What the Church Can Learn from Lady Gaga
Last Sunday our Ambassadors visited a church where a lay leader stepped to the lectern microphone and gave a few opening announcements. He finished with a little joke. “God can hear you without your cell phone.”
This added to the many clever ways program leaders/theaters/concert leaders find to remind you to ditch the cell phone while you pay attention to them.
Of course, no one wants to hear the cell phones ringing during the service, but people can leave their cell phones on and silence the ringtone.
Why should they leave them on? Because they can spread the Word. Your church service can reach hundreds more people in no time!
Lady Gaga, a master of Social Media, puts the audience’s cell phones to use right from the beginning of her concerts. She makes her entrance and tells the audience to pull out their cell phones. You might think she is going to tell you to turn them off. Surprise! She asks the audience to text a friend. Tweet your followers, she encourages. Take a picture and broadcast it. Make sure your friends know you are here. She’ll take a cell phone and talk to a fan’s friend. She understands today’s world! She uses her audiences to make her messages known.
Churches can learn from Lady Gaga. There may be some resistance, some give and take about appropriateness (and some of this will be valid), but there may be a way to use this technology to the church’s benefit. Today’s young people are multitaskers. They are not content to just sit in a pew for an hour. They want to be in touch; they need to be in touch. If they are in church, they probably have their active cell phones hidden behind the church bulletin anyway!
Think of ways to use this powerful technology to tell the Good News. You could ask for prayer requests. Congregants could share a soloist belting out a gospel tune. They could tweet a pithy take away from the sermon. They could share a call for donations for the neighborhood food pantry. Church might become more relevant!
Try it. Silence the cell phone ringers, but put the cell phones to work!
Failure to embrace social media
is failure to do mission.
“Why don’t they come to us?” That’s the question many church people ask. “We’re friendly. We care about them. We have something to offer. Why don’t they come?”
One thing the last few decades have proven to the church is that people are not going to come to them like they once did. It’s not because your congregation isn’t a good group of people doing great things. It isn’t because they don’t believe in religion or the church.
It’s because today’s world provides more options to fulfill their needs — socially and spiritually.
Businesses experienced the same challenges. They knocked on doors. They advertised. They gave things away. They sponsored ball teams. Some strategies worked for a while. Along came social media. At first businesses used the internet to plug themselves shamelessly. It didn’t work very well. Then they discovered that if they provided valuable information for free on the internet, people would start coming to them. It’s not unlike the hymn –They will know we are Christians by our love. Use the internet pulpit to show your love.
Last year 2×2 visited dozens of congregations. When we choose a church, we review web sites. We learned: The internet is the most powerful resource the church is not using. Many congregations have no web site. Most have a web site that is painfully static, often not updated in years. Some have wrong information on their sites. The voice of the site, if one can be discerned at all, is usually the pastor’s, and it is rarely more than a reprinted sermon. We haven’t come across a single congregational web site that is giving people any reason to visit their site if they aren’t specifically looking for service/event times or directions. Church web sites are all about the church and not about the people they serve or hope to reach. Failing to focus on others, makes their web sites almost useless.
Reaching out to the community is evangelism. Congregations no longer have to wait until Sunday morning to send their message. Every hour, day and night, is available for you to reach your audience. The more you offer, the larger your audience grows. The more you concentrate on the needs of your customers and what’s going on in their lives and in their communities, the more successful you will be. The take away message: stop talking about yourselves and talk about what is going on in your community.
This web site is a social media project. We are a small congregation — too small to exist according to our regional body. But we do exist. We have adopted several missions. One is to harness the power of social media so that we can lead others in developing social media ministries. Mostly we concentrate on ideas that will promote ministry. We share our story only when we think it will help other congregations or illustrate an important point.
We analyze our site daily so that we can learn what works. Our little church site (only 7 months old) has an average of 75 new visits to our web site each week and has grown steadily overall every week since we began posting new information regularly. Our biggest week had 150 new visits. We have formed relationships with others involved in social media and Christian outreach. We are sharing ideas and laying the groundwork for new programs to answer the challenges which are so evident on our church visits.
Every congregation – beginning with the smallest – must embrace social media if they are to survive. 2×2 will be there to help.
Don’t know how? Here’s something to help you get started.
Most churches have a set of standing committees which look something like this: Worship, Property, Social Ministry, Finance, Education, Stewardship and Evangelism.
In today’s church environment the Evangelism Committee can play a huge role in shaping the future of any congregation. Once the realm of church newsletters, the modern Evangelism Committee must embrace Social Media. The potential is too enormous to be overlooked — so great that it should be the hub of any congregational plan for growth.
First, consider changing the name of the committee to Social Media Committee.
There is nothing wrong with the word “evangelism,” but calling it a Social Media Committee will force you to see “evangelism” in a new light.
Social Media used correctly and DAILY is powerful. Look at it this way: A small congregation could go on reaching the same 25-75 people week after week, or it could start to reach thousands with the same message on the internet.
Here is a short list of how a Social Media Committee can spur your congregation’s ministry.
1. Using Social Media will give your congregation visibility, especially if you look beyond your own circle of activity and begin to interact with other neighborhood groups.
2. Using Social Media will give people a way to interact and share. The internet crosses religious and denominational lines. Invite people to share. Soon you’ll be engaging people who would never walk through your door on Sunday morning.
3. Social Media is cost-effective. The traditional costs of printing and mailing can be nearly eliminated. The costs of Social Media are more time intensive. Content must be created and your various social media accounts must be monitored, but this is work that can be shared.
4. Using Social Media will force your congregation to stop relying on programs that require people to come to you. It’s called OUTREACH.
5. Social Media will grow your network of people with skills and talents. You will discover influential people and you may be able to enlist them in projects. Ask a local authority to comment on an important issues that your church should address (bullying, crime, child care issues, etc.). Invite guest pastors to contribute.
6. Social Media will open eyes! Change (which most congregations admit they need) will be within reach. You will have a new arsenal of tools.
7. Social Media will open hearts as you expand your congregation’s reach in the world. If you engage in online communities on topics of interest to people in your congregation, you may be astounded to find help in places you never dreamed. Your congregation might learn about a situation your people could address and form networks far beyond what was once possible.
8. Social Media will force your congregation to work as a team. One person cannot do the job alone. Every other committee will have a message they need to share. A social media committee will have to work with all other committees to develop a strategy for each of them.
9. Social Media provides measurable results which can help you shape ministry. Increasingly sophisticated metrics (many of them free) can tell you who is reading your blog or web site, how they came to your site, what pages they look at, and how long they spend. If you offer something of value (community calendar, devotional booklet, etc.) you can collect information and expand your audience. You can tweak what is not working. What you can measure you can improve.
There is a lot to learn, but it is not difficult to get started and you can grow at a pace that is comfortable. 2×2 will start a Social Media Page to provide more help for congregations who want to harness this powerful EVANGELISM tool.
2×2 visits churches and before our visits we do a little research beginning with visiting church web sites. We’ve seen many very poor web sites and a few clean and sleek designs. Frankly, even the best church web sites are missing opportunities made available by today’s technology. Here are the top ten mistakes churches make in their web-based ministries.
1. It’s all about them.
Most church web sites give internet users no reason to visit them unless they are planning a visit. There is nothing that reveals that the congregation is interested in anyone but their own ministry. Of course, web sites need to provide basic information such as location and service times. However, such an approach will not help people find you. Church web sites should focus on a broader audience and how they can serve them.
2. There is very little meaningful content.
There are still many “seekers” in the world but they are not traveling from church service to church service trying to find God. They are sitting at home and surfing for messages that resonate and add meaning to their spiritual lives. Congregations, here’s your chance! Offer helpful content that addresses popular topics from a spiritual point of view. Interest in joining your community of faith will grow if viewers know you are interested in them BEFORE they venture a visit. (Feel free to use content from 2×2. Just give us a link or a “like”!)
3. Church web sites fail to see themselves as part of community.
Failure to realize the potential to interconnect is not only a failure of congregational web sites but also of web sites of regional bodies. We’ve seen congregational web sites that link to the regional body and to a national denominational body but rarely beyond that. The linking power of the web should have them supporting dozens (or more) community initiatives. This would demonstrate that a church can practice what it preaches, caring and serving people who are not directly connected to them. And remember . . . “community” is no longer limited by geography.
4. Churches often fail to maintain their sites.
Visitors are looking at photos of flea markets and Christmas plays that happened five years ago. Of the 30 congregations we visited in the last year, ten percent had wrong service times posted on their site. Many open with Easter or Christmas messages that are months or even years old. One church web site we visited had only one message from its pastor who wrote complaining about poor summer attendance. It was dated two years prior. (Think about how that looks to a first-time visitor!)
5. Church web sites fail to adapt their message to the media.
This is a broad topic in itself. Here’s just one example. Many church web sites reprint sermons just as they were delivered. They would probably be more effective if they were broken up or shortened for an online audience. A summary with key “takeaways” and perhaps a link or two to other online resources would make the message more effective in this new medium. Video is also a powerful online tool that is rarely used by congregations. A 90-second video summary of the sermon would probably inspire readership and communicate personality of a pastor and congregation.
6. Congregations are not integrating powerful Social Media tools.
They have a web site, but are they working the site? Do they have a blog? (85% of internet users find blogs before they find web sites.) Are they connecting to Facebook? Are they using Twitter to create a following? Is their congregation and staff on LinkedIn? These are the Big 4 of Social Media but there are many more tools that could extend the reach of your congregation’s ministry.
7. Congregations fail to use the internet to collect information.
Most congregations publish data such as worship attendance … even such statistics as how many people communed. Those statistics are fairly meaningless in today’s world. You don’t know how many of the few people in church are paying attention to the things you may want them to pay attention to. Internet statistics are much more focussed. If you encourage your existing members to visit your website regularly you can learn about them. You can reach 100s more people every week and know what they find interesting. You don’t have to guess! Learn about your community through polls and surveys. Incorporate Calls to Action (offers that visitors will want to download). The evangelism potential is enormous.
8. Congregational web sites fail to create a “voice.”
Readers are looking for sites with personality. This may start with pastoral voice, but the personality of your congregation must shine as well.
9. Congregations fail to recognize that their audience is the world.
A congregation’s major interest is their neighborhood. But remember, anyone can eavesdrop, so include the world in your thinking. This has the potential of changing and broadening your congregation’s sense of mission and service.
10. Congregations fail to realize the mission potential of their web sites.
The internet is the most powerful evangelism tool the church is not using.
Today, when someone visits your church, it is likely they have already formed their first impression of your congregation from their online search. Congregations need to put their best foot forward on their web sites.
Here’s a list of questions to consider:
(This list was derived from our visits to 32 churches in the last 14 months.)
- Is service information (time and address) easy to find?
It should be boldly displayed on the home page.
- Is the service time correct?
Ten percent of the churches we visited had wrong times listed on their web sites.
- Is parking available in a lot or on the street? What buses or trains are nearby?
Some congregations we visited had information printed in their church bulletin that parking was available at neighboring businesses. Too late!
- Is the entrance they are to use obvious?
We had trouble figuring which door to use on occasion.
- Is the phone number you want people to call prominently displayed?
Adding office hours and the name of the person likely to answer is also helpful. It puts a face on your community. For example: For more information about our services, call Lois at the church (555) 321-5432, weekdays between or 9 am and 1 pm. Our answering machine provides basic information 24/7.
- Can web viewers ask questions online (email or Facebook) and be assured of an answer within 24 hours? People expect this these days!
- Is there a warm welcome from church leaders (clergy and lay) with photos and a little background?
Visitors will recognize leaders when they visit and have some information to ease conversation. You might even give visitors a prompt such as “When you visit, ask for Gus or Mary. They’ll be glad to give you a tour.”
- Is there a date for the last update of the site?
Many sites we visited had not been updated in years, even listing pastors who had left long before. Timely updates reveal that your church is on their toes.
- Is new information prominent with older information archived?
Old information is fun and can show your congregation’s personality, but the first images and information should be about the immediate future or very recent past.
- Is there time for fellowship before church or after church?
If visitors want to mix and meet your members they need to know if they should arrive early or plan to stay later. Invite them to fellowship. At several of the churches we visited, the congregation disappeared quickly after worship to a side room or basement area for fellowship without announcing fellowship or inviting visitors.
- How long is your service expected to be?
We encountered several services that were two or three hours long. Visitors need to know if a service is expected to be more than an hour long.
- Is your service contemporary, liturgical, multicultural, or multilingual?
- Are there helpful details about your next service?
Will communion be offered? Is it a special Sunday? Will there be a blessing of pets or a baptism/confirmation? One church we visited was having a special meeting to call a pastor. Our visit seemed intrusive and we left.
- Is child care available?
Not everyone is comfortable leaving a child in a nursery with people they don’t know. Will their children be welcome in worship?
- Will there be a children’s sermon?
Families may like to know.
- Engage your potential visitors from the start.
Give a teaser. Ask a question that will be answered in the sermon!
Forming a Social Media Ministry Committee
In a previous post, we recommended renaming your Evangelism Committee the Social Media Committee. Evangelism today must embrace social media. Changing the name will
• remind you to use social media,
• attract the interest of young people whose lives revolve around social media, and
• communicate to your neighborhood that you are serious about your message.
1. Explore Social Media
The most up-to-date information is online. There are many books but they get outdated quickly. Many good websites provide FREE training (socialmediaexaminer.com, hubspot.com, are rich sources of information and training, much of it FREE). If you want to do your own search, start by looking in the search engines for articles on “Content Marketing” or “Inbound Marketing.” (Don’t be put off by the terms. Marketing is the secular term for Evangelism!)
2. Review your church membership and look for people with the following skills:
• passion to spread the Gospel
• good communicator
• is a social person (very important)
• uses social media (this may mean recruiting youth that you might otherwise overlook)
• basic computer skills
• has some experience with Facebook or web design
• likes to write
• can use a digital camera or video camera
Do not try to find all these skills in one person. Social Media Ministry needs the skills of several people. This is simply a guideline. You do not have to have all of these skills represented on your committee to get started.
3. If you have difficulty finding the skills and interests within your congregation, look outside.
This media is too important to ministry to resist with “but we don’t have the people.” Find the people. Try for volunteers first but if that proves difficult, create a budget and pay for some expertise to get started. This can be a short-term commitment.
Follow or join online communities. You will find lots of help online for free. You will be surprised at how many people are eager to help. This may seem daunting at first, but you will learn to trust the online community to help. (Leave questions here in our comment boxes, we’ll be glad to post them and help you find answers to your questions!)
As you search for committee members, tell people: Our congregation is starting a social media ministry, and we are looking for someone to set up a blog and create a Facebook community. As you engage in conversation let them know you will be using a blog, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Start talking about your plans in the community. Talk to the parents of kids in your day school, if you have one. Talk to the Scouts or other groups that may use your building. Put a small ad in the local paper or a sign on the grocery store bulletin board. If you think it will help, offer to pay someone short-term to train your committee or get you started with a blog. That’s the biggest hurdle — getting started.
Don’t overlook youth. This is a medium young people thoroughly understand, and is it a way they can contribute to their church. A young person might be willing to undertake this as a confirmation project or even a Senior Project in his or her school.
If your pastor understands social media, great! If not, find a way to get clergy on board. Pastors should jump at the chance to reach a greater audience than those who attend church. If they need training, help them find it. Again, there is ample training available on line for free. At the very least, encourage them to be enthusiastic supporters.
Churches say they are looking for change. Social Media is a change agent.
4. Your first meeting.
This is all the farther we are going to go in this post, but we thought you’d need to know what to talk about at your first meeting. A good social media plan begins with a blog. At your first meeting, talk about setting up a blog and brainstorm for ideas for content to put on the blog. Once you have a plan, it will be easy to assign tasks to committee members. We’ll cover this on our next post.
Churches! Dive In to Social Media Ministry
Where do you start?
In previous posts we’ve advised every congregation to start a Social Media Ministry committee. So what’s next? In the next series of posts, we’ll explore the very first steps to getting started.
The world of social media is changing very quickly. This can be intimidating. We recommend that your committee members become familiar with a couple of web sites that will give you tons of ideas, help, and most of all encouragement.
2×2 will provide helpful tips periodically so don’t overlook us! Meanwhile, here are two expert sources that have demonstrated integrity and reliability.
This web site reaches out of your computer screen and leads you by the hand. It provides a steady stream of information and directs you to sites and experts that are tested and reliable. Your committee members can subscribe to the daily e-newsletter for FREE. In addition, the SocialMediaExaminer offers regular month-long webinars on various topics that are worth the price of admission. (No travel — all web-based.) These are held roughly quarterly and characteristically consist of 17 sixty-minute webinars and tons of additional archived resources. The cost varies — about $300 for first-time early registration and less as you become an alum. Each series of webinars has a community forum which remains active long after the webinars end, so you have a place to ask questions and find help.
Hubspot sells analytical software and hosting. They are dedicated to helping organizations grow through their web presence in ways they can measure. While using their software would be helpful to any church’s evangelism goals, it is pricy (but worth it) to get started. While you consider this value, you can subscribe to their site and immerse yourself in their tons and tons of great content about how to use social media – all of which is FREE.
There is an overflowing fountain of resources available on the web. We recommend these two to start. Both websites link generously to other experts in the social media field. They will help you search for what will work for you.
Start Your Congregation’s
Social Media with a Blog
Definition: A blog, short for “web log,” is a record of articles and topics of current interest. They are web sites that are created on templates and platforms. Blogs rely on frequent updating and make it possible to do so without an intermediate “webmaster.” A key difference between a web site and a blog is that blogs invite comments and dialogue.
What’s in a BLOG?
Blogs contain “posts” or essays. They are often quite short — just a few paragraphs. If they cover more complicated issues they can be much longer. They can contain art, photos and videos, polls, questionnaires and forms.
A blog opens to a page that lists the most recent post first. When a new post is added, older posts drop lower on the page. They don’t disappear but attention is always on the most recent post. (There are ways to feature older posts, which we will address later.)
In addition to a page of “posts,” a blog can contain “static” pages that look like any web page. You have probably visited many blogs without realizing they are blogs.
What a blog is not.
We recently visited a church web site and were excited to see a tab labeled “youth blog.” We eagerly clicked and came to a page with one post that had been submitted by a youth leader months before.One post does not a blog make!
This points, however, to an important concept in blogging. Be forewarned. To be effective, blogs must be regularly updated and developed. Experts recommend at least two posts a week and advocate for daily posting. This may seem daunting but we will discuss ways to make this seamless and feasible in later posts. The aim is for the blog to increase your congregation’s activity — and the more activity, the easier the blogging (and the more ministry)!
There are several reasons to start your congregation’s Social Media Ministry with blogging.
1. It is inexpensive to start.
Find the website of a blogging platform you like. There are many — just type “blogging platforms” into your favorite search engine. (2×2 uses WordPress). Choose from a wide library of “themes” or templates. Most are free. Anticipate costs of about $25 to pay for a url (web address or domain name) and annual hosting. This is done online with a credit/debit card or Paypal account.
2. The learning curve is short.
Your blogging platform will walk you through the steps of establishing a domain name and creating a profile and first blog post. Many themes or templates allow you to create your own header/banner image. You can use a photo or create some art on you computer. It takes about a half day to become familiar with the process (and it can be frustrating at first) but then it all comes together and seems very easy. Hang in there! There is no need to enroll in lots of classes. If you are stumped, you will find many helpful online forums.
3. Your team does not need a lot of technical experience or expertise.
Blogging platforms remove many of the obstacles small churches encounter in creating a web presence. They are developed by teams of expert designers and technicians. The technology is built in. If you have designers or computer techies in your congregation, they can be helpful, but they are not required. Blogging software, built into the platform, allows you to do fun things like post pictures or videos, sponsor polls or offer downloads which help you capture information. (You may want to find someone to design your header.)
4. Blogs are interactive.
Blogs are a bit like Facebook, but they tend to create more thoughtful, detailed dialogue. This is likely to change the nature of church — for the better. In the past much dialogue in the church has been one-sided. The preacher preaches. The congregation listens. Blogs will open up religious dialog.
5. Blogs attract web traffic.
Because they are more active, search engines find blogs more easily than static web sites. Most people visit blogs first. This helps people find you, especially if your bloggers write about things of interest to your community.
6. Blogs can involve whatever people you have — one or dozens.
You will want to build a team of people writing for your church blog, but you can start with one or two. Actively look for contributors. Show the talents and gifts of everyone in your church — youth, parents, teachers, musicians, property and finance people, neighbors and friends, clergy (your own and others). A blog must be updated several times a week.
7. A blog may be all your congregation needs for a while.
Since blogs allow for both interactive pages and static pages, most congregations can probably combine their blog and website. If you already have a website you can migrate traffic to your new blog. The blogging platform host will help you do this.
8. Blogging will connect you with talent and expertise outside your congregation.
Topics will arise that will benefit from asking for a contribution from an outside expert. That will draw a new group of people into your readership and grow your community.
9. Blogging will create discipline and foster planning.
Blogs are always hungry for new material. They will fail without regular feeding, Congregations will be forced to plan a strategy. Your congregation will find a new and expanding sense of direction.
Finding Content for Your Church Blog
What topics should a church blog address? This seems like a tough question. It’s hard enough gathering information for the monthly newsletter! But there is a difference. Blogs engage. Blogs have no space restrictions. Blogs allow for last minute changes! The communication potential is endless. Once you get started you’ll be excited to find ideas cascading.
Remember your audience. Your audience is your community. Blogging is outreach ministry.
You can start with the issues on the minds of the people you know best — your members, but quickly expand your circles. What would interest the families of children in your day school or any of the groups that might use your building (scouts, community groups, AA, etc.)?
Understanding that content should be for and about the people you hope to reach — not about your congregation — is a challenge to new church bloggers. (It’s also the reason they run out of content ideas.)
Brainstorm for topics. Not all topics have to be profoundly religious but many can be. You’ll get the knack of finding the religious angle to the stories you publish. Try to identify 30 topics at every meeting. (That’s about two months worth of posts). If you have monthly meetings, you’ll overlap, but that gives your committee a chance to review and rethink. We’ll talk about how to schedule posts later.
Here’s a list of possible topics that focus on parents’ issues without forsaking Christian mission–
• Preparing your child for the first day of school
• Teaching young children to pray
• The top ten Old Testament Bible stories every child should know
• The top ten New Testament Bible stories every child should know
• Teaching your children about God’s world (link to local nature reserve or garden)
• When your child asks about Santa Claus
• What Easter eggs and butterflies teach us about God
• Four Bible verses young children can remember.
Here’s a similar list of topics for a community civic group.
• 6 ways communities of faith benefit the community.
• 5 problems facing our community that need everyone’s help.
• Ten ways faith communities can work with the business community.
• Pitching in to make our town’s fall festival great.
• Why our congregation supports the local blood drive.
• Post a poll: What is the most important problem facing our community? (list possibilities)
• Analyze the poll results.
“How To” articles are also popular and can be addressed from a religious point of view:
• How to prepare your child to deal with bullies
• How to recognize the signs of drug addiction
• How to keep Christ in Christmas
• Teaching your child to deal with peer pressure
• How to deal with a difficult boss
Review popular magazines. They are experts at finding ideas. Look at the topics they address and adapt them to your congregation’s point of view. You’ll notice that they cover seasonal/holiday topics, news, events, common problems, popular issues such as the environment or economy or crime. When you committee meets, brainstorm these ideas and ask each other “How do we see these issues from a Christian point of view?” You will soon have many ideas.
When you’ve created a following, which may take a few months or even a year, start adding content that is more specific to your congregation. If your pastor is on board with the project ask for two contributions each week — a SHORT follow-up from Sunday’s sermon and a teaser for next week’s sermon. Publish one on Monday and the other on Thursday. Of course, you’ll welcome more posts!
Resist the temptation to reprint sermons as blog posts. You want short posts that focus on others. Think of people who haven’t been to church in quite a while. Are they more likely to read a five-page sermon or a 200-word thought? Tailor the message to the audience. (Sermons can be published but should not be blog posts.)
Your professional leadership can also give your committee the confidence to address the topics your committee identifies. They can help you shape the short articles and help your congregation create a voice. They can help create content without having the sole burden.
Establish some themes and rotate them. They might include: Social Ministry issues, Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry, Women’s/Men’s Groups, etc., Grief, Parenting. Ask others in the congregation to contribute — youth, teachers, business people. Get everyone involved!
Find information for your post. Once you’ve identified a topic, where do you find information? The easiest way is to ‘”google” the topic. You can adapt articles you find online. Many online writers allow you to link to their posts or use their material with proper credit. (Links fuel the internet; you are expected to link to one another.) You can also interview someone in your congregation or community. When you ask others to contribute, remember to tell them you are looking for short posts, not novels!
Make assignments. Don’t end your committee meeting without knowing who will be doing what. Don’t saddle one person with all the work! Who will create the next dozen posts? Who will review? Who will post?
The discipline of blogging will encourage your congregation to think about ministry in more cooperative ways. The circle of people interested in your ministry will grow as they see that you are interested in them!
Getting Pastors Onboard with Social Media
Social Media is new — only a few years old from the start and even fewer in universal popularity. Many pastors and professional leadership were not trained in using social media. They probably never gave it a thought when they answered their “call.”
Therefore, congregations may run into resistance when talking with their pastors about developing Social Media Ministry.
Professional leaders should be excited!
• Social Media gives the church tools to reach many more people.
• The people churches want to reach are using social media.
• Social media is a change agent — just look at what is happening across Northern Africa!
While many in the church agree that the church must change, often they are slow to accept the tools which will create change. It seems at times that the church longs for change as long as they can continue doing things the same way! Social Media is a tool for changing ministry. Use it!
This video begins with a mega-church approach. It may intimidate you to see the opening scenes of a church with a control room and banks of computers. But watch to the end. It ends with the Social Media Ministry of a convent of nuns in the Boston area, who have made it a mission to answer spirital questions online. Anyone with a laptop and internet connection can do Social Media Ministry.
If your congregation has a pastor that is savvy to social media, great! If not, encourage your leadership to explore the possibilities. Remember, it’s new to everyone!
Here’s the choice for pastors of small congregations:
Continue to preach on Sunday to the same few people and an occasional visitor or go into all the world (without leaving the church office!)
Using Social Media will require some shifting of mental gears. Social Media is most effective with short thoughts (as opposed to skillfully crafted long sermons). Think of the power of parables which were sometimes only a couple of sentences.
Social Media requires frequent interaction, not just once a week. Your leaders will have to restructure their work habits to make room for new work. They will not be alone. People throughout the business/nonprofit world are restructuring the way they work to include Social Media. The church will have to follow suit. Many executives are starting and ending their day with 20-30 minutes of participation in Social Media — and finding it to be time well spent! “I don’t have time,” is not an acceptable excuse.
Social Media invites dialog. It will take a while to develop online dialog, but pastors must be prepared to field questions and engage in online discussion. What a great opportunity!
Social Media requires commitment. Online questions/comments must be answered within 24-48 hours. Longer than that and you have turned a seeker away. All comments deserve a response.
Start with blogging. Facebook and Twitter are often the first things that come to mind when people think of Social Media. They have their place but they are not good places to start if you are encouraging reluctant pastors to get their feet wet. Blogging is more sophisticated — closer to what pastors are trained to do. Professional leaders can maintain their voice better on a blog than in the short and fleeting interactions of other tools.
Share statistics. Start your church blog without your pastor as contributor if necessary. It’s too important to wait. You are not likely to change minds while doing nothing. As your audience grows, share the statistics with your pastor. If you start to get 50-75 new hits a week (as our church experienced after four months with no pastoral involvement), your leadership may begin to see the potential.
Be specific in you initial expectations. If your pastor does not want to contribute regularly, ask for help with specific topics your committee may have identified.
Editorial Calendars Will Help
Your Church Plan Social Media
Blogging is a commitment of time that may take a few months to begin seeing rewards. If your congregation does not prepare for the long haul, members can become discouraged and quit after the first few posts. That’s why it is important to hold off on your first post until you have 30 other posts planned and ten actually written. Most experts recommend even more!
Your Social Media Ministry Committee should create an editorial calendar. Editorial calendars are simply lists of content you want to use with dates attached — a schedule! Adjustments can then be made. Over time, the editorial calendar can become a comprehensive tool for planning the use of other elements of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, but for now concentrate on content for your blog.
A good editorial calendar will:
• Help you plan topics
• Help you see that various topics are distributed over time
• Help you make writing assignments
• Give your entire Social Media Ministry a sense of direction
Your Social Media Ministry Committee needs to plan posts for the next three months. Begin by brainstorming ideas for 12-16 posts a month. As a starting point, we recommend planning to post on Mondays and Thursdays — fresh after Sunday’s gathering and before the coming weekend. Don’t quit until you have 48 topic ideas — three months of material. Things will probably happen to change your plans. That’s OK! Having the plan guarantees that you know where you are going if other things don’t interfere.
2×2, launched in February 2011, can testify that the more we post, the better our traffic grows and the more people we reach. Peaks and valleys become predictable. Peaks tend to grow higher and valleys less deep. Frequent posting tends to spur more ideas rather than dry the well. It creates its own energy.
Start with a simple calendar. Here’s a sample you can download, print and use. It is the first quarter of the coming church year — liturgical year B. It begins with the first Sunday in Advent and takes you well into Lent. We’ll post the next quarter soon! • Editorial Calendar • This is also available on the Links section of the Navigation Bar on the right.
We’ve set this up to be helpful to church planners, including the Scriptures for Sundays and noting major holidays. In the Sunday square, we’ve allowed space to identify a theme and make any special notes for the coming week. The remaining days allow room for you to fill in the title of a post and assign a writer. The multicolor hexagons are to remind you to use the various Social Media tools — Posts (P), Twitter (T), Facebook (FB) and Video (V). Noting when and how often you’ve used these will help you see at a glance that the activity on your blog is balanced. This is a goal. For now, just concentrate on posting articles. Facebook and Twitter can come later.
Identify a few general topics such as SOCAL MINISTRY, CHILDREN, YOUTH, COMMUNITY, etc.
Review the Sunday scriptures for ideas.
Look at the calendar dates for subtopics: church year, calendar year, things unique to your neighborhood (spring or fall festival, for example). Remember graduations, Mother’s/Father’s Day and historic occasions (Reformation, 9/11, Veterans Day, elections). Think about topics that coincide with church lectionaries. Review current news in your area (elections, environmental challenge, grand opening of a public park or building). Think of the school year (prom, testing schedules, sports, plays, musicals). Find a hook that you can address from your congregation’s point of view. Don’t ignore community efforts that may seem to be in competition (walks for special causes, Habitat for Humanity, disaster relief). You’ll be showing the community that your congregation cares and is involved.
Assign people to prepare the posts. Divide the tasks. If a topic cries for outside expertise, look for someone to help as a guest blogger.
Create a review system. It helps to have someone responsible to look over submissions for basic proofreading. No need for more meetings. Just circulate them by email for sign-off. Decide how much time you need. Don’t be too rigid in your expectations. Blogs should have a spontaneous quality.
Be generous in your editorial review. You want people to contribute and if their material is heavily edited, they will lose interest. Monitor content gently. Your site should have room for different views. It’s part of what makes blogging interesting. Your readers are more likely to participate in dialogue if they sense that their efforts will not be criticized.
A critical tone is easy to detect. One denominational blog we visited reminded participants “Remember to Be Kind.” The warning was repeated so often on the blog site that it might have inhibited contributors, who might have wondered what the monitors thought was “unkind” if it was so important to repeat a warning over and over.
Blogging platforms allow monitors to review comments before posting. You don’t have to worry about inappropriate language, etc. You can create community rules. We’ll cover that in a later post.
Social Media Ministry can be run on a shoestring, but if you want to develop your ministry faster you may want to allow some money to give you some options. Here are some costs you can anticipate.
- Hosting and registration of a domain name (web address): $25
This is the only cost on this list that is absolutely necessary.
- Purchase of a theme: $50 (Themes are templates designed to look good, add functionality and make blogging easy and accessible to anyone. There are many FREE themes available.)
- Purchase of a digital camera: $100
- Purchase of a video camera: $250
- An allowance for occasional guest bloggers: $50 per post ($100 per month ought to be enough). If you build good relationships, many will offer to contribute freely. Barter! It works! Be sure to give proper credit and a link.
- You might want to allow $500-1000 per year for some design and programming expertise. A designer could make sure you have an attractive header and give you some guidance on the use of colors and fonts. A programmer can help you over some of the interactivity hurdles as you get more sophisticated with your Social Media Outreach.
- It is helpful to allow a small budget for the purchase of stock photography which is proven to increase readership. Istock.com is a good source and very inexpensive. You buy bundles of points which cost about $1.50 per point. Many photos (the size you need for the web) cost just one point. $20 per month is ample. (You can take your own photos!)
Adding all of these items together, a starting annual budget of $3000 is more than adequate. You can get started for much less!
2×2 started this site in February 2011 for $25. We’ve purchased about $10 worth of stock photography. We purchased two guidebooks for about $25 each. We use cameras our members already own. That is our total investment so far — eight months later.
You can pay for training and how-to books, but there is abundant help available for free on the web. This is a reliable avenue. Information can become outdated faster than books can be published.
There is some comfort in having a book nearby. Teach Yourself Visually WordPress gave us a jumpstart. It’s step-by-step illustrated approach is very helpful. WordPress for Dummies is the other book we have on hand. We found an ancient guide to html that is useful, but lately we’ve just googled what we want to know and found answers easily. Cut and paste the code and eliminate typos!
Don’t let this talk about code scare you. Most code is built into the blogging platform and you won’t need to know any code. There are times when it is helpful, but it is not necessary.
Online webinars are very helpful. We’ve referred you to socialmediaexaminer.com and hubspot.combefore. They are great places to start learning Social Media. Both provide much information for free. SocialMediaExaminer runs quarterly webinar series which cost between $200-$400. Hours of trainings are available for a full calendar year. An online community grows around these trainings which is very helpful. Hubspot sells analytical software but makes TONS of information available for free. Visit their site and look for ebooks and recorded webinars. Both sites will point you to other good resources as well. They practice what they preach and are models for what you will be trying to do with your web site!
Hiring a Social Media Manager
As your Social Media Ministry takes off, you may want to hire a Social Media Manager, but don’t worry about that to start. A manager would help maintain the editorial calendar, see that blog posts were written and coordinated with Facebook and Twitter, analyze your Social Media’s performance, and (with your committee) strategize to maximize your site’s success. This is a strength of Social Media Ministry. You can measure results, and what you can measure, you can improve.
A Social Media Ministry Manager is foreign to most church budgets, but the addition of these skills to your leadership team could mean as much to a congregation’s ministry as an organist, choir director, youth minister or other church professional. Aim for it! (But don’t wait until you can afford it to get started!) This is a topic which deserves its own post. Watch for it!
Another potential budget consideration is to subscribe to a metrics program, which will give you real time reports on the effectiveness of your site. (It is interesting that people in this field talk about web sites leading to conversion. While they mean purchases of services/products, churches have used this language for decades.)
Using the internet makes it possible to analyze the effectiveness of your ministry and lead you toward measurable ministry solutions. No more sitting around at committee meetings and guessing what might work. You’ll have answers.
2×2 is looking into this now! We’ll share our experience in later posts.
Blogging with Parishwide Mission Outreach In Mind
Your blog is up and running and you have ideas for content. Great! That was a big first step.
Now it’s time to start looking outside your committee. Make your blog a parishwide outreach adventure.
One approach is to look at the mission of your church and how the various committees of your church reflect that mission. Present issues important to them, but with a twist. Always find a way to address topics on your members’ minds from the viewpoint of non-members.Think about the hundreds of people you can reach — not the people who are already on board.
Begin by looking outside the Social Media Ministry Committee. What are their challenges and concerns of other church committees? Overlook no one.
Keep in mind that your committee has probably been working at this for a while and are now accustomed to the concept. It is likely to be alien territory to others. All can play a role in your congregation’s Social Media outreach, but your committee must lead and teach.
Be forewarned. This effort is probably going to involve talking to members one on one. Meet with committees to explain the concept. Give it time to sink in. It’s new. They will need help in finding ways to follow through. Hold their hands!
Here are some ideas to share which illustrate the thinking that goes into a blog.
Property Committees might be concerned with making the church grounds handicapped accessible and may have freshly studied this topic. Run some articles on what any organization should consider when planning for assessibility. (2×2 ran a post on accessibility beginning with proximity.) You can use your experience for examples of both challenges and solutions. If you have disabled members videotape them talking about their challenges. Remember your content should benefit other people. Another property issue might be “going green” or saving money on utilities. Address the issues in a way nonmembers would read.
A Fellowship or Hospitality Committee might have advice to give on how to welcome visitors, encourage future participation and learn to invite. (Here’s a 2×2 example). Many organizations face the same challenges. Write for them. Other topics for potential fellowship outreach might include comforting the grieving, welcoming people who speak different languages, or bonding groups of youth from different schools and parts of town.
Education Committees should have no end of material. Parents are always looking for ways to teach their children. Teens are always looking for projects and ways to contribute. Adults are life-long seekers. They can use experiences as illustrations or anecdotes, but look outward.
Finance and Stewardship Committee will want to explain the “anatomy of a modern church budget” and explore giving. Do not write about your congregation’s problems. Focus on the challenges faced by all organizations like yours.
Social Outreach Committees can publicize the needs of the community at various times of the year and suggest answers. It might include housing the homeless in winter, stocking food pantries, helping the jobless, advising those in broken relationships, helping the grieving. Interview the people who work with these problems. This committee can play a pivotal role in building your congregation’s neighborhood network. Prominent newsworthy issues are also worthy of comment. Videotape members on their personal responses to disasters like Katrina, earthquakes or tsunamis.
Worship Committees can talk about the celebrations of the seasons and present histories of traditions and suggest ideas for modern celebration. What makes a handbell choir fun? How do you get boys to sing? Is prayer good for your health? (2×2 example).
Include youth in your blogging project. This is an area where they can shine. Social media is in their blood. They can write and video and teach the adults a thing or two!
Do not talk about your problems or challenges. Your goal is to attract new people to your church. The first thing they want to see is not your stewardship goals or your plea for more choir members. Focus on the other guy.
Invite members of other committees to write for the church blog, but make sure they understand the outreach goal. Go over topic ideas with them, so they understand viewpoint. Remember, this is a new way of thinking. You will have to work with them for a while.
Videos are great additions to blogs. Keep a camera on hand and use it. One blogger, who writes about her community, carries a small video camera with her and invites people she meets to comment on something of current interest in her town. If she visits a carnival, she may grab parents waiting for a child to get off a ride and ask for their impressions on the local fair. If there is a convention going on, she’ll find an attendee to talk about the town. A church could video a supply pastor about what he/she sees from church to church. An interview with a returning member could talk about how things have changed. You’ll soon find plenty of ideas.
Just remember. Focus on the people who are not in church. What might interest them?