By Rev. Benjamin P. Glaser
We live in a fluid time of radical change concerning how human beings consume news, talk to one another on a daily basis, and generally interact with the world around them. This brave new world can be intimidating for those without degrees in computer engineering or the kind of on-the-job training that makes your average teenager the Bill Gates of your home. In this article my goal is to help take away this fear, introduce you to some simple and basic social media outlets, and show you that if this technological dinosaur can use social media for his church, you can too.
The number of platforms that deal with what are termed “social media” are vast and complex. I am only going to focus on a couple of the main outlets in order not to overwhelm you.
This really is easy and there is nothing to worry about.
The definition of what makes a place “social media” is changing by the day. As websites become more and more interactive and encourage that contact between users the gulf separating normal websites from those which act as virtual town squares are shrinking. While there are some who question the longevity and standing power of Facebook it still is the first platform that comes to most minds when discussing social media. What makes it unique among the many other options out there is that it easily has the largest number of members (around 1.59 billion users worldwide) and percentage of usage (currently 20% of all internet time worldwide is spent on Facebook). It also is the most user-friendly for all age ranges.
Now I want to talk a little bit about what your church can do with Facebook.
The first thing you want to do on Facebook is set up a church page. This takes only a couple of minutes and regular upkeep is not going to require a lot of energy. Having a landing page for your church on Facebook is very important. Not only will it come up on folk’s Facebook searches it is also going to appear in Google’s search fields. So if for some reason your church does not have a website you can still have a free web-presence which is easily accessible. As an example if you go to Google right now and type in “Ellisville Presbyterian Church” the first two hits will be the church website and our Facebook page. You can put anything you want on your Facebook page, but something worth considering when using this platform is the ad option. I live in a lightly populated area with a local bi-weekly newspaper that has a subscriber base of around 7,500. Last time I checked a 3”x 3” advertisement on the Religion page that would run for two weeks would cost our church $150. As a comparison this past weekend our church placed an ad on Facebook that received 7,216 impressions (number of times the ad showed up in someone’s newsfeed), gave us 36 clicks to our website, and only cost $21.18. You do not need to be an accountant to see the cost benefits of using social media advertising over the traditional hardcopy. This form of marketing also replaces in large measure the time consuming methods of door-to-door hangers, mass mailings, and other things which are especially difficult for those of us in small churches to do. Our church was able to reach in a few days’ time seven thousand people in a ten-mile radius with only about fifteen minutes of time and energy. Now for those of you in much larger urban areas you will want to be a bit careful with this as Facebook advertising is pay-per-impression. Be watchful if you are in a center city location that you do not set your limits too broadly. A ten-mile radius around Ellisville only takes in 12,000 people, whereas ten-miles around Ebenezer ARP Church in Charlotte is going to be exponentially more and to be clear this is actually a good thing about Facebook ads. They can be micro-targeted based on age, location, pages liked, etc. Try doing that with a newspaper or magazine!
Another app that you may find useful is Instagram. Now, I am a bit new to this particular one, but what sets it apart is that it is photo-based. In other words the interactions you will have through it are going to be sharing pictures of church events, bulletins, etc. Instagram is great for synching with Facebook and other platforms in order to let others see the activities and fellowship going on within your congregation. Of the several social media outlets that are mentioned Instagram is probably the most-used by younger people. Part of this is tied into the immediacy of it and the simple interface. Like with Facebook the time requirements are minimal.
A site that you may have thought it strange that I have left out of the above discussion is Twitter. There is a reason for this. Twitter is not really suited for the kind of thing I have talked about in this article. First, any successful marketing on Twitter is only accomplished through costly promoted tweets and/or aggressive posting which really have more in common with old-fashioned cold-calling than the basic social media interaction that your average church can accommodate themselves to on a daily basis. Second, in talking about something unrelated directly with the subject at hand is the fact Twitter is a poorly run company. If you take a gander at their stock price over the past six months you will see what I mean. The reality is Twitter may soon go the way of MySpace, Digg, and other social media sites which have broken down by the side of the information superhighway. Its user numbers are cratering at the moment and with the introduction of what Twitter is calling a “Safety Council” which will monitor tweets and have the power to delete anything they find offensive the reality is this restriction is not going to be kind to orthodox Christianity. But to close on somewhat of a more positive note it would not be a complete waste of time for your church and/or pastor to maintain a Twitter handle to place basic information like links to sermons, etc. It is free, easy to use, and highly interactive.
There are several other sites you could consider using, like Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr, LinkedIn that I have not mentioned, primarily because they do not really lend themselves to the kind of advertising and marketing outreach in mind throughout this article. This being said it would be worthwhile to ask around your congregation and find someone who knows more about these activities than I do in order to receive local help in setting up sites for yourselves at all of the aforementioned social media outlets. There is no reason not to be engaged in these easy ways.
In closing, the surface has barely been scratched in considering social media and the Church. There is much more that could be said and explained both theologically and sociologically concerning this new way forward. While I noted above that things like Facebook ads can largely replace traditional methods of outreach it should not completely be substituted for them either. Nothing electronic can do what person-to-person conversation and real life interaction with human beings accomplishes in God’s mercy. My main purpose here was to introduce you to some helpful hints and to assuage any fear you might have about your ability to do these things. Being active on the internet in these days is not optional, yet it does not need to be expensive or difficult for those without experience and/or education in these areas. Be confident in your ability to do these minor and very helpful activities for your local church.
As I noted at the beginning, if I can do this, you can too.
Rev. Benjamin P. Glaser is the pastor, Ellisville Presbyterian Church in Ellisville, MS. He and his wife Brandy have four children and a wonderful dog named Lucy.