thom Rainer states that only 1 in 20 churches in America are actually growing as a result of conversions.1 Each year, the actual percentage of people attending a church in America drops by 2 percent and up to 80 percent of our churches are either plateaued or are in decline. Marketing by the other 20 percent, trying to pull Christians to the exciting, well-financed fast-growing church is good business, but it isn’t how we are told to grow. Nor will it reach our nation with the message of Christ.
The fact is, we are to equip the saints (Eph 4:11-12) to do the work of sharing the message of Christ. We know from multiple statistics that the number one reason a non-believer comes to church is that they have been invited by a friend. (Marketing your church isn’t drawing non-believers through your doors.) And, the best use of social media such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc., is for friends and family to connect. Therefore, the BEST use of social media by the church is for the church to encourage and equip their members to use their own personal social media sources to reach their friends and family with information about God, the church and what their faith means to them!
How? There are many, many ways. I know of one church that taught (equipped) their members in special classes on how to share their testimony about finding and accepting Christ in a couple of minutes. After the class was over, those attending were given the opportunity to have a staff person videotape their testimony so they could put it up on YouTube. Of course, once it is up on YouTube, they could send it out via Twitter, post it to their Facebook or Google+ account, etc.
Even if you want to “market” a new ministry opportunity that your church is launching, encouraging your members to share it on their social media source will be a much smarter marketing plan than getting people to “like” the church page (see my article on “Why Facebook Doesn’t Work” in this issue. You just need to provide the information with a link (create a video on YouTube, post a blog, add a page to your Website, etc.) and then send the link (via email, in your church bulletin, etc.) and ask your members to use one of the many social media sources. This is much better than having the church staff try to use social media to promote a specific ministry. First, people are much more apt to pay attention to something if it comes from a friend than if it comes from a church. Second, there are a growing number of social media sources. It is almost impossible for a church to maintain a great Website, Facebook site, Google+ site, Twitter postings, Pinterest, etc. By creating the source of the information and pushing it to your congregation in media methods that work better than social media, you depend on them to push it out to their friends and family in the social media methods that they are using!
This doesn’t mean that you can’t use Facebook, Twitter and other social media sources. I believe every church should have a Facebook account. People are searching Facebook for information as much as they are searching for Websites. So, in addition to your church having a website, they should have a site on Facebook for those seeking information about the church, times of your services, directions, what to expect as a first time visitor, etc.
And, while trying to get thousands of people to follow you on Twitter, posting content and assuming they will see it (because only a small fraction really will), you can use Twitter sort of like you used to use email, only for many, Twitter is cooler. Because of hashtags (#), you can ask people to tweet using a hashtag, and it is easy to quickly find their tweet, or all of the tweets, that used that hashtag. How can you take advantage of this? Recently while doing a live radio show on Moody (the Chris Fabry show), a caller reported that his church, First Baptist of Orlando, encourages those attending worship to use Twitter to send tweets to their pastor with questions (normally about that morning’s sermon). The pastor then takes about 10-15 minutes at the end of the service to read some of the questions and answer them. This is important because it not only uses social media (Twitter), but it builds upon the very reason social media is so successful.
Social media is a success because it is built on the premise that people don’t want just content from sources of authority. They actually value information from people, friends and family, because there is the assumption that it is free of spin (marketing, or using socialization tools to manipulate you to think or act a specific way without actually telling you to do so). So, they like the man in the street interviews on news sources as much, or in some cases more, than they do from newscasters. Especially if they think the news source is considered to be biased in some way.
People want to be included in the communication. They want the opportunity to ask questions, make a comment, even disagree if they wish. This is why blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Google+, etc., etc., allow people to leave comments, ask questions and voice a disagreement after the content is presented. People WANT to be a part of the conversation, not just the recipient. So, by using Twitter, this church in Florida is providing a sort of social media, by allowing people to ask questions during the worship service.
Other churches that I know are bravely posting videos or podcasts of their Sunday sermons almost immediately after the worship service is over. This allows their members to go home or use their mobile devices to go to the church’s Facebook page and leave a comment or ask a question. The sooner a church allows this after the worship service the better. And, as a side benefit, IF the member is really touched by the service, they have the ability to “share” and their friends or family members can listen or watch the service. This is SO much better than the church pushing out a video or podcast to a small percent of those who “liked” their page. If it comes from a friend who shared it, people will be much more likely to listen or watch.
Understand WHY social media works, and use your imagination. Remember, people want the perception that they can be involved in the conversation. And, remember, content that comes from a friend is much more likely to be read or viewed than content that is pushed out as marketing by a church.