The Social Media Opportunity


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.”

Tech Background

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.

Your Church

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!

Of the Church and Video

A few months ago a friend of mine asked on Facebook, “Where do conversations happen? Where are people thinking and sharing ideas?” I saw the irony immediately. He used Facebook because he knew people would think about his question and share their ideas. I pointed it out to him. We laughed. It was a good time. 

There are groups of people who think the internet is a passing fad, and that social media is just for those generations who never learned to write in cursive, don’t know what a rotary phone is, and never lived in a world without Google. We love them, but disagree wholeheartedly; and the numbers agree that the internet and social media are here to stay. There are 7.4 billion people on this planet, and 3.5 billion use the internet. To make this a bit more relevant, of the 324 million in America, there are 286 million internet users. That’s 88% percent. Let that simmer for a second: 88% of the American population uses the internet. 

This is the biggest communication shift since the Gutenberg Press and the Reformation. The world hasn’t been the same since, and the world won’t be the same after the internet, social media, and the shifts in culture they’re causing.

The World Wide Web is a big place, and people are spending a lot of time exploring it. Sites like Facebook and Youtube are favorites for users and analysts alike; they are sources for entertainment and connection but also for excellent information on how people are using these new technologies. Here are two big numbers that might boggle your mind: Facebook reports that 100 million hours of video are watched daily on Facebook. The second statistic, given by Youtube in the last days of February 2017, is that their users consume 1 billion hours of video a day. 

Other video stats:

It’s clear that lifetimes of video are being watched a day (80 years = 700,800 hours), but statistics like these are just numbers if we can’t learn from them. Here’s the takeaway from this data: people like video. The world wants video. Here’s how churches can capitalize: create video. It’s a pretty simple action item. The difficult part is deciding what to fill the video with – because video is just a vehicle for valuable content. 

What Makes Good Video

There’s a clear difference between good video and bad video, and you’ve seen it. Sometimes the video drags on forever, and the information you were promised isn’t clear. Others are awkward or gimmicky, and not in a funny way. Unfortunately, some, otherwise good scripting and presentation, can be ruined by poor audio or video quality. Maybe the worst kind of video is just irrelevant; it’s information doesn’t answer your questions at all. 

So what makes good video? Good stories do. Life makes good video. I love watching cats being scared by cucumbers – it’s oddly entertaining – but the Church has a better story to tell than sneaky vegetables. The first element of engaging video is to have a clear story to tell. Flash back to middle school when your grammar teacher told you that every paragraph had a topic sentence. Let me channel my inner educator: every video must have a clear direction. The thesis statement drives the story forward and makes sense of how it unfolds, and lets the audience know why you’re telling it. 

Maybe the worst kind of video is just irrelevant; it’s information doesn’t answer your questions at all. 

The second element of captivating video is timeliness. If you need a coat, buy it in the spring. Why? It’s on sale. Retailers are clearing their racks for shorts, swim suits, and kayaks; they don’t need coats taking up space, so they sell them for pennies on the dollar. That’s completely different than how movies are handled. The “teaser” has become infamous in the last few years. It’s a brief clip of a movie, or just a brief scene written just for advertising, shown months before the film is available or in theaters. Teasers build excitement for a movie, but coats on sale tell everyone the season is over, and it’s time to move on. Which should your video embody? Excitement or irrelevance? In the same way a video needs to be planned, it’s delivery should be planned as well. This helps capitalize on the audience’s receptiveness and builds momentum for the new season of ministry, the event, or financial campaign. 

A subset of timeliness is placement, where we publish videos and get it onto the screens of our audience. Social media has become an excellent platform for sharing content, and social media marketing is a $31 billion dollar business. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube are great places for your video, but they’re not the only places, nor are they necessarily ideal in every situation. Here’s the secret for video placement, the number one best position for your content: where people need it. 

Who needs to hear your story? Okay, those people, where are they? An invite to your church isn’t best placed in your newsletter. Why? The group receiving it already goes to your church. A video talking about leadership development for your church doesn’t need Facebook advertising. Why? The Buddhist down the street doesn’t need to come learn about how to lead in your congregation. 

If we have a great story, we need to make sure the people who it’s tailored for hear it. A welcome video belongs on your home page. Your youth camp highlights should go on Instagram or Snapchat. Family event promotions go on Facebook. These aren’t hard and fast lines, but each channel needs content that is uniquely formatted. In this case, the medium doesn’t change the message itself but how it’s communicated and formatted. 

The last element of effective video is that it’s skillfully crafted. The art of telling the story and strategy of placing it when and where it will be most effective have been covered; the final piece is to ensure that the audio and video quality are on par with expectations. When the technical parts are done well, no one notices – and that’s the point. The viewer shouldn’t be left wondering what’s going on because the subject wasn’t in the frame, or have their speakers blown out because sound levels were way too high for the video. 

There’s a class from a seminary on iTunes U that I won’t listen to because the audio quality is terrible; I’m sure the content is great, but the scratchy audio is too much to handle, especially for a whole semester’s worth of lectures. When technical aspects aren’t done well, they will hinder the story from going forward. Not only will it stop individuals from watching the video, but it can also put your brand, your church, in a negative light, and they’ll be less likely to watch future content from you. 

When the technical parts of video are done well, no one notices – and that’s the point.

Engaging video content has three elements: it has a compelling story, it’s timely in delivery, and is skillfully crafted. When these three come together, you can create value for your audience and begin conversations that lead to relationships. So, there are billions of video views daily, and we know what makes video effective, but what kind of stories can we tell through video?

Stories Worth Telling

Sixteen Forty Six’s mission is to amplify what is unique to Christ and unique to the local church. We wholeheartedly believe that whatever is celebrated in an organization gets replicated. You’ve probably seen this among church staff, in small group settings, or even in siblings. Being excited about something helps others be excited about it, especially if you have formal leadership influence. So here are two questions to ask that will help you find a story to tell:

  1. What am I excited about? (Or what is the Session/staff excited about?)
  2. Should other people be excited too?

If your church is about to begin a push for small groups, leadership development, or serving, those are great things to get fired up about! How can you capture people’s imaginations and affections for those things? Tell a story. Grab someone who has been through the program or has been serving to tell about their experiences and how they’ve been impacted. 

Some churches go through months of behind-the-scenes conversations about what God is calling them to as a congregation. How can leadership get the congregation on board? Tell a story. Talk about all the great things that the church can be involved in and doing for one another and their community. Cast vision for parents and families learning the catechisms and paint a picture of what covenant life looks like. One of the quotes that impacts me as a communicator and as a leader is this, “If you wish to build a ship, do not divide the men into teams and send them to the forest to cut wood. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea.”

The emphasis should be on inspiring people to get involved or to ask for more information. One of the worst things you can do is create a video, get someone in front of it, then bore them with information. Information is absolutely necessary, but we should always ask what’s most necessary and what’s most engaging. The perfect video script falls within those parameters. 

“If you wish to build a ship, do not divide the men into teams and send them to the forest to cut wood. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea.”

Now that we’ve covered some broad reaching internet and video stats, talked about what makes good video, and what stories are worth telling, here’s what you should do: sit down for 15 minutes and write down the awesome things God has done in your congregation. Some are about salvations, other are healed marriages, and still others about maturity and ministry passions ignited. Each of these are great stories and would make great video content that point people to the Savior. 

Here’s a closing list of ideas for video content:

  • Ministry and testimony videos 
  • A welcome video for your website’s homepage
  • A promo video for an event, like a camp or marriage retreat
  • A Q&A series covering popular questions
  • Sermon introductions
  • Weekly video announcements 
  • A video series explaining your church’s mission, vision, and core values

What are other ways you want to use video for your church?