Turning Social Media Into Social Outreach

D-MinOut-SocMedHow to use today’s real-time connectivity and community to extend your church’s reach

Last month was my birthday. Because of social media like Facebook, I got more birthday wishes than I ever got cards in the mail. A few weeks ago a friend of one of my friends was in dire straights. Her husband had been in a motorcycle wreck and lay in a coma in the hospital, yet people instantly began praying for him. 

Because of Facebook and how connected we are today with smartphones and tablets, we can hear about and respond to the burdens and celebrations of life in real time. Gone are the days of hearing about a prayer request for the first time in the Sunday bulletin.

Everywhere you look, teens are tweeting weekend plans, new parents are posting photos of their babies on Instagram and grandparents are commenting on their grandchildren’s Facebook statuses. There is a stream of conversation happening on social media platforms like Facebook that connect communities and people with each other like never before.

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Facebook has more than a billion users, and more than 15 million company brands employ a page on the site. It should come as no surprise that churches are hopping on the social media train as well. More than 46 percent of churches say that social media is the most effective method of outreach.

Jesus was well aware of the power of word-of-mouth. The gospel was spread across continents using this method. One benefit of social media is that the effectiveness of word-of-mouth is instantaneous. An event, announcement or tweet won’t be seen by only one person but by dozens, or even hundreds of people within minutes.

The challenge for many churches is they simply don’t have a strong understanding of how effective social media can be for outreach, or their employees don’t have the training or tools to execute a sustainable program. I like to think about the challenge in three parts:

1) Educate yourself on what is possible today and ensure your church staff has the right information about what works and what doesn’t work. There are a lot of myths about social media that keep churches out of the space when, in actuality, it is one of the most powerful tools available today for outreach, growth and community engagement.

2) Get your social media presence set up the right way. Many churches are set up as a location or a group, and they don’t have the proper settings for a Facebook page that allows them to take full advantage of the medium. Make sure you have a Facebook page, a compelling cover photo, clear information about the church including service times, and are intentional about how you are using your comment wall.

3) Research and brainstorm ideas to engage the community. There are numerous ways a church can engage a community in order to grow their online impact.

Here are a few ideas we have found worth doing:

  • Inspirational Messages. Post a daily or weekly message of inspiration on Facebook, or select a meaningful Bible verse and tweet it to your followers. Facebook posts can easily be shared by members on their own personal Facebook walls, and tweets can be re-tweeted to hundreds with a click of the mouse.
  • Publish Your Sermon. Set up a video camera and record the service. You can then upload excerpts to YouTube, Vimeo or Facebook and tweet the link to your followers. Or, record the audio and turn it into a podcast.
  • Calendar of Events. Use an e-calendar tool (such as Google calendar) and ask members to subscribe. Each time a new event is added to the church calendar, it will automatically update on subscribers’ smartphones.
  • Checking In. Most social media sites possess an integrated location function. Ask your members to “check in” to your church using Foursquare or Facebook, or have them enable their location option and post a photo to Instagram or Twitter. The idea is for friends to build a dialogue around the service or festivities taking place at your church.

Word spreads quickly in today’s world. It’s time to use social media to share and spread the Word.

Andy Murray is Founder and CEO of Mercury 11, a social media agency specializing in helping organizations leverage the power of social media to grow and make an impact. 

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