“How should my church handle the Coronavirus?”
That’s the million dollar question on the mind of every local pastor, staff member, lay leader, volunteer and congregant. And rightfully so. As the situation continues to unfold and change rapidly — with new information, guidelines, gathering size recommendations, and restrictions being released every day — many churches have moved to online-only until this thing blows over. Churches of 100+ congregants are choosing not to meet at all or are streaming their worship services via Facebook Live, YouTube, broadcasting on their websites, church apps, and other various platforms. Many church small groups are taking advantage of video conferencing tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, FaceTime, and others, especially since you can’t even meet at a local Starbucks right now (which is probably a sign of the Apocalypse, but I digress.)
Anyway, megachurches naturally have to be careful as they’re, well, bigger than everyone else. I get that. Precaution is a good thing. God gave us brains. Let’s be good little human beings and use them.
But, what about the small churches? The tiny rural ones? What about those churches, like mine, where only 40 people show up on an average Sunday? Should the pastor really cancel worship services and midweek gatherings right now?
Well, I’ll be the first to say, particularly as the son of a pastor, that this decision should obviously rest on the shoulders of the pastor and elders and should be made on a case-by-case basis as we all continue to pray and follow the latest news updates. Just because the small church around the corner cancelled doesn’t mean we have to cancel. My church met last week even though most of those in our surrounding community didn’t and more likely won’t next Sunday. My dad believes very strongly in what the author of Hebrews says in chapter 10, verse 25: “…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV)
So, at least for the foreseeable future, we’ll still be gettin’ our Jesus on. Did some folks stay home last week? Yeah. But, that was bound to happen.
Now, with that being said, let me be very clear: Small churches where the majority of the congregation is made up of senior citizens would be wise to temporarily suspend worship services during this pandemic as the elderly are at an increased risk of contracting the virus, as well as those individuals with preexisting or underlying health conditions. This is where modern technology like live-streaming and social media communication will, and has, come in handy for the Church.
For small churches who have never attempted to broadcast their services or even implement social media into their church communications strategy this can all seem incredibly overwhelming and daunting. Suddenly you’ve found yourself thrust into a world you don’t understand and everyone is recommending that you execute a halfway decent production on Sunday so that they can watch from home. But don’t be discouraged. You don’t need to have the budget of Marvel Studios or the camera equipment of Elevation Church to deliver your sermon to your people. If you have a smartphone and dependable WiFi, you’re halfway there.
Which Streaming Service Is Best For Me?
Before deciding whether you’re going to go with Facebook Live, YouTube, or something else, ask yourself where the majority of your congregation hangs out online or where they would be most inclined to visit. I would be willing to guess most of them are on Facebook.
Is It OK To Livestream To My Personal Profile?
I work with and help a lot of pastors at small churches who don’t have Communications Directors or people to manage and run digital and social media for their ministry. Some of them are lucky just to have PowerPoint in their sanctuaries. For this reason, their church usually doesn’t even have a Facebook Page or YouTube channel because the pastor doesn’t have the knowledge and training — much less the time — to implement it and operate it. That’s not his fault, it’s just reality.
So yes, if you’re a small church pastor needing to communicate with your people via Facebook during COVID-19, live-streaming to your personal profile is perfectly fine. If there’s anyone in the church who’s not currently on your friends list, now is the time to take care of that. Use your livestreams to speak hope and encouragement to your people, preach your sermons, do Bible study lessons, whatever you like. You can worry about creating a Facebook Page and/or Facebook Group for your church after our nation pulls through this whole ordeal. (And it will.)
What Should We Be Posting To Our Social Media Channels During COVID-19?
People are scared, anxious, fearful, and even downright paranoid and terrified. And many of them are now in quarantine in their homes consuming way too much TV news and spending endless hours scrolling social media newsfeeds cluttered with depressing headlines, wild conspiracy theories, and stories about death and disease. If your church is on any or all of the major platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — you have the opportunity to bring some faith, encouragement, and reassurance into the midst of this bleak ordeal.
But you’ve gotta be able to do what we in the Church Comms World refer to as “Stop the scroll.” You’ve got to be able to craft a post and an accompanying graphic that is linguistically and visually engaging enough to cause someone to stop the scroll and think, “Hey I want to check that out.” Whether it’s an encouraging Scripture verse, a funny question designed to elicit comments, a quote from your pastor, a video snippet, whatever the case may be — make sure it’s visually engaging enough to grab their attention. You can see my previous blog post for some thoughts and tips on social media engagement.
Things Will Be Different For A While, And That’s OK.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist nor do I have a crystal ball, but there’s something I believe we all need to wrap our heads around: This whole Coronavirus thing isn’t going to disappear overnight. It won’t be gone tomorrow. It won’t be gone next week or next month. We need to start adjusting now to the changes we’re going to have to implement in order to continue to function as the Church. Yes, churches will eventually return to their physical buildings at some point, but right now we need to concentrate on meeting our people where they are. Even if that means meeting them on Facebook.
Here at The Josh Givens Blog, we think a lot about the future of social media and the Church and how the Church will fit into the digital space. Oh, who am I kidding? There is no “we.” It’s just me. Sorry for the let down. If half my audience walks away right now, I won’t blame you.
Speaking of audiences, your church has one too. Actually they have several. Remember that one time I mentioned that there are similarities between churches and brands? I even discussed it on a recent episode of Rescuing Churches. Well, every brand has an audience — a specific niche demographic of customers to whom they cater their product. Starbucks has cornered the market on coffee lovers. Nike dominates the athletic tennis shoe world. And Chick-fil-A has won the hearts of chicken sandwich connoisseurs everywhere. Of course, when it comes to communications, your church is trying to reach standard audiences like 1) regular attendees 2) guests and visitors 3) and, hopefully, the surrounding community. There’s a lot of work that goes into making sure those people can access and receive the information they need on a regular basis, that they feel included in what’s happening, and are encouraged to get involved.
But there’s a fourth category that requires even more work and attention: Your digital audience. These are the people following your Facebook and Instagram Pages, your website, and maybe your sermon audio podcast if you happen to have one of those thingamajigs. Whatever your digital and social media platforms are, each one has an audience. And keep in mind that your digital audience could be, and often is, made up of some random amalgamation of those three standard audiences I mentioned a moment ago.
One of the lines I hear most often from pastors who don’t see a need for implementing social media at their church is, “Digital communication and relationships are just two-dimensional [and therefore aren’t as important.] I shouldn’t waste my time on that.”
Here's an actual photo of me responding to the last pastor who said that:
Trust me, I get it. I really do. But, as social media has evolved over the years, transforming from a place where folks were connecting with friends to a platform where companies and organizations can broadcast messages to the masses and interact with their audiences, we can no longer afford to ignore the reality of the human experiences that people are enjoying in these spaces. There is a reason, after all, that we refer to it as social media. It’s designed to be interactive and engaging. And therein lies the crux of what you should care about as a Church Communicator and especially as a pastor: engagement.
The Internet is a noisy and chaotic world. And smack-dab in the middle of that world is a highway called social media. Your platform doesn’t need to be a billboard that people whiz by at breakneck speed without a second thought. It should be a neighborhood café with couches, aesthetic lighting, and soothing jazz music; a place where folks want to hang out with their friends, spark dialogue, encourage each other, and return often. Ok, maybe the jazz music was a bit much, but you get the point. The type of content that you post to your Page is critical in creating this sort of atmosphere and fostering that kind of interactivity.
Social media engagement is more than just responding to individual comments and DMs. It’s more than posting graphics that elicit likes, shares, and comments. Yes, that’s all important. But at the core, engagement is the ongoing process of creating a lifelong relationship with your church’s digital audience; a relationship that makes them feel like they are special because they belong to a unique community — your community. As the pastor, you want them to be regularly encouraged, inspired, and uplifted, even when they're not present in your church's physical building. You want them interacting with one another, even when they're not on campus. Here are a few simple, practical ways that you can do that via your social media platform:
Create and post graphics that ask a question.
Nothing elicits interactivity more than a good, well-worded question. Maybe that’s my journalistic experience speaking, but I stand by it nonetheless. Over the course of my years as a church Communications Director, here are a few questions I’ve utilized on social media graphics: What are you reading right now? What was the last show you binge-watched? Who has the best burger in your town? Describe your Sunday morning routine using only emojis. What was your favorite part of today’s message? Who are you inviting to church this weekend? How can we pray for you today? What did you read from the Bible this week?
When people leave comments with their answers, be sure that you respond to a few of them creatively. Feel free to interject some clean humor when appropriate.
Post photos and/or videos that tell engaging and inspiring stories.
People love to be encouraged and inspired. If you can interview someone in your church who has an awesome testimony or a killer story about how they connected with your local fellowship, and then share it either in high quality video/audio or photo/text format on your Facebook or Instagram platform, you’ve got a great engagement post for your Page. Also, you can’t go wrong by posting pictures of happy, smiling people enjoying your worship services. This sends an unmistakable message to your audience and potential visitors about the environment and ambience of your church.
Share a post from an affiliated page.
Does one of your missionaries have their own Facebook Page? Another organization that your church supports? An occasional share of that Page’s content can serve to generate conversation and get some buzz going on your own Page. Don’t always feel like it has to be your own original material.
In between all of this, be sure to throw some daily posts into the mix. This could be anything from Scripture graphics from the YouVersion Bible App to short video clips from your pastor’s most recent sermon. If your church is present on more than one social media platform and you’re the sole administrator running everything, post most consistently and regularly to the platform where the majority of your audience and potential visitors reside. That is where you will find and create engagement. It’s not impossible, but it will take a little creativity, time, and some sustained effort. The payoff, however, will be well worth it.
What are your ideas for engagement? What has worked for your church social media platforms? Sound off in the comment thread!
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last few years of being a Church Communicator is that what works for the church down the road may not necessarily work for your church. And, oftentimes, you’re better off not even implementing it in the first place. That’s because every church has their own unique needs, resources, community demographics, and dynamics. There’s another little lesson tied up in this about being yourself. Just because something works great or looks good for megachurches like Elevation and Hillsong doesn’t mean that it will work great or look good for your church of 56 people, yo.
But that’s another blog post for another day.
I’ve also learned that implementing technology at smaller traditional churches often has to be done gradually and with an understanding that certain folks will basically think you’re The Borg from Star Trek.
In other words, they won’t like it and they’ll either oppose the transition or they’ll just leave altogether rather than undergo what they think is a full-blown assimilation of everything they hold dear. You need to be prepared for that. I’ve seen both happen. Sometimes this is a sign that the particular tech isn’t meant for your church in the first place — whether that’s a social media platform like Instagram or a fancy lighting console that looks like something off the bridge of the Enterprise. (Ok, enough with the Trekkie metaphors.) Or it could mean that you were indeed supposed to introduce new forms of technology and God was going to prune those people from your church body anyway.
Nobody says you have to be — or should even try to be — Elevation or Hillsong. But the Church should reach its community. To do that, it has to communicate with the community. And you need technology to make that happen. It’s nothing to be scared of and, to be honest, most of it is easier to manage than you think. Here are a few essentials I always recommend to smaller churches pursuing revitalization in this area:
1. Social Media Presence — I place this one at the top because it’s not just simple and easy to learn, but it’s also free. Even if you’re a small church that doesn’t want to spring for a website and pay for things like hosting, domain names, or sermon audio storage, the very least you can do is create a Facebook Page and invite your congregants to “like” and “follow” it. Then use it to reach the local community as you post your events, respond to comments, reply to messages, etc. If you’re social media savvy and have the time to dedicate to other platforms like Instagram and Twitter, then go for it. But, if nothing else, you should be on Facebook. I’d be willing to bet a lot of your people are there too.
2. Website — This is almost as equally as important because, as we say in this biz, it’s the “front door” of your church. People are going to find you online before they ever set foot inside your physical building. If you don’t have a website at all, you have no chance of showing up in Google search results for churches in your area. They may never even know you exist. If you do have one, make sure it’s well maintained, up-to-date, and attractively designed. It doesn’t have to be flashy or impressive. It just needs to communicate the basics and work well for engagement and information. WordPress is a good tool for smaller churches. There’s a free version (WordPress.com), but if you want to get your own custom domain name, you will need to have some funds set aside for that and use WordPress.org instead. The set-up is a little more tedious, but you will have more control over your site, domain name, and design.
3. PowerPoint; digital projectors — Whether you have projectors and screens or flatscreen TVs, you need to be able to display audio/visual content in your sanctuary such as song lyrics, sermon notes/graphics, and/or videos. Make sure the laptop or computer you’re using is outfitted with a presentation software like PowerPoint, ProPresenter, or Keynote.
4. Canva — Canva.com is a free graphic design program/website where you can set up an account (or link it to your Facebook or Google account) and create social media graphics and just about anything else you can imagine. From business cards and newsletters to flyers and brochures, there’s an endless amount of templates and handy design tools. It’s easy to learn and very convenient. The only downside is that you’ll need to be connected to WiFi if you’re using the free web version.
5. Unsplash and Pixabay — These two websites offer thousands of hi-res photos taken by talented photographers, many of whom are professionals. And every photograph is free to download and to use on your website, social media, sermon graphic, or wherever you need to implement it. No fees. No attribution necessary. Think of it like stock photography that you didn’t have to pay for.
A FINAL CAUTION:
While tech is great, it won’t ever be able to replace real people, real relationships, and real ministry. These five things are just tools to help your church be more effective at community outreach. Whatever you do, don’t become The Borg.
What are some basic tech essentials you can't live without or suggest for small churches undergoing tech revitalization? Leave your thoughts in the comment thread below.
NOTE: If you're reading this post in your e-mail inbox and would like to comment, please feel free to reply via e-mail or click on the post title above and leave a comment on my site. Resistance really is futile and you just might be assimilated. Also be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to Rescuing Churches — the official podcast of 6.14 Ministries.
The other day I had lunch with my dad at a casual dining franchise restaurant here in town. It’s one of my favorite joints to frequent. I order the same thing every time. Total creature of habit. In fact, I’ve been ordering this particular entrée (which is really an appetizer, but I digress) as far back as my high school years when I worked at the Goody’s Family Clothing store formerly located in the same parking lot.
When our friendly waitress arrived with the meal, she commented on how delicious my buffalo chicken tenders looked. I agreed, but didn’t think much of it because I order them regularly. Then she said, “You know what’s really good? If you like our buffalo sauce, try it on our quesadilla. Sometimes on my lunch break I’ll make myself a little buffalo chicken quesadilla and it’s amazing.”
Why am I telling you this story about delicious buffalo sauce? Because you better believe that the next time I see her, I’m going to be requesting that quesadilla. But not just because I love buffalo sauce and quesadillas. It’ll mostly be because this smiling, happy lady took the time to be a rockstar and have personalized, conversational moments with me while I enjoyed a meal on a chilly February afternoon and even introduced me to an idea I had never previously considered. It didn’t matter that my dad and I were in the middle of chatting about ministry issues and cool podcast junk, yo. What mattered was that she engaged. She made a connection.
And when I left that restaurant, what I remembered the most wasn’t anything about this restaurant’s logo, slogan, social media, menu design, lighting aesthetics, or TV commercials — although I’m well-acquainted with them all. What I left with was the realization that there’s a lady there who likes buffalo sauce and quesadillas as much as I do. And maybe if I come back again, she’ll make something for me that will be even better than “my usual.”
This is the sort of thing that I wish a lot of churches understood, particularly those undergoing revitalization and those in need of revitalization. You see, your brand is bigger than your logo or some piece of random signage sitting in the foyer. It’s the the very nature, heart, and soul of your church. Simply put, your brand is who you are. That includes your beliefs, your reputation, your relationship with the local community, your online engagement, and even the interwoven combined personality of your congregants.
If you’re a pastor or Church Comms leader trying to assess your church’s current brand, you need to scrutinize everything: Your digital media, your greeters, the taste of your coffee, the temperature of the sanctuary, whether you’re replying to social media comments and messages, and even that annoying toilet in the lady’s bathroom that never seems to properly flush. The overall “vibe” of your church. It all leaves an impression.
Good branding can help you step up your revitalization game. Here’s why it matters:
1. It will help you become authentic. (More than just a logo.)
Solid logo design, social media management, and stellar graphics are critical. I’ll address those in forthcoming posts. But your logo is an inanimate object. When that depressed single mom in the neighborhood behind your church needs groceries, she’s not going to give a flying rip if your church’s Instagram account is like totally lit, bro. She’s going to be thinking about the nice staff lady she met at your last community outreach event who sat and talked with her and her daughter and gave them a connect card. If your church has taken the time to properly engage and form relationships, you’ve built a brand of authenticity and trustworthiness that will extend far beyond a logo on a fancy website or a sign on a hill. And who knows? Maybe she’ll eventually start attending and even invite a friend or two.
2. It’s positively infectious.
By this I mean that it’s both positive and infectious. Ever watch a Starbucks commercial and then find yourself craving your favorite brewed beverage? (Or is that just me?) Good branding inspires people to action and moves them in a positive direction. It should be the same with your church’s message. The community should be so overwhelmingly curious about and enamored with what’s happening at your church — or desire it so much because of the last positive experience they had — that they can’t help but to either attend or, at the very least, seek out more information via your digital platforms, which should then circle back around to inspiring them to attend.
3. It will excite your staff and volunteers.
A good church branding strategy won’t just motivate, inspire, and engage the local community. If you do it right, it’ll give your leadership team something to get behind too. Everybody wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves; something that can make a difference; something that will change lives forever. Your brand should remove all obstacles and roadblocks between your team and this goal. I'll cover some ways that you can do this in future posts.
It may take time for your church to do this successfully, but be patient. You'll get there eventually. Buffalo chicken quesadillas didn't happen overnight either.
NOTE: If you're reading this post in your e-mail inbox and would like to comment, please feel free to reply via e-mail or click on the post title above and leave a comment on my site. Also, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to Rescuing Churches — the official podcast of 6.14 Ministries.
I believe it was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who was credited with saying, “There is nothing permanent except change,” and “Change alone is unchanging.”
You don’t have to be an old bearded sage to observe that the world around us is constantly evolving. And nowhere else is this more true than in the realm of technology. Let’s take that little computer in your pocket for example. By the time you’ve upgraded to the iPhone XR, the 11 and 11 Pro are already set to release. (I’m still bitter by the way.) After you purchase the latest, greatest laptop from Best Buy, your friend shows up at Starbucks with the new model you didn’t even know existed. And just when you think you’ve mastered the ins-and-outs of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, along comes a software update to all three and before you know it, you’re right back where you started, wondering what the heck you’re doing with these bizarre platforms everyone refers to as “social media.” The stupid photo upload button used to be right here, but now it’s over there. The mobile view used to look like this, but now it looks like this. And for the love of all that is holy, what the crap is a Watch Party and how did I accidentally start one?
It's ok. Breathe. You're not alone.
Anyway, I would venture to guess that some — perhaps many — of you probably wonder why you even bother with social media in the first place. It can be annoying, tedious, or just downright confusing. Nevertheless, it’s a part of our everyday lives and — here’s the point, pastors — it’s a part of your congregation’s lives too. If you’re a minister living in the year 2020, then you simply can’t ignore the reality that some, if not most, of your congregants are living large portions of their daily routines on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. They’re constantly and consistently reading statuses, scrolling newsfeeds, uploading photos, commenting on videos, and posting Kermit The Frog memes.
While it might all seem utterly pointless, silly, or trivial, don’t underestimate the communicative and relational powers of social media. Since the early days of MySpace (2003) and Friendster (2002), it’s been abundantly clear that mankind has entered a new phase of The Digital Age where friendships and relationships are being built online first and information and virtual content are being shared at breakneck speed. Here are a few reasons why your church should be present and active in the midst of that:
1. It shows your people — and the culture — that you care about their world.
Why do churches have community outreach events? Why do they have off-campus small groups? Why do pastors make hospital visits or have lunch with a congregant at his/her job site? Because we’re supposed to reach people where they are, rather than stay huddled up inside the walls of our building twice a week. With about one billion people active on Facebook and over 100 million folks using Instagram every month, it only makes sense for the Church to build community and relational efforts on and within these digital domains as well. Don’t just make it about marketing, advertising, and promotion — although those are important factors as well — but emphasize the relational aspect and engage with your community. Reply to comments. Respond to messages. They’ll appreciate your efforts and your church will be more Christlike than businesslike.
2. People use social media as search engines to find a church.
If I’ve just moved to a new city for work and want to find a Baptist church, all I have to do is type “Baptist church” into Facebook’s search bar and there will be a “Places” section displaying every Baptist church near my current location for several miles. I know, I know, Google is still a thing. But with the location settings and search bar features on Facebook, many folks (especially millennials) won’t even bother using Google when they’re more interested in whether or not the churches in their area have a social media presence to begin with. Don’t expect Google to cover your butt. You might not even have a great listing in their search engine optimization algorithm. Don’t be lazy. Invest time to create a social media presence where it counts.
3. Social media is great for marketing, advertising, and promotion.
Even if you’re a small church without a budget for things like Facebook ads, you can and should use social media to generate interest in who you are, what you offer, and what you’re doing. This means that the digital community — which is made up of flesh & blood people — should always be able to see and access basic things like your website and upcoming events. Fortunately, sites like Facebook allow you to create Events, invite your followers, and spread the word with features like sharing and tagging. Best of all, it won’t cost you a dime. And the great thing about Facebook Events is that people can invite their friends too, which furthers your audience reach. Your content will eventually show up in the newsfeeds of people who aren't yet following your Page. Use Instagram to share photos and videos from your successful events in order to attract the local community to your next one. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it can make when the public can see smiling, happy people from your church. This isn't rocket science.
4. Social media is a mission field.
Jesus commanded His disciples in Mark 16 to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel…” I doubt any of them were thinking that would one day include terrifying locations like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But there may be no larger world-within-a-world full of unsaved people today than the world of social media. And your church should make it a priority to take the Gospel to that world however it can. It may take the form of graphics, sermon audio, video, photos, personal engagement, or all of the above. Regardless, we can’t afford to sit around and ignore the power we have to reach people where they are on the digital spectrum with the truth, love, grace, and salvation of Jesus.
Of course, there are about a million other reasons your church should be on social media, but these are a good start. What do you think I left out? Do you have additional thoughts? Let me know in the comment thread below.
Meanwhile, be sure to check out Rescuing Churches, the official podcast of 6.14 Ministries. Rescuing Churches is a weekly discussion on church revitalization and pastoral life with 6.14 Ministries Executive Director Stan Givens and is hosted by yours truly. Stay tuned for episode #7 when we’ll spin the tables around and I’ll take questions on Church Communications issues like social media and websites.
NOTE: If you're reading this post in your e-mail inbox and would like to comment, please feel free to reply via e-mail or click on the post title above and leave a comment on my site. Also, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.