How to do social media well

By Dan Sheed, planter of Central Vineyard in Auckland

You may have heard it said that your Sunday gathering “is a shop window for your church.”

Yes, it is, but Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your website and other web-based platforms are a 24/7 shop window for your church. The people who walk into your church gathering, leave. And what do they then do? They are getting online. We’re in a people business, and this is where our people are during the week. See for yourself: http://youtu.be/xJXOavGwAW8

This isn’t a ‘silver bullet’ to grow your church, but a place for conversation

Just like a church gathering needs worship, notices, an offering, a message and ministry, your church needs a website, Facebook, Twitter and a video channel on Vimeo or YouTube. These online platforms are built for broadcasting a message and it is always good to remember that as leaders of churches we are in the communication business. 

How should we work with this online world?

We must have a healthy perspective on how we use it. This isn’t a “silver bullet” to grow your church, but a place for conversation. Think of it like bumping into a friend in the supermarket. It’s not just a public noticeboard. It’s not static, it moves. People post and leave messages, and you must give attention to it. You must “like” them, or write a message in return to them. YouTube videos are linked and shared and laughed at. Important information can be dished out quickly. Prayers posted. A call for help for food to a new mother issued. Missions trip update photos tagged for loved ones to see. It is all like a noisy, busy cafe with a lot of people catching up.

What your church website and social media are not

• “Set and forget.” You must maintain and update, keep things ticking over. The days of setting up a website and walking away from it are over.

• “News update only.” We all know church is so much more than getting people to attend events and programmes, so why do so many of our online interactions feel like they’re just ads?

Your church online presence can become a wonderful meeting point for people to engage and enjoy life

• “Embarrassing.” Ditch the clip art. New Zealand has a wonderfully trendy culture with fantastic design “looks” everywhere, so let's not have websites and online language that dates back to 1992 … #terracotta

• “Done on the cheap and easy.” A decent website is an investment. To keep being online well takes a plan, commitment to evolving and finding a person willing to do this for you.

What your church website and social media can be

• “A dynamic part of people’s online life.” Your church online presence can become a wonderful meeting point for people to engage and enjoy life in your church.

• “Inspiring, funny, pastoral, holistic . . .” Don’t just use your website for information, use it to engage people. Plug into the needs in your community, post something to laugh at together, Instagram the new best coffee place to be at, do pastoral care with people by messaging them and saying you’ve noticed and are thinking of them.

• “Cool.” Pick up some magazines and observe what things actually look like at the moment. How do TV ads for their new shows? This is always what is trending at the moment, so tap into that. Don’t build a new site or logo for your online apps that steps back in time; keep moving forward.

• “Invest.” This will involve spending money, finding a person to keep things happening and doing things you are told. When someone who knows how to communicate a message says, “This is how I need you to post on Facebook a bit more...” listen to their advice because Facebook posts aren’t the same as 40-minute sermons. Invest in learning how to work well with this incredible tool for communication.

So remember, we’re in the people business, and we’re in the communication business. The online world is where both of these things dynamically meet, and as church staff and leaders we must engage with it all, and engage well.

This all sounds rather interesting, what else is there to read on this?

I highly recommend http://churchmarketingsucks.com for plans, inspiration and discussion on how churches can improve their websites and online presence.