Every now and then I find myself on a church's social media and, if I am being honest, most them are really bad at social media. As a Christian who loves social media, and the influence it can have on people's lives, I have a hard time with many churches being so bad at it. The story of Jesus is the greatest story in the history of time, yet churches seem to struggle to tell it, or any story for that matter, with their social platforms.
I thought I would point out a few ways that churches stink at social and leave a few suggestions on how to get better. I am writing this for all the people who have social media positions at churches, or hope to someday. My guess is three different things might be happening -
1. You are one of the churches who are actually good at social! Most churches are in denial about being good at social media, so please be honest with yourself. Way to go!
2. You have been trying to explain to head pastors or executive directors why the vision for social media needs to change with no success, so you've given up and just do what you are told while looking for another job. The church is really good at burning out employees.
3. You are oblivious to the error in your churches social and probably shouldn't have the job you have, but you clicked on this article anyway. Welcome!
My goal for this post is not to just point the finger and tell all churches they are bad at social, because a select few aren't. My goal is to show how the use of social platforms for churches needs to change, so that when someone is clicking around on Instagram and ends on your church's account, they are so compelled by your content that they come this weekend.
I believe that someone can start with a silly church Instagram feed and end with the amazing love of Jesus.
Also, for the most part, I am referring to churches Instagram feeds when discussing ideas below:
Problem: Where is the community you talk so much about?
I have been to a lot of churches in my life. Almost all them talk about living in community in some way. Most churches have a type of small group system in place that allow smaller groups in the church to meet together and support each other as they try to walk out living like Jesus. I've seen and heard pastors talk about the congregation being the church. YET, when you look at most churches Instagram feeds, you don't see this community they talk so much about. You see text... sooo much text. Seriously church, why are you posting so much text to a photo sharing platform? Why not show the people you talk so much about!?!
SOLUTION: SHOW THE COMMUNITY
The churches that are dominating social media are the ones that do the best job at showing who the church is - the people. Fire one of your graphic designers and hire a photographer who can take photos of people coming in and out of services and interacting with each other. Have that same photographer head out to small groups all week and take photos in peoples houses as they meet and talk about Jesus. Have that same photographer head to peoples places of work and photograph them with some text/copy that talks about what they do and how they shine for Jesus at their place of work. Stop plastering your Instagram with set-lists or countdowns to the next series and start showing the church, which is the people! Practice what you preach. And if you are constantly preaching about the community that makes up the church, your social should reflect that.
Problem: Bulletin Board Syndrome
Bulletin Board Syndrome (something I made up) : A disease that infects social media feeds when treating a story telling platform like a cork bulletin board, resulting in loss of followers, engagement and anyone caring.
I understand that there is a lot going on at a church. You've got everyone from toddlers to the elderly, all in attendance, and ministries that are geared toward dozens of different age groups. You want to get them the information they need for different events, so you think social is the best way to do that. Well, it's not. First of all, there is no way that all age groups are checking for news and ministry updates on social, so it seems silly that you would use it for that. Secondly, that is what websites are for! You can put so much more information for an event on a website and if people are really that interested in that specific ministry, they will go and find it there. Keep your social social. There is nothing social about a bulletin board. Tell me the last time you really engaged with a bulletin board? My guess is that you walk by it without a second thought or glance.
SOLUTION: KEEP SOCIAL SOCIAL
Try for an entire week to not post a single "bulletin board" type item to your church's Instagram. My guess is that the attendance to all the events you were posting about will be unchanged, because people have already decided to come, or not, outside of the reminder just posted to social. Instead, spend the week going to several church ministry events and documenting them, and documenting them well. Have you ever had a friend post a photo to an awesome event they went to and think "Man, I wish I could have gone to that!" My guess is the next time the event comes around, you will make a point to go. Instead of spending your time telling people about an event coming up on social, spend your time documenting the events that are already happening. Use that photographer you hired and have them capturing all aspects of what is happening at the church. Post that story to your Instagram and my guess is the attendance will increase because people will see what they are missing.
A Church that makes me want to go to every event they have, simply based on their social - Hillsong NYC
Problem: Terrible Hype Guy
Most churches need to fire their hype guy. First of all, I don't think the church needs to hype all their series like they are the next great thing. Preach well and people will do it for you. But on occasion, I totally get why a church wants to hype a series, special guest or event they have. I think most churches try to hype every single thing too much, and when over-hype, people stop caring. Therefore, limit what you hype and build up to. Once you limit what's getting the spotlight, then do a better job at hyping said thing.
SOLUTION: HYPE ONLY WHEN NEEDED + PLAN IT OUT
Again, I believe that you should be very selective when building up to something on your social media. I think your social should mostly show the love, grace, joy and life-change of a church and not just build up to what is next, making people feel like they're already missing out on something. So keep hyping to a minimum, but when you have to, be more creative. STOP POSTING COUNTDOWNS TO THINGS. We get it, that big event is 5 days away...oh wow, today it's 4, tomorrow it will be 3.... WHAT?!?! I had no idea...
Create a plan to build up to an event. Actually market it. Stop being lazy with your strategy and come up with a plan and execute it well.
A church that shouldn't fire their hype guys - Fresh Life Church
PROBLEM: Asking for a "Big Picture"
I have had multiple meetings with pastors who want to "pick my brain" on social media. They sit down and ask, "So what should our big picture be on social media?" I can tell by that one simple question that this church will fail at social. Let me give you a secret about social media - there is no big picture. The only picture is producing great content on a regular basis that tells the story you want to tell. That's it. If you are waiting for some big picture to show up, it never will, and you will always be bad at social. Stop having meetings about "what to do on social" and just start creating content for social. Showing up consistently is half the battle. Once you do that start to refine and improve your content. People will respond to good content.
SOLUTION: CREATE CONTENT AND POST IT
Imagine if churches had less meetings talking about what they were going to do and actually just worked on doing it. When I click through churches social feeds, it is so obvious how some are so good and some are so bad. I am guessing that the ones that excel are really letting their creative team do what they do, and the ones that are bad are having meetings telling their creative team what they are allowed to do. I have learned in running our business to let Brooke, the walk in love. creative director, to do what she is going to do. The more freedom I give her, the better she is at doing her job. I let her create and post what she wants because I trust she has a pulse on our followers and engagement. Too many heads of churches try to control every aspect and that leads to subpar content posted inconsistently.
But, all of this isn't going to just going to happen overnight, so work to get better and never stop working! Social will constantly be changing, platforms, algorithms, and trends, but it will always be a way to connect with someone that could lead to a life changed forever. Give the people who run your accounts freedom to run those accounts. Trust that God has given them the skills to create a piece of content that someone might see, that could end with them knowing Jesus.
If you are a social media person in a church, share this with your team. Ask those in charge to let you to do what you can do. If you, however, are a leader or pastor who knocks the "creative legs" out from under your team, STOP! Let them create.
The story of Jesus is the greatest story ever told in human history. He has reached into our lives and picked us up, saved us and pushed us to live more loving lives. I tear up any time I hear about someone giving their life to Christ. It is so beautiful and amazing. I believe that we, as a church, just need tell that story over and over again. The power in it will never cease to work wonders. We should be telling that story on social all the time. Sometimes that could be a simple image of people hugging outside the doors of your sanctuary, sometimes it might be a story about a BBQ hosted by the church, sometimes it might look like a photo of someone raising their hands and singing their heart out on stage. It will look different to every church, but if we tell the story well in the medium provided, I absolutely believe it will be effective -- encouraging people to give their hearts to a loving Savior. I desire for every church to be good at social media, because the better they are, the more people will walk through the doors and the more lives will be changed.