the shape of leadership

What Pastors Should Know About Facebook

Ryan Wakefield is helping churches leverage the power of social media

Kristi Northup on November 26, 2018

Like many of you, I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I love it when I discover something has happened in the life of someone I care about but don’t often see. It’s helpful to learn about people and their history. But I hated social media in the fall of 2016 when I felt like it pitted me against people I love and became a breeding ground for impassioned political hate speech. That’s when I felt I had to distance myself from social media because it was tearing my heart out.

Last spring, I accepted an invitation to lead CMN Women, a place for Assemblies of God women in church planting through Church Multiplication Network. There was already a Facebook group who had personally been a blessing to me. I’ve been amazed to see the genuine support, resourcing and healthy conversations coming out of this group on a daily basis. I wondered, Is it possible that this is life-giving? It surely seemed different than anything else I had been a part of on social media.

My husband, Wayne, asked Ryan Wakefield from Church Marketing University to speak to our leaders via Zoom video conferencing about ways we can be involved in promoting the church through social media. I can’t say I was excited about it. The words “church” and “marketing” seemed to me like they didn’t go together.

But I have to say, I was blown away by the chat Wakefield did with our team. I was impressed with his heart for people, and passion to share Christ with those who do not know Him. The content was eye-opening. I thought to myself, This is something readers at Influence need to know. So I sought out Wakefield for an interview.

Wakefield previously served as the creative director at James River Church in southwest Missouri. In 2013, he joined more than 40 others in a move to Lee’s Summit, Missouri, to plant Summit Park Church (AG). They have grown to over 1,500 in attendance, largely due to the efforts they have made to engage social media.

Wakefield now directs Social Church and Church Marketing University, online resources with a simple mission: helping churches reach their cities and get more visitors every week. Those resources currently help over 30,000 churches learn how to utilize social media to reach more people with the gospel.

KRISTI NORTHUP: What would you tell church leaders who dislike social media?
RYAN WAKEFIELD: Social media is always changing. That can be frustrating for pastors and church leaders, but it doesn’t have to be. The biggest recent change is Facebook going back to its roots, focusing on friends and family.

“Let’s utilize the power of community to see more people come to Christ than ever before.”
— Ryan Wakefield

Facebook wants to get back to why people loved the network in the beginning. It was interesting as Facebook threw in a curveball, adding “friends, family and groups.” Facebook even changed its mission statement to “empowering people to build community and bring the world closer together.”

If you hate social media and what you’re seeing, it’s probably a reflection of what you are engaging with on Facebook. The algorithms show what you engage with. Whatever you want your social media experience to be, engage with that. If it’s not what you want, starve that. If you’re only engaging with stuff you hate, that’s what it will show you. You’re going to get more of whatever you engage with. Engage with things that are life-giving.

Tell me what Facebook found about community.
Facebook, which is the largest social network in the world, did this broad, introspective study. If you recall, Mark Zuckerberg made an appearance before Congress, addressing the failures behind social media. The idea behind the study was this: Is social media healthy, or does it hurt people’s well-being?

What Facebook found in the study was when people use social media to connect through these tight-knit communities, it actually helped their well-being. Facebook found if people were social zombies, scrolling, not engaging, using it for political backbiting, it actually hurt their well-being. Facebook made this shift because it wanted to move toward helping people’s well-being, not hurting them.

Facebook saw if people get into groups around things they care about, they are less likely to break into fights. You’re more likely to rally around things you have in common.

In the study, Facebook wanted to find out where society finds meaningful tight-knit communities. It found that churches and faith communities were areas where life-giving communities are already working. Of course, this is something we already know, which is why we believe in the impact of the local church so strongly. 

What mistakes do churches commonly make in trying to market themselves through social media?
Unfortunately, many churches approach it as a business. They use it to make announcements or have a page that’s just like a website. So Facebook sees you as a business. If you stay in that world, you have to pay for people to see your content. But there’s a huge opportunity for churches. If they’re smart about it, they can be in that friends/family/close-knit groups category, which is free.

But by and large, churches don’t utilize Facebook groups to carry this out. So Facebook has hired a leader, Nona Jones, to create faith-based partnerships. Nona is a pastor’s wife and church planter, and her job is dedicated to helping faith-based communities leverage Facebook groups to further carry out their purpose in community.

Of course, we know at the end of the day, Facebook needs to make money. But if it can encourage healthy engagement, that will lead to revenue.

Where can people find more information about what you do?
Check out Church Marketers Facebook group. It’s never been harder to reach people — and, at the same time, it’s never been easier. The church understands the power of community. Let’s utilize that to see more people come to Christ than ever before.


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