Here’s a universal church problem: time. Think about how many hours there are in a week. Now, consider how many of those hours your congregation spends at your church (or in a small group). Adults spend the majority of their time either at work or asleep, with some social or familial interaction in between. Switch “work” with “school,” throw in extra curricular activities, and you have the life of an American student in a nutshell.
The average American adult, between 35 and 49, will squeeze nearly seven hours a week on social media.That’s right, seven hours – and these are older adults, not millennials. The global average per person is 116 minutes daily, so an hour each day is a conservative number.
What if local churches could meet congregants where they are during those seven hours? What if that became a venue for participating in church life? Digital media presents us with the opportunity to connect people to the life of the church in unprecedented ways.
“The average American adult, between 35 and 49, will squeeze nearly seven hours a week on social media.”
Church history shows that innovation isn’t a foe of the people of God but one of her friends. Scribes used papyri and ink to copy the writings of the apostles, church fathers, and councils. Books were made by hand until the Gutenberg Press, which helped the early reformers set the world on fire. The twentieth century saw an exponential boom in technology, and the Church began using radio, television, fax machines, telephones, and cassette tapes to further her mission.
Communication channels have multiplied eight-fold by some counts since the early nineties. Not only are channels multiplying, but they’re becoming more effective at reaching people. Here’s an example: the telephone was around for 75 years before it reached 50 million users, the radio 38 years, and the television 13 years. It took Instagram 18 months.
Social media platforms are not only expansive but they’re personal. Each individual has their own profile where they add their own information and connect with existing friends and make new ones. They add photos and voice their opinions; there is even the opportunity to “like” brands, books, and activities one enjoys.
“It took Instagram just 18 months to reach 50 million users.”
This is much different than television and radio, where the individual is 100% passive. The shift from unidirectional communication to bi-directional and conversational is known as Web 2.0. Even marketing textbooks are beginning to include a fifth “P” in the marketing mix, adding participation to product, placement, price, and promotion.
The Church and Social Media
This brings us to the point: social media provides an opportunity to mature disciples. Social media can be divided into four types: community, publishing, entertainment, and commerce. The two most applicable to churches are community and publishing. In fact, the most successful churches on social media balance the two like a teeter-totter. Publishing is an arm that draws people in, while community builds the existing relationships.
Community is essential because the Church is a people. Community is embedded into everything we do, and even into the epistles we read; we remember that “you” is always in the plural. So when we approach digital platforms, the goal is to create a home for our community to exist. The best way to build relationships is by asking questions, creating opportunities for vulnerability, and being transparent yourself. This means we prompt conversations and ask how people need to be prayed for, how they responded to the sermon, and what their favorite hymns are.
Publishing is the essence of social media. Everything on them is technically “published,” but successful publishing has both excellent strategy and content. Graphics, photos, videos, gifs, and articles are the most common artifacts published. They become tangible pieces of what we teach, believe, and do for the audience to interact with. The artifacts are either entertaining, encouraging, or educational. Strategies are best shaped by a church’s calendar. The most important thing to be communicated is what is happening, or what is about to happen. In slow seasons, share testimonies of what God is doing in people; let them share their stories.
“The artifacts are either entertaining, encouraging, or educating.”
We can look at ministries with large followings to see more clearly how these things happen. Existing fans and followers find them on social media and share their content when it’s particularly relevant or moving. That share exposes hundreds of people to that page, some of who then like the page and start receiving regular content themselves. Those relationships, new and existing, are strengthened as they learn more about the ministry. The audience becomes more trusting of the ministry because they know more about it. Camaraderie also grows as they dialogue with the ministry itself and other followers as they comment on posts.
Seven hours can go far. People will look at funny videos, posts from their favorite business or artist, and articles from various news sources. No church’s goal should be to dominate all time spent online; that is bizarre and unrealistic. Churches should focus on saying what needs to be said for that week, then interacting with people in comments and messages.
Onto what needs to be said: the ultimate objective of every social media strategy is to mature disciples, but that doesn’t mean every post will look the same. Some will be focused on reinforcing the convictions of your particular church. Some posts will be explicitly teaching, and still others will have their aim in celebrating what the Lord is currently doing.
Social media can be a venue to recap main topics, give information that didn’t make it into the main lesson, or challenge people to apply what was taught. This is its strength as a tool: the church gathers only a few hours each week, but its leaders can share content that continues to edify and educate in between Sundays. If you’re a teacher in your church, start to think about the time leading to and after a sermon or lesson as teaching moments.
“This is its strength as a tool: the church gathers only a few hours each week, but its leaders can share content that continues to edify and educate in between Sundays.”
Two other sources of content are your church’s calendar and your church’s people. Church events can be a headache, but we do them because we believe in their value. That’s all the more reason to multiply the value by getting awesome photo and video footage during, then sharing it afterward, or promoting it intentionally beforehand. Sharing testimonies from your congregants is one of the greatest ways to communicate life in the church. Story is trendy right now, but there is genuine encouragement in hearing someone’s experience of faith.
If there is something that the leadership of the church is convicted or passionate about, share it. Passion fuels passion, so talk about what’s important to discipleship and to your church. As we discuss and celebrate what we value, more people will be drawn into those rhythms.
The next challenge is to figure out what format each story or conversation needs to happen on. Content is king, but there are still artifacts needed to cut through the digital clutter, get attention, and engage the audience. Artifacts work more effectively on some networks than others.
The main channels churches should be using are Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. Facebook is a social utility that has compartments for just about everything; photos, graphics, video, and text will all work well here. It also has a large draw with all age groups. Instagram is perfect for photos, graphics, and short video (under one minute) – and for reaching millennials. Youtube is a necessity for hosting all of your videos and has an organization option that allows you to create playlists and categorize everything you’re creating. Youtube also has a large demographic across all ages.
“If there is something that the leadership of the church is convicted or passionate about, share it.”
People are spending a lot of time on social media, almost seven hours a week. The Church has the opportunity to meet them there to make disciples. To do so, we need to use elements of social community and publishing. Each piece of shared content is an artifact of what we teach, believe, and do that helps people get connected and stay involved. The main sources of content will generally come from a church’s teaching, calendar, and people, and the primary networks churches should focus on are Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.
May it be our opportunity to echo Peter’s intentions as we plan social content:“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,”
Here’s the whole post boiled down to one takeaway: if you had access to your people for an extra hour a week, what would you tell them?
Share your answers with us below!