Whether you are a long-term user of social media platforms or are getting your feet wet, you need a church social media strategy. The information below can help you get started or hone your social media outreach so that you are more efficient and effective.
Church Social Media Strategy: Basics
“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole of creation’.” (Mark 16:15). Going “into the world” looks a lot different today than it did 2,000 years ago.
Today, there are many different avenues for proclaiming the Gospel. And it is incumbent on Christians––and churches as a whole––to investigate the most effective and impactful avenues for “proclaiming the good news.”
The COVID pandemic has prompted individuals, businesses and organizations to look for alternative ways to connect with people. Churches are no exception. Many congregations have found that social media is a fantastic way to spread the gospel virtually.
There are many benefits of social media for churches. Here are some basic ideas for how to get started.
A Powerful Tool
In 2005, when the Pew Research Center started tracking this trend, only five percent of all American adults used some type of social media. By 2011, that number had risen to about half. Today, it is about 72 percent, with more than 90 percent of all millennials saying they use at least one form of social media.
And regardless of whether social media is “your cup of tea,” it is a powerful asset that you can use to reach existing and new church members. Think of it as a free church marketing tool that can inform, inspire and bring people together.
Formulate a Plan
The first thing you will want to do is lay out a plan for how you want to engage people through each social media outlet. Think of church social media outreach as its own ministry, with objectives and timelines. Meet with your staff about this issue. Be sure everyone is on the same page regarding what you want to achieve and how you will accomplish it.
Also discuss the issue with leaders in your church, like the deacon council or vestry. And be sure to include different age demographics, so that you get a variety of information about strategies for particular platforms.
Use Different Platforms to Reach Distinct Audiences
Know that different forums will reach different groups of people. For instance, you can assume that your Instagram audience will be younger than your Facebook one. So, you should take that into account when formulating how you will use it.
Know that managing several different social media accounts requires a lot of time. If this is beyond the capabilities of you and your church, consider scaling back and focusing on one or two platforms. It is better to have a few well-run accounts than many mediocre ones.
If you do not use a particular platform in your personal life, you will want to familiarize yourself with the nuances of it. Determine its assets and advantages. Who uses it and for what purposes do they use it? And think about whether participating in the platform will help you meet your goals.
Poll Your Congregation
To take it a step further, ask your congregation how they use social media and what content they find most helpful. Conversely, ask them what posts they find to be the most off-putting or useless. Get a sense of what they want to see and how that can be incorporated into the church's brand.
Leverage online tools to poll church members. You can glean a lot of information from some basic questions, like what social media platforms they use the most, how often they use them, and what they use them for.
Also, finding out what types of posts they often share on their own pages can give you a sense of what kind of content they think is most important. For example, you might ask members to describe the topic of the last five things they shared on their Facebook pages.
Depending on the size of your church, you might want to have different accounts for distinct ministries. And decide what the objectives should be for each. You will want to coordinate these efforts with other ministers or staff responsible for these programs.
For instance, you might decide that the main church Facebook page will post only reminders about regular services and events. And the youth ministry Facebook page will have more detailed information for teen programming.
And you can drive traffic to each other’s pages without being redundant about the relevant information. It is okay to have overlapping content, to an extent.
But what you don’t want is the exact same message on every account. The content of each page should reflect the unique audiences that follow them.
These "sub-accounts" should not replace the main church page but should be a supplement to it.
Develop a Posting Schedule
Regardless of the number of social media platforms and accounts you decide on, it is important to have a schedule for posting. Determine how frequently you will post different types of content. It doesn’t have to be “set in stone,” but have a basic “content calendar.”
For example, you might plan to use Twitter for sermon quotes or to share newsletter links. So, you might plan to send those out every Monday morning, or on the day the newsletter goes out.
You can always do more but have a bare minimum of several posts a week on any given platform. The point is to be a steady presence in your followers’ feeds. At the same time, you don’t want to inundate them with dozens of posts a day.
The other reason to have a calendar (even a loose one) is it ensures you are consistent. If you advertise certain events through some forums but forget others, then followers will not be able to treat these platforms as a reliable way to keep up with what is going on at the church.
You can also make use of things like Facebook’s native tool, which allows you to schedule posts. So, if you only have time to type up a post late in the evening, but want it to go out the next morning, that is easy to set up.
Leverage All Tools Available
Understand and put to use all the functions of each social media platform. For instance, Facebook allows you to create events and invite people to them. So, you can actually use it to both advertise and gauge interest in events at your church.
You might use certain platforms for very specific requests. For instance, participants can sign up to bring certain dishes to a church-wide potluck.
But note that there are limitations to each forum as well. One major one that, no matter how popular the particular platform, not all your members will be on it. So, while it may be useful for reaching the majority of your congregation, you cannot rely on it as the sole avenue for getting information out.
Go Beyond Typical Platforms
One way to address the issue that not all members will be on every social media platform is to use other online tools for church members. Online apps that are specific to your church can help with everything from fundraising to scheduling nursery volunteers.
Church apps can allow certain groups to access different documents. For instance, only members of a finance committee might have access to the church budget.
Having a single place where all members can go to access the information is useful. And these apps are more effective and secure than, say, a Facebook group.
Do Not Become Obsessed With Numbers
You may find yourself wondering how you compare to other organizations. Do you have more followers than the church down the street?
Of course, you want to reach as wide an audience as possible. And analytics are important--they can point you in the right direction and help save you a lot of time.
But the number of followers you have should not be the only gauge of success. Your online goals are unique to your church and ministries. So, your social media presence will be distinct and should not be measured by external standards.
Church Social Media Strategy: Content
Once you decide on the best platforms for your church and particular ministries, then you can think about the type of content you want to put out. Here are some basic rules for putting your best foot forward.
Social media can become congested. There are approximately 6,000 tweets every second. That’s 500 million every day.
It can be difficult to know how to stand out. One way is to always focus on quality over quantity. Becoming “more popular” does not necessarily translate to meaningful church growth or expanded ministry opportunities.
More is not always more. You want to reach as wide an audience as possible. But sharing every post across as many channels as possible can be too much. And it can come across as lazy. Create content that is useful and meaningful to your members, and you will succeed.
But you also want to be a steady presence in any given forum. Posting too little can make you fall off the radar. You want to strike a balance between novelty and regularity.
You also do not want to post only the same types of things. For example, sharing a link to a sermon is fine. But if a feed is full of nothing but sermons, it can become less interesting to many followers.
There is no prescription for the exact content you should put out. It is particular to your church and its membership. But, one easy rule to follow is to be yourself. Do not try to replicate what you see other churches doing. You can learn from their strategies and things they are doing well. But incorporate those practices into your own unique social media brand.
Inform and Inspire
Social media messaging should contain relevant information for members and seek to inspire them to act. You want to provide your followers with knowledge and wisdom, and then be motivated to do something with it.
The call to action does not always have to be something grand. It could be as simple as encouraging members to pursue daily devotionals or to spend more time outdoors with their family. It could also be more direct, like recruiting people to help out with a ministry.
Engage Your Audience
Facebook alone has over 2.6 billion users worldwide. But, the goal of your church is not to reach millions and millions of people. It is to steadily grow your congregation and to engage existing members.
Engage any questions or comments you receive (insofar as it is appropriate to do so). Use the platforms to have conversations, not merely to distribute information.
From a technological standpoint, this also helps get your content out. Many social media algorithms, including Facebook’s, reward engagement and penalize passive consumption of information. This means that the more people interact with your posts the more likely those posts are to be seen by others.
While audience engagement is the goal, there should be limits as well. Remember that social media accounts represent your church as a whole. And conversations online are much more public and susceptible to negative attention.
This is why we suggest having a strong social media policy in place. If you don't have one yet or are looking to revamp an existing policy, check out this free guide on church social media policies.
Be Willing to Change Things Up
From time to time, reevaluate the usefulness of each social media forum. Digging in your heals will do you no good if a social media strategy is not working. Be willing to adapt and meet people where they are, not where you think they should be.
An analysis of over one million blog posts demonstrated that those with a picture every 75 to 100 words got double the amount of shares as those with fewer images. And this trend held true across various platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
And, while variety is always good, repetitive images can also catch people’s eyes. For instance, if you include the same image for the weekly post linking to your sermon, it can allow users to quickly identify what it is and click on it.
If you include large blocks of text, people will scroll right by the post. With some exceptions, most people will not spend the time to stop and read a lengthy sermon on their phone, in the middle of their lunch break.
But note that this does stop you from linking to longer, more substantial pieces of information in social media posts. In fact, you should often do that, when possible. There is evidence to suggest that, like pictures, external links make posts more popular.
But do not post links by themselves. If you only include a link to a sermon or other content, then it is also likely to be passed over. A short, concise blurb that tells the reader what the link is will draw them in and then point them to more substantive content.
For instance, rather than posting the entire text of a sermon in a post, summarize it in a few short sentences. Or, include a quote from it. Then, link to a video of the sermon or the entire transcript.
Don't Forget About Video
Videos have the strongest draw for those on social media, and if your church has a virtual worship service, you're already making videos. Use YouTube to post sermons and other segments from your Sunday services.
If you're not sure how to start, don't worry. We built a free guide to help you get started.
Try Something New
Each congregation is unique, so there is no fool-proof strategy that applies to every church. If you find what you are doing is not working, try something new.
Also, do not worry about failing. Social media is fast-moving and, for that reason, is very forgiving. If you find that a strategy has not worked, there is nothing stopping you from changing things tomorrow.