Do you wonder how to improve your church’s online presence? Do you spend a great deal of time creating and posting content online for your church but you’re still left wondering if anyone sees it or if it’s making a meaningful difference?
Do you find yourself in board meetings staring at blank faces that just don’t get it or being met with responses of “we don’t have enough resources for that” when you’re trying to convince key decision makers of the importance of having an online presence for your church?
If you’re the communications director of a church or conference office, or if you’re a pastor or a person who’s interested in online church communications, then you’re in the right place!
The biggest problem you’re wrestling with is if your church’s social media, website or livestream is having the biggest impact possible. You wonder if your content is being found by the people you’re trying to reach or if it’s just being shared by your mum and a few faithfuls from your church.
The one thing that keeps you up at night is knowing that there are so many opportunities out there, but you want to make sure that what you invest your time and the church’s money in will really make a significant difference.
And sometimes you just don’t know how to get started or how to cut through the noise online.
You hate to admit it but every so often, you get really discouraged, wonder if it’s all worth it and are tempted to give up.
While you understand in your heart that building an online community will be effective in reaching the people you want to talk to, you need some way to measure success to show that all your effort is really working
Well, if you keep reading, you’ll discover a plan for how you can set-up an online presence that will make a difference to your church and to your online community. We’ll outline how to transform your local church communication department into a ministry that’s a vital part of your church’s outreach efforts.
Though you may already understand it in theory, you’ll see in practice why the local church’s communication department serves more than a marketing function for the rest of the church.
And you’ll understand why your job extends beyond preparing the bulletin and sending out e-mails to the church members!
When executed well, the church communication department has the possibility to reach out to the community in a way we haven’t previously experienced as a church. In fact, when your ministry is empowered and structured properly, it can act as a strategic partner for each of the other church ministries!
So let’s get started!
First things first, who cares about social media
Who cares about social media anyway? Isn’t that just something the kids are doing?
This has been the ongoing assumption from the church for the last decade and as a result, we’re missing out on one of the biggest opportunities! In the past, our marketing has been the equivalent of throwing stuff at the wall and hoping it sticks. Now, with social media, we have the best of both worlds – wide, yet targeted, reach.
So, when asking who cares about social media, your church should.
However, since you’re here with me reading this article, I know I’m preaching to the choir. You get it already. However, I want you to also move beyond the thinking that social media is just for “young people’. If your members or the people you’re trying to reach have a phone or a computer and use the internet, this is relevant to them.
The main difference will be the platform we find them on, but if statistics are any indicator a lot of church members and the people you’re trying to reach can be found online. The trick is knowing and understanding whereto find them.
Why does your church have social media accounts?
The more important question is why does your church have social media accounts? Why are you online? Is it because everyone else is doing it? Are you suffering from a bit of FOMO? Is it just to post pretty scripture pictures?
I guess at the heart of my question is does your church have a plan for its social media accounts?
And answering this question actually begs a bigger question – why does your church exist? What’s its unique calling as a church? And more specifically, what is your church’s plan this year to carry out that calling?
What is your church’s strategy?
Who are you trying to reach? Do you have any special campaigns happening? Are there any special outreach initiatives? What are the goals of your church’s ministries?
Understanding the answers to these questions can give you a bit of perspective.
So, the first step in your process of bringing life and significance to your church’s social media accounts is to understand your church holistically. Understand what your church is trying to accomplish and who you’re trying to reach. This is your first task.
Why are you still reading? Go find out…
Just kidding, just kidding! Stay here with me. To make this process a bit easier for you, you can click here to download our checklist to keep track of the tasks we’ll be giving you along the way.
In fact, I’m going to split your work into phases to make it more digestible for you. The first phase is Pre-Work so let’s get stuck into it!
Phase I: Pre-Work
- Talk to the other departments, the board and your pastor to understand the church’s goals and strategy.
I want you (and your team, if you’re blessed to have one) to get clear on your church’s mission statement. This will inform the type of content you’ll post on your social media account.
The closer you can align your work to the church’s mission statement, the greater value the communications ministry will provide to the church. As the pastor and the various departments see you as a vital, strategic partner, your ministry’s value will become more apparent to them. Alignment to the mission will also help you feel like an important member of the team as you work cooperatively with the other departments in the church.
- Think of the different ways your church can minister to your community and how your community can engage with you.
In meeting with the various ministries in the church, the pastor and the board, what are the plans they have to reach the community? What outreach methods are they employing? What services are they offering to the community? Here are a few ideas to jumpstart your conversation with them.
- Do you have a food bank?
- Do you have a Bible study group?
- Do you offer a vegetarian cooking class?
- Do you have a Pathfinder club?
- Do you offer a play group or kids art class?
- How do you plan to grow these ministry outreach activities?
Make a list of everything your church offers as well as the dates of those offerings. This will help you as you plan for your church’s communication and social media plan.
- Based on your conversations, understand who your church is trying to reach and engage.
In talking to the various departments, try to understand who they are trying to reach with their ministries. You can do this by prompting them with some of the following questions:
- Who is this program for?
- If you could hand pick the people who would attend this program, who would be there?
- If this program worked out perfectly according to your plan, who would be sitting in the audience?
Now, let’s be perfectly realistic, you may find that the ministries you’re trying to support look at you with a blank stare, as though you’re an alien species who just stepped off of Mars when you try to engage them in these conversations.
It could be they’ve never thought about these things or had the questions asked of them. Don’t be put off. Ask them to think about it and offer to return in a week. Or, if they’re completely at a loss and a week of additional thinking won’t spur any creative thinking, offer to sit and brain storm with them. Get a small group together if it will prompt their thinking.
If you find you’re not getting much from the conversation and you’re having to brain storm alone don’t fret. There are still ways we can gather the information we need alone.
If you receive tremendous feedback from your ministry leaders then perfect! You’re beginning to develop a strategic partnership with your local church ministry leaders, which is a real step forward!
- Learn about your local community
In this step, you want to get a feel for who you’re trying to talk to, and those people should be located in your local community.
So consider the following questions.
- What are the characteristics of your local community?
Do you live in the same town as your church? If so, it should give you a good idea of your community’s demographics. Think about your neighbours and friends in your local suburb. This is who you’re trying to reach and talk to.
A good way to understand them a bit better is to check out social media accounts they’re frequenting.
For example, the Berowra Community Group — an area where I lived previously — has over 7,700 members in it. People in the group are local to the area or are in some way affiliated with the area.
Berowra Community Group
Recently, a major catastrophic weather event happened in the area so much of the conversation in the group is around the community’s needs post-storm.
This gives you, as a church, an idea of what the concerns are of your local community. As a result, the content on your social media accounts can reflect the needs of the community.
Although it may seem obvious to you, I feel like it must be said, I’m not suggesting that you go in the group and advertise the church. The first way to annoy your local community is by using social media pages and groups for things other than their intended purposes.
I’m suggesting that you do a bit a research – understand the people you’re trying to talk to. Get a feel for their concerns, their lives and the language they use.
The reason your social media accounts are failing to cut through the noise is because you’re not talking about things that matter to the people you’re trying to reach.
Your town might have a social media account. Local restaurants, business associations, libraries and groups are great virtual town squares to help you understand what your potential audience is interested in.
- Who are they?
- What are they talking about?
- What keeps them up at night?
- What are they concerned about?
Being an active member of your local online community can answer many of these questions.
Most importantly, don’t be creepy. Just be normal. Be a part of the community and learn the language and the pain points – or the most annoying things – your people are facing.
Here are a few additional examples. See if you can find similar online communities in your area.
Hills District Mums Community Group
Hills Shire Times
The next step is Digital Marketing 101.
Make a few profiles of the people you’re trying to reach.
Talking to the church ministries should have already started giving you an idea of who you’re talking to. You may group them like this:
- Mums who need community
- People who want to get healthy
- Single dads who need support
- Elderly people who are lonely
After you’ve identified the people you’re trying to reach by talking to the church ministries and doing your own research, make a few profiles of the people. They’re usually called “avatars”.
Write everything you know or that you imagine about these avatars.
- What do they like and dislike?
- What worries them and keeps them up at night?
- Where do they work?
- Do they have kids?
Add as much detail and flavour to it as possible because it will help you know and reach the people you’re trying to talk to.
We don’t often think about creating profiles for the people we’re talking to in church because the gospel is for everyone, however, that doesn’t mean you need to talk to everyone at the same time.
In a city blessed with 50 or 100 Adventist churches, it becomes more evident that there is a variety of churches to meet the various geographic needs and affinities in the community.
People are making their church decisions based on proximity and affinity so it’s good to be equipped to speak in those terms on your social media accounts.
Phase II: Prepare a Strategy
Now that you’ve done a bit of preparation, you’re ready to start thinking about your strategy.
When you create your strategy, I just want you to answer the question where your church is going, how you’re going to get there and how your ministry – the communications department — is going to contribute to that.
This is an important piece. You won’t be able to accomplish the ministry’s goals, but you will be able to play a role in it. Clearly define what your role will be in that process.
Here, you can also decide if you have any specific ministry goals of your own for your department or if you solely see your job as helping the other ministries carry out their goals.
You can paint this picture in big strokes. We don’t need the detailed nitty gritty at this point. We’ll get into that in a future step. For now, begin to cast a vision and pull together all of the things you’ve been learning so far.
As you’re writing out the strategy, which could be as simple as a few lines (think of it as your guiding light), don’t worry at this stage about how you’re going to get it all done, just decide where you want to go. Paint a picture of what success will look like and an overview of what your ministry will do to achieve it.
Also, in this step, create a strategy about what you’ll share online and why. This will clarify a lot for you down the road as you start to be presented with lots and lots of options. It will help you filter out those things that are important from those things that are not important. It will also help you understand when to say “yes” and when to say “no”.
Most of all, don’t feel too intimidated to put something down on paper; you can always hit the delete button and start all over again.
Phase III: Develop a Plan
From here, we’re going to start drilling down in more detail. This is the point where you should decide how you’re going to carry out the goals the ministry leaders, the pastor and your team have established.
What platforms do you want to be on? Will you be posting on your website and sending e-mails. This is the point where you’re going to start gathering the building materials.
This is the phase where we start to understand what we need to carry out this plan.
If you’re reading this and feeling a bit overwhelmed and confused because you don’t know what the building blocks are or what to include, don’t worry. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Who is your audience?
What social media platforms do they use? If you’re confused about this, go back to the section where we developed a profile of your audience.
If you don’t know what platform they use, find someone who fits the bill for your “avatar” and ask them what social media platforms they use. In fact, find two or three people and ask them. Now you’ve done a bit of research.
2. Decide the social media platforms you need to be on, but move forward with caution.
Avoid the trap that tells you that you need to be everywhere. It’s a big trap and so easy to fall into, so let me carefully pull you back from that gaping hole with this question.
How big is your team? If you just meekly squeaked out the word, “Me…” and held up your hand sheepishly then be realistic and don’t jump on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter, TikTok and Snapchat.
Ain’t nobody got time for all of that! Certainly not you. Like most church volunteers, you have a full-time gig and you want this to be a blessing not a curse on your life, otherwise, you’ll quit before the year is over.
Choose a platform or two that you can consistently and successfully use, and stick to it. Everyone says that Facebook is dead or dying, but I think it’s a good primary platform to start with. It allows for a variety of different types of posts, and you can form groups, which could be beneficial for your church.
3. Now, decide the type of content you’re going to post on your accounts.
This will be answered by reviewing your strategy. What is the purpose of being on social media?
Why do you exist as an organisation? You should continuously come back to this question in your work. You are going to be tempted to post so many different kinds of things, but always filter your decisions through this question of why you exist as an organisation.
Your church’s mission statement isn’t just good for taking up 12 weeks of a strategic planning committee’s time every five year, it should be lived out and now is your time to shine!
For example, at Digital Discipleship,
We exist to create, inspire, encourage and resource disciples of Jesus Christ to share His love through their creativity and innovation in the digital space.
Therefore, all that we do, through programming to our website to our social media accounts reflects those objectives.
Why do you exist? The type of content you plan to post on all of your online properties should reflect those objectives and values.
4. Use this opportunity to make a list of things you can potentially post.
To get your creative juices flowing, here are a few suggestions:
- Tell the story of your local church members
- Share your church’s story of how it got started
- Share special standout quotes from the sermon
- Share small video clips from cooking classes
- Share special traditions from the church, like a special meal you always share
- Provide special encouragement
- Provide opportunities for people to be prayed for
These are just a few suggestions. There will be further opportunities to discuss more ideas, but this should get you started with the types of things you can post, and we’ll get into more detail in the next phase.
Fellow Communicator, I just want to give you a pat on the back and commend you for sticking it out! You’re doing a great job and the work you put in now will make a huge difference in the online life of your church.
Phase IV: Create Content & Schedule
Now, we’re on to the fun part, creating content. Most people start here, but as you can see, we’re on Phase IV, so that means there are three phases they’ve skipped. Developing a strategy up front will make your work so much easier down the road.
As you create content, please keep this in mind. One of the things that can get lost online, especially from corporations and churches is a touch of humanity. We often become so sanitised in our communication that people lose touch with the fact that there’s a human behind it all!
So, in creating your content, be sure to provide a human touch – a heavenly human touch if that’s possible.
You want people to have an encounter with Christian people who’ve been in touch with Jesus. When I say human, I don’t mean to allow your human anger to come through – because people will try you on the internet. I mean allow your human compassion to come through.
Don’t be fooled by the web of apps, technology and algorithms. Behind each comment, mini-picture and profile, is a living, breathing human being (except when it’s a bot 😊) and we should never lose sight of that! They are our reason for existing, so as premier marketer Mark Schaeffer says, “Be More Human”.
Creating & Curating Content
One of the beauties of the internet is that there’s so much content you can share. Once you understand your strategy, it will inform what that content might be.
Have you decided that you exist to help your church members grow in discipleship? If so, you will want to regularly share spiritual encouragement with them. This will inform the type of content you’ll want to curate and create.
This idea of curating and creating fits squarely within the Digital Discipleship ecosystem of Content Creation, Content Distribution and Content Engagement, but that’s a conversation for another time.
As much as possible, try to schedule content natively on its platform. If the platform offers you a scheduler, try to use it. This is especially true with Facebook, as it favours its own scheduler and supresses the reach of content not scheduled on its native scheduling platform.
There are many schools of thought on how many times you should post a day on various platforms and if you’re a super keen learner, you can Google more about this.
On Facebook, you can post between 2 or 4 times a day, spaced out throughout the day. On Instagram, you can post 1 time a day and on Twitter, go for it mate! Post as much as you want because no one will see it anyway. 😊 Just kidding. Twitter offers a firehose of content so you can post continuously with a scheduler and when a person visits your feed they’ll see what you’ve posted.
Phase V: Foster Community
This is the step that’s among the most important and it is to foster community!
Many people – especially church social media pages – treat social media like a glorified bulletin board, where they’re posting tons of announcements, pretty pictures and events. However, social media is something more. It’s an opportunity to talk and be heard.
Nowadays, success can be measured by the amount of conversation you’re creating and engaging in, and this is the part that requires a bit of savvy.
You might be naturally wondering how you can create conversations on social media. Here are
6 ways to create and engage in conversations on social media
1. Create conversations by asking questions
Ask questions that are relevant to your audience to get them talking. You can also use these moments to learn more about your audience on your social media accounts. If you’re worried about crickets in the early stages, get a few church members to spark the conversation by being the first to answer every time. This will give you a bit of confidence and prompt others to crawl out of their shells and join in the conversation.
This is an example of a conversation that happened on the Digital Discipleship Facebook page.
2. Join ongoing conversations
Find conversations that are already happening on other Facebook pages and on church members’ pages. Find an opportunity to pop in the conversation and add value. Remember to frequently review your church’s mission and the strategy you established. This will help you remember to speak in the voice of your church and not yourself. Ensure all of your conversation, when using the church’s social media pages, are reflective of the church and aren’t just an echo of you, your voice and your opinion. It should go without saying but be kind. Ask yourself, what would Jesus do on the internet. Go and do likewise.
You can even train some of your local church members to do this as well. Have them join ongoing conversations in some of the local online town squares. Not to fight or to argue a point, but to mingle and meet needs as Jesus did.
This is living out the oft’ quoted Ellen White paragraph in the digital space:
“Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’” – Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 143.
How is your church living this out in the online space? Joining ongoing conversations and looking for needs is a way you can get started!
3. Respond to questions
Make sure to respond kindly to questions asked on your page. If your church or another Adventist website has a resource that can be useful, share it in response to the question.
This brings me back to the Digital Discipleship Ecosystem of Content Creation, Distribution and Engagement. As you respond to questions, remember the various online properties the church has. An article or video or magazine from The Record, Signs of the Time, Mums at the Table or your local Conference office could be just the ticket your person needs. As you engage online, think holistically about the resources that are available to you.
4. Be part of the online community in your local area
Another unexpected way you can foster community is by going to accounts and pages in your area and finding lovely ways to participate in community and to be part of your local community in the online space.
The best way to do this in a way that is in keeping with your church’s expectations is to ensure it aligns with your church’s mission and that the ministry you’re speaking on behalf of is aware and on board with what you’re saying.
That being said, participating in the local community online is such an untapped opportunity, as we talked about in #2 of this section.
5. Provide encouragement
It’s very likely that this goal is aligned with your church’s mission. Very often we wonder why people are not engaging with our social media accounts as page admins, but are we engaging with them? Do we care about them and are we taking every opportunity to show it?
Use this as an opportunity to encourage your members – if it’s their birthday, acknowledge it on their page from the Church’s account. Celebrate an achievement, acknowledge something they’ve done at church that’s worthy of applauding. Take this opportunity to encourage someone else.
6. Practice the Romans 12:15 Principles–
This idea dovetails nicely with the final way you can create conversations, which is the Romans 12:15 principle – rejoice when others rejoice and mourn when other mourn. Find opportunities for empathy as you’re online and operating the churches social media accounts.
Phase VI: Evaluate Your Work
One of the most important things you can do from here is to constantly evaluate your work. Measure what you’re doing and who you’re connecting with against your initial goals, against the strategies and the people you want to reach. Are you reaching them?
One of the best ways to measure your success is by how people are responding to the information you’re putting in front of them and how they’re responding to your calls to action.
What’s a call to action, you may ask, well, it’s when you ask the people in the online world to do something. This is why we established a strategy in the beginning. As you talk to the people, call them to action.
The ministries you support should have given you specific events they want people to attend, resources they want them to use and places on the church’s website they want them to access. These can be formed into calls to action and included with various posts.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to assess the success of your work online:
- What, if any, pieces of content is getting the most engagement on your social media accounts? This might answer a question for you about what your audience needs. Listen to this
- Are you generating any conversation? What are people talking about? Are they bringing up needs and if so, is your church meeting those needs?
- Are people taking you up on your calls to action? Are they accessing the resources you want them to access? If so, your work is spot on. If not, no sweat. Let’s go back to the drawing board and ask why and make a few adjustments.
Cutting through the noise in the online space and making an impact with your social media presence is an act of research, action, evaluation and iteration. It’s a continuous cycle of listening to your community and adjusting.
Bravo for getting this far and for your commitment and dedication to growing your church’s online ministry for the cause of Christ!
If you want a quick reference guide to remind you of what we’ve learned together, download our Checklist on How Improve Your Church’s Social Media Presence!
Written by Rachel Lemons Aitken. At the time of publication, Rachel was digital transformation strategist & founder of Digital Discipleship Ministry of the Australian Union Conference.
This article was originally published on the Digital Discipleship website 5 April 2019 about improving your social media for your church