From Social Media to Social Ministry
Facebook for churches
There are thousands of churches and millions of professing Christians across the U.S. But while more megachurches seem to emerge every year, surveys reveal that fewer Americans report believing in God. As greater numbers of congregations appear on the “fastest-growing churches in America” lists, more and more cities are becoming less and less “churched.” So, Houston, we have a problem.
More than 70 percent of Americans 18 and older identify as Christian, and 53 percent say religion is “very important” in their lives, according to Pew Research Center. Yet only 36 percent of U.S. adults attend services weekly.
By some estimates, 2 in 3 churches are declining or plateauing in attendance. As physical attendance stagnates and deteriorates, there are more than 30,000 Google searches each month using the phrase “church online.”
From these data points, we can draw a few important conclusions:
1. The Church has become an aquarium. Jesus called His disciples to fish for people. However, many of today’s churches aren’t growing. Rather than catching new fish, they’re simply moving fish from one tank to another.
2. The Church has left the building. Many people who claim faith aren’t showing up to a building for services.
3. Church is no longer a place. People are actively searching online for a digital community of faith that doesn’t require them to get in a car and drive to an address.
With 3 in 4 Americans on Facebook, the potential for ministry is limitless. However, most church leaders around the country are using Facebook for just one purpose: posting content about the church.
Think of your Facebook presence like a house. Your page is your front porch. It’s where people can learn about you in a superficial, noncommittal way, passively consuming your content. To do ministry, however, you have to move people from your front porch to your living room — and that’s what a Facebook group does.
Of 200 million Facebook groups serving more than 1 billion people, less than 2 percent are faith-based and almost none are connected with a church. The potential is vast.
You should approach a Facebook group launch for your church with as much forethought as launching a new physical location. Think of your Facebook group as your online church campus. There will be real people in your campus who have real needs, so the first key to success will be identifying an online campus pastor. This person should have a heart for people, as well as proficiency in leveraging social media for ministry.
With 3 in 4 Americans on Facebook, the potential for ministry is limitless.
Resist the tendency to delegate your Facebook campus to your social media or communications team. Unlike your Facebook page or your Instagram gallery, people in your online campus will need a leader to shepherd them.
Secure the URL you want, and set the group to “secret” as the privacy setting. There are three privacy settings for groups: public, closed and secret. While you build out the group, keep it secret to ensure people don’t discover it before you’re ready to launch. Set the group type to “social learning” to unlock the Facebook units feature that will enable you to create structured, customized learning modules for the community. These learning modules can be great tools for discipling and ensuring people are growing in their faith together.
After setting up the basics of the community, you can personalize it with a color scheme that matches your church brand colors and add a cover photo. If you have a page, your group cover photo should be different enough to distinguish it.
As a next step, draft a set of group rules to affirm the expectations of community membership and also explain who you are and why you created the community. Your Facebook campus will have a number of tools you can use to engage with members. And, unlike a church building, there are no space or time limits. You will have 168 hours available for weekly ministry. Here are some ideas for using that time:
- On Monday, host a “Monday Night Live” with the lead pastor to discuss the weekend sermon and take questions.
- On Tuesday, feature a community member’s faith journey.
- On Wednesday, post “How can we pray for you?” Announce you will go live in the community that evening for prayer.
- On Thursday, host a “Watch Party” in the community featuring a Christian movie or church video content.
- On Friday, feature a ministry leader, and discuss opportunities for getting involved.
When ready to launch your group, change the privacy setting to “closed,” and link the group to your page. You can also create a “Visit Group” button on your page that will take people to your campus. Kick-start your group’s growth and build enthusiasm with an official campus launch event during weekend services. Carve out time during the service to walk people through joining the group on their phones.
As people join the group, encourage them to invite their friends to connect. You can also invite people by email address. This is a great way to reconnect with people who may have stopped attending.
God has given us the tools of social media to build His kingdom through social ministry. Facebook groups will enable you to build a church unconstrained by walls. Remember: Church isn’t a place; it’s a people.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 edition of Influence magazine.