SOCIAL MEDIA IS WEIRD.
I think George Takei said it best: "Social media is like ancient Egypt, writing things on walls and worshipping cats."
Followers. Likes. Selfies. Pet selfies. Food selfies. Coded emoji hieroglyphic languages. Memes. Bible verses. Bible memes. A false sense of belonging. Mob mentalities. Trolls. Celebrities. Pastors. Celebrity pastors. Condemnation. Vilification. Praise. Adulation. Profiles. Pages. Profiles that act like Pages. Distorted realities and ritualistic dependencies.
I'm convinced that somewhere in the vast expanse of the cosmos — at this very moment — little green men are nestled in their cozy research laboratories studying the effects of social media on the human species. Frankly I feel sorry for those poor Martians and hope that they never have to land on our soil. I'm sure their planets are far more civilized and less confusing.
Anyway, sites like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have basically become the modern day office water coolers or the 21st-century versions of the town square. People, friends, coworkers, and strangers from all walks of life huddle up to gossip and converse about the latest TV shows, problems at their jobs, dates that didn't go well, church activities, family drama, sermons they loved, and everything in-between. And it's not just a handful of people, mind you. No, it's a lot. Facebook alone boasts 2.8 billion active monthly users. Entire herds of human beings assemble within these digital spheres to participate in events and activities. See? Town square.
Don't get me wrong. These platforms present phenomenal opportunities to form relationships with real people and to engage the community. And we should be doing that. But just like the three-dimensional world, social media can be fraught with dangers. Every time you tweet, publish, upload, post, respond, message, like, or react, you run the risk of upsetting, offending, confusing, or separating yourself out from the very people you're trying to engage or even creating a different mess altogether. This is why, particularly as a pastor, you have to tread as cautiously as possible on social media, while still coming across as real and approachable. It's a delicate balancing act that requires patience, time, and attention. It's also why some pastors have entire teams who manage their social media for them.
Here are ten ways you can obliterate your reputation through social media without even realizing it:
#1. Portraying yourself and/or your life as flawless.
I think we can all agree that Jesus was the only perfect person to walk the Earth. If you try to come off as perfect in your posts, videos, and content, you'll just wind up being seen as inauthentic and phony. (This will damage your ministry in much larger ways than you can imagine.) Never be afraid to be real and relatable. (James 4:6; James 4:10; Proverbs 11:2)
#2. Failing to monitor and manage photos, statuses, or content in which you've been tagged.
When you're tagged in a photo or graphic, it gives the impression that you approve of being associated with that particular photo or graphic — even if you never authorized the individual to tag you in the first place. Do you have a friend or church member who's notorious for tagging you in inappropriate memes or photos? Do you even monitor your notifications enough to know if or when you've been tagged in something? In your privacy settings, you can manage tagging. Don't resort to unfriending or blocking someone until it's necessary. If the tagging persists, consider sending a private message to the individual politely asking him or her to stop. If you've been tagged in something inappropriate for several weeks and its just hanging out there in Facebook cyberspace without your knowledge, it can smear, tarnish, or even ruin your reputation altogether.
#3. Ignoring messages and comments.
Obviously you can't personally respond to everyone who writes on your Facebook wall or sends you a DM on Instagram. You would be overwhelmed. You have meetings, counseling appointments, sermon prep, family time, and countless other tasks. But the occasional interaction is critical. After all, you don't want to come off as a social media jerk. Do your best to monitor your inboxes and comments. Follow up and reply when you can. It shows that you care and that you're engaged. Treat your Facebook inbox with the same prioritization as you would treat your e-mail inbox, physical mailbox at home or church, or even the inbox on your office door.
#4. Blasting another local church or fellow pastor.
Don’t start theological comment wars with other ministers or churches. It’s a bad look and you’ll risk losing the respect of your own flock. If you have a problem with something a pastor said or did, send him a private message and request an in-person meeting to have a civil discussion over a cup of coffee. In other words, be a mature adult human being. Otherwise, just don’t worry about it. Every church is different. Every pastor is different.
#5. Assuming the role of theology police.
This one piggybacks off of number four. Don’t go around policing everyone’s spiritual posts. That’s not your job as the pastor and it makes you come off as an arrogant, annoying, pompous know-it-all. It also makes you look pretty silly and childish. If someone in your church is listening to a false teacher, have a one-on-one conversation with that individual and address it privately. Don’t post public comments on their social media profile about it. That’s simply not the place. It gives the impression you're intentionally trying to embarrass that individual. It also gives the impression that you want everyone around you to think you're some sort of theological genius, which just winds up making you look really insecure at the end of the day.
#6. Insulting or degrading people.
If you've got a beef with a friend, fellow staff member, or congregant, don't resort to petty name-calling, personal attacks, exclamation points, angry emojis, or overheated zingers on Facebook. It's not Christlike and you know better. Be aware: As your social media influence widens and your friend count increases, you'll probably be attacked or criticized more often. That comes with the territory. But the last thing you need to do is publicly lash out at someone who criticizes you. One of the many beauties of Facebook is that you can delete comments and block people. If you need to address the person in private, then do so discreetly and lovingly.
#7. Neglecting to promote, highlight, and share your church's Page and its other digital content.
I'm the son of a pastor, so I know how busy you guys stay. Most of the time, you don't even think about reposting or retweeting your own sermons or your church's events. It's just not on your mind or on your schedule. (That's what the Comms Director and Technical Assistants are for, right?)
You're doing pretty good if you can check Facebook a few times a week, upload a devotional video or two, and respond to some comments here and there. But, whether your team does it for you or you do it yourself, sharing some occasional content from your church's Facebook Page is critical. It tells this generation that you actually care about the things at the very church God has called you to shepherd; the very things you seem excited about from the pulpit every week. They need to see you caring in their language. And their language is Facebook.
#8. Oversharing content from your church's Page.
Believe it or not, there is a danger in oversharing. Try to strike a good balance between sharing content from your church's Page (sermons, events, verses, etc.) to sharing everyday personal moments from your own life through photos, videos, etc. This goes back to the whole "being authentic" thing. You might be a minister, but you're also a human being.
#9. Trying to be overly hip or relevant.
Ok, pastors. I'm not talking about skinny jeans here (although that may be another issue for another day.) I'm talking about posting personal commentary on cultural or political issues or jokes about current events in the news that could wind up being seen as distasteful or offensive. You might think you're just being innocently humorous and cool, but these sort of posts usually backfire and will come full circle to haunt you in some way. Even if you didn't mean to offend, it'll happen. Use caution and basic wisdom when it comes to politics or controversial cultural issues, except when addressing them through a biblical lens in your sermon or a devotional video where it applies to the context.
#10. Posting while you're mad.
If you ask me, Facebook isn't just like ancient Egypt. With all due respect to George Takei, it's also sort of like the wild west — full of gunslingers, desperados, bandits, and lawlessness. If you're not careful, you can get sucked into the vortex of folks who use Facebook as a platform for shooting from hip, venting about whatever or whoever they want whenever they want. Don't be like these people. Never post when your emotions are out of control. Never post out of sheer anger, rage, or from a place of hurt or retaliation. Take a deep breath, chill out for a while, and spend some time in the Word. Your church, your coworkers, family, friends, and your reputation will all thank you. (Psalm 37:8; Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 15:18; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8)
In my humble opinion, the best way to avoid utterly obliterating your reputation on Facebook — or any social media platform — is to just employ some good old fashioned common sense. Don't draw a line and treat these platforms as little private worlds without rules and consequences. They can easily devastate your reality if you're not careful. Act the same way on social media as you would act in public, in church, or with your family.
What am I leaving out? Are there any other social media errors, gaffes, or indiscretions you would recommend pastors avoid? Do you have advice, tips, or suggestions from your own personal experience? Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail!
The best leaders aren't just excellent influencers. They're not only servants and empathizers. They're not just amazing delegators, team-builders, and humble motivators.
They're also pressure-managers. They know how to operate and survive within the stress bubbles and chaos landscapes that occur within any leadership capacity. This trait is true of leaders at all levels, but particularly within the sphere of church ministry where pressure at various tiers is often a normal part of the weekly routine. Whether you're on the pastoral staff, the media & communications team, in the worship band, or just a volunteer, you should just naturally expect to encounter pressures and stresses. Don't be surprised by them. In fact, take the opportunity to learn from them.
So, as a Communications Minister, what are some of the pressures you might face? What might you be facing even now? Let's look at a few from my own personal experience and see what we can learn:
#1. Implementing new technology while being mindful of senior leadership approval and budget constraints.
Any Comms Minister worth his or her salt knows that digital modernization and alternations are key components of improvement. They're necessary. Let's just be real: You won't always be able to record your Sunday morning sermon audio to cassette tapes and CDs, right? I mean, eventually that technology will go the way of the dinosaur. Eventually there will be a demand for something different. You know, like those scary .mp3 files and podcasts that all the hip kids are raving about these days. Too many churches are still living by the "Well, this is how we've always done it" mantra and they're dying a slow death because of it.
But, at the same time, a great Comms Minister doesn't rush the process. Tech upgrades and installments cost money. They require time, effort, work, and careful planning. Sometimes they require pitches and persuasions. And any Comms Minister, particularly those at small churches, should have enormous respect for the senior staff, the budget, and its priorities. If your church has holes in the roof, cracks in the entryway floor, poorly paved parking lots, or bad paint in the nursery, then the last thing you need to worry about right now is whether or not you have a 2020 Apple iMac running ProPresenter 7 in the sanctuary. Meet with your senior pastor and/or board of elders and/or financial pastor and have a discussion about future upgrade possibilities, but don't go in with guns blazing. People are far more likely to get onboard with your ideas if you recognize, honor, and heed the more immediate and pressing needs of the church first.
#2. Leading a Church Comms change while keeping your eyes peeled for big issues.
No change will be perfect. Sometimes we get so excited that we've been given a green light to make a change — even a seemingly small one — that we fail to realize we're strolling right into a minefield. Before we know it, the entire thing has blown up in our face and we've offended a whole group of people we never dreamed or imagined would be bothered by something we assumed to be so small. Always know what you're changing, how you're changing it, why you're changing it, and clearly communicate those reasons to your church. And if/when they disagree about the change (some inevitably will), lovingly stick to your convictions while listening to their disagreements.
#3. Knowing the line between excellent Communications Management and the greater sake of the Gospel.
As a Comms Minister, part of your job is to maintain visual quality work on your church's website and social media platforms. Many of us place excessive pressure on ourselves in this area. You know good design, marketing, and branding when you see it. And you do your best to uphold those standards. But every so often you're asked to promote an outside event or ministry that doesn't meet such standards. The designer in you — who puts 40-plus hours a week into the digital and social media channels — doesn't want this cluttering up your picturesque landscape.
On the other hand, you know that the Gospel is far more important. Discipleship is more critical. And if promoting this event or ministry will advance those causes, then you have a responsibility to make it happen. You won't always have the time or resources to redesign and enhance every bit of content for every event or ministry with which your church forms partnerships. Learn to be ok with that.
#4. Making decisions that will inevitably be misinterpreted.
This goes for leadership in general, but as a Comms Minister you're going to run into folks who disagree with some of your decisions. Some of them may be church members. Some may even be fellow staff members or volunteers who you see on a regular basis. They don't understand why you did what you did the way you did. Oftentimes it's because they don't have all the information. They don't have the insider details you have or they can't see the big picture that you can. And honestly, they may not need to see it.
Don't fall victim to belief that you must give a detailed explanation to every single person who disagrees with your decision. This simply isn't true. Be as lovingly clear in your communications as possible and then accept the truth that there will always be people who still misjudge, misread, or misconstrue. It's all part of being a leader.
#5. Setting a healthy on-screen and off-screen schedule for yourself.
As Comms Minsters, it's hard to pull away from our screens. Even when we're not at our desks, we're often updating social media channels from our tablets or smartphones. Unfortunately, this can have detrimental effects on our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Not to mention the negative effects it can, and often does, have on our relationships with friends and family. Always know when to break away and be done for the day. If it helps to set a daily routine or task management schedule for yourself, then do it. Even if it's just a deadline for putting down your gadgets and gizmos by a certain time every night. Set that goal and stick to it.
I'm sure I left something out. What pressures have you experienced as a Communications Minister? What have you found to be helpful as you navigate those pressures? Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail!
I'm Here For You!
With the rapid advances in modern technology, constant pressure on markets and sales, and the ever-increasing demand for stylish software updates and upgrades, it’s really no wonder that more Americans than ever own a smartphone and/or tablet. Having user-friendly portable tech within arms reach has become the norm these days. I figure it won’t be long before we’re all walking around like mindless cyborgs in some sort of Twilight Zone episode, which, in all honestly, actually sounds kind of cool.
Anyway, cyborgs or not, this constantly changes the landscape for those of us who work in the web design and digital media marketing world. It means that the vast majority of folks who want to know more about our business or church can whip out their device, perform a quick Google search, and land on our website or social media platforms within milliseconds (unless you live in Citronelle, Alabama, in which case you may be waiting a few hours for pages to load.) And it also means that most potential first-time guests in your town or city will take a long (or short) look at your online presence before they even remotely consider making an in-person visit to your physical campus. Oftentimes your website will be the first impression they receive. And you've only got about 50 milliseconds to make a good impression.
This is why, as Communications Ministers, we pound on the "Front Door" concept — the understanding that your website and social media platforms are the digital front doors to your church. They need to be as warm and welcoming as possible. Here are a few simple things you can do to ensure that happens:
#1. Have some sort of welcome message right on the homepage.
This might seem like an insultingly obvious first suggestion, but you'd be shocked at how many church websites fall short here. Even if it's just four or five sentences above or below your main photo, graphic, logo, slider, or whatever, there should at least be some sort of wording that lets me know you're happy I am there and that you're trying to connect with me. There's nothing worse than a church that's just a faceless logo, graphic, or building.
Now, if you want to take it a step further, you could shoot a welcome video as well. Video is far more personal and more engaging than text. It doesn't have to be complex or elaborate. A short welcome message from the pastor will get the job done. No one is asking you to fly drones over your building for amazing aerial shots. (Unless you want to. Then knock yourself out.) This video can be placed on your New Here page or a subpage called "A message from our pastor" or whatever fits within the context and theme of your particular site. But it should definitely be on a page where a seeker would look for it first.
#2. Oh yeah, speaking of that New Here page...
You should definitely have an entire page on your site dedicated to seekers. Seekers are people who want to know more about your church; people who are trying to decide if they want to visit you in-person. This page should have very friendly language, greetings, and it should answer a lot of basic questions:
#3. Use real photos over stock photos whenever and wherever possible.
I'll be blunt here: Visitors want to see the real you. Not the fake you. Remember, they're not just on the site to absorb information, they're also there to experience the site and gain an idea of what to expect. Adding some photos and/or videos of your congregation during worship, the inside of your building, small groups and casual campus interactions, etc. can all go a long way in helping a potential visitor feel comfortable about deciding whether they want to make an in-person appearance. Bottom line? If your site is overloaded with graphics and stock photos — and not enough real photos — people might assume that you're a stale, lifeless, and boring church.
#4. Make the staff page easy to find.
People want to connect with other people. They want to know more about them, especially before working up the courage to arrive on a Sunday morning. On your church website, this initial discovery moment can happen on the staff page. It's sort of like the "get to know you" before the "get to know you." But if your staff page is buried in a half a dozen subpages or complicated menus, the average seeker will be far less inclined to visit your church in-person. And who could blame them? They wouldn't be able to associate a human face with any aspect of your church.
Also, please make sure that staff members are smiling in their photos. I can't believe this is even an issue in 2021. No one wants to be greeted by the assistant pastor's prison mugshot. I mean, seriously. At least try to look like you're happy to be serving the Lord.
Another great thing to include is contact info for each individual — e-mail address, social media platforms, etc. This tells potential visitors: It really does matter to us that you're able to connect with us.
Time to reflect.
How's your website? I know these might seem like painfully obvious suggestions, but take some time to sit down and peruse your church's site. Put yourself in the shoes of a first-time guest; someone who knows little to nothing at all about your church. Hold your site up against these four basic standards. Do you feel like your site is friendly and welcoming? Do you need to enhance or change some wording somewhere? How's the homepage?
What stock photos or graphics could you live without? Which ones could easily be replaced with real photos?
How's your New Here page? Do you even have one? Is the language friendly? Does it answer lots of questions?
If you need to address these issues, then do it. Remember: your website will likely be the first impression potential guests have of your church. A bad impression can cause them to write you off in a heartbeat. That might not seem fair, but it's just reality these days. I promise that in the end your work will be worth the effort.
I'm here for you.
When I was in college earning my Communications degree in Broadcast Journalism and taking a myriad of marketing, advertising, digital media, and public relations courses, one thing was drilled into my brain on a regular basis: Well-designed [and well-written or well-presented] content would always win the audience. You see this in news media all the time, right? No matter how empty, vacuous, or — let's just be honest — awful the story itself actually is, it can always be dressed up with elaborate videography, fancy lighting, special graphics, embellished language, and so on. And sadly, most folks will still watch, read, or listen to this sort of dribble, er, I mean, content as long as it holds their attention.
As the old business and marketing sayings go: "Eye appeal is buy appeal" and "Content is king."
But these statements are no longer true in the sphere of Church Communications, particularly in a post-COVID world. For too many decades now, we've been operating under the assumption that high-quality and well-designed content will generate or result in higher attendance and church growth/expansion. And this might've been true for a few years in the 90's and early 2000's. Plenty of companies, organizations, conferences, live events, summits, megachurches, and media franchises exploded in those days by successfully generating phenomenal content.
But not lately. Something has shifted. Something has changed. Blame it on the pandemic. Blame it on Hollywood. Blame it on Silicon Valley. Whatever the culprit, we — particularly in the Church — have been on content overload for far too long. And we've had our fill.
Of course, we still need solid content in the Church. Don't misunderstand. We need insightful and biblically-sound sermons, engaging media, livestream technology, stirring music, excellent writing, etc. It's all still necessary. Don't worry. You're not out of a job. Not yet anyway.
But these elements, and even the quality of these elements, will not be what ultimately draws people to your physical location. Simply put, folks won't show up just because you're a superb orator or because your church has a killer Instagram. Why? Because plenty of other pastors (both locally and online) are gifted speakers and plenty of churches across the country boast eye-popping social media pages. They can get that anytime they want, anywhere they are, just by whipping out their smartphone or tablet. That might be hard to swallow, but it's just reality.
What will draw people to your church, and keep them there, are personal relationships and a family/community atmosphere where they have a sense of belonging. And that will only happen if you a) pray for God to bring it about and b) work to make it happen.
So where do you fit into this as a Communications Minister? For starters, you can use digital and social media to foster relationships. In fact, you should. But it's going to mean caring more about engagement and interaction than design and perfection. If you're anything like me, that can be hard to do, but it's often necessary. It's going to mean responding to comments, direct messages, and e-mails. It's going to mean encouraging online conversations to eventually become in-person conversations. It's going to mean following up with online prayer request submissions and checking in with those folks the next time you see them at church. This sends a clear message. It tells that person: You're not just a random avatar floating in the endless vacuum of social media cyberspace. We see you and we genuinely care about you.
Bottom line? Yes, content is still important and necessary. And we should always exhibit excellence in our work and do it for the glory of God. (Colossians 3:23) But now it's up to us as Communications Ministers to use good content for the purpose of cultivating relationships and healthy community within our churches. That is indeed both the challenge and the exciting opportunity as we move into 2021.
I'm sure I left something out. What're your thoughts on how content is trending within the sphere of Church Communications in a post-COVID world? Leave a comment or shoot me and e-mail!
Remember in grade school when the teacher warned you not to plagiarize another student's work and attempt to pass it off as your own? There was actually good reason for that. Besides the ever-present possibility of being dragged kicking and screaming into the principal's office, there were other potential consequences and ramifications. (Not that I would know.)
Where am I going with all of this? Well, the COVID pandemic — and resulting shutdown of many churches — left a lot of communication ministers scrambling for digital media content that they didn’t need before (or at least didn’t view as necessary or worth the effort.) Maybe you can empathize. In fact, countless small churches had to embrace the digital world in ways they never would have predicted, some for the first time. And in the midst of the pressure and chaos, it was probably easy to seek out those really convenient “free graphic” websites and look to the mega churches as examples of “what to do.”
Yes, churches were copying one another long before COVID was ever a household term. But I think the trend accelerated all the more during — and arguably even because of — the pandemic.
While there’s nothing wrong with making use of great graphic and video resources (I do it myself), please don’t copy mega church design trends, content, and styles simply for the sake of copying or because you believe it will result in the same level of success. Now, just to be clear: I have adopted and adapted a ton of learning from mega churches. I’ve even been inspired by sermon graphic designs I’ve seen at mega churches. But there’s a clear distinction between adapting something to your church’s existing strategy and duplicating something from someone else entirely.
I know that it can be tempting, but here are a few reasons to avoid this trap:
#1. You'll squelch your church's unique brand and voice or its chance at ever having one.
I’ve written and spoken extensively about branding as it applies to churches, so I won't belabor this point. But the truth is that if you copy another church's digital look, strategy, model, and content, you're just setting yourself up to become a clone, at least by appearance, and a phony one at that. People may think you're an Elevation or Hillsong-style church, only to show up and realize you're a 50-member or less congregation on a dirt country road with a traditional style service. Your media needs to match your church's nature, heart, and soul. It needs to reflect who you are.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to put some or most of the design work into the material yourself. For example, craft together your own combination of stock photography, custom fonts, and graphic design elements to create an awesome background template for your pastor's next sermon series. Don't rip off someone else's idea, or right click & save, or reproduce a mirror image. Add your own touch. Create something totally from scratch. Be original. Remember, people can smell a fake from a mile away. And nobody likes a fraud.
#2. You won't see the kind of digital and social media engagement that you desire.
Megachurch design styles rarely elicit likes, reactions, shares, or comments on social media among small or traditional style congregations. If you're trying to reach your people — and hopefully you are — then you need to design the sort of graphics and post the sort of images with which they will be inclined to engage and interact. This means knowing your audience. If you aren't intimately acquainted with your audience, you'll never be able to encourage them, inspire them, make them laugh, elicit a comment, prompt them to post prayer requests, or much of anything else.
For example, if your church is predominately senior saints [who are active on Facebook], they would probably love to respond to an engagement graphic like this:
However, they would be far less likely to engage with a post like this:
Right? Some of them have probably never even heard of the term "binge watching," or if they have, they may not understand what it actually means.
Know your audience and post the sort of designs, styles, and graphical combinations with which they'll be most likely to engage.
#3. It can make you lazy.
As I alluded to in the homework analogy, copying someone else's content just makes you plain lazy. You didn't have to work for the knowledge or work to develop the skill set. You didn't have to work to correlate your church's distinct brand and voice to your graphic design style.
Don't develop a habit of apathy when it comes to your role in Church Communications. You’re better than that.
#4. You could be fired or passed up for future job opportunities.
A longstanding habit of copying another church’s design style or content strategy could ultimately result in your being fired or the possibility of other churches not wanting to hire you. If you don’t possess any originality — or the ability to adapt successful digital design methodologies and communication strategies to your specific church — then your chances of landing that next Church Comms job will be far less likely. This isn’t meant to sound harsh, it’s just reality. And it’s also why you should work to develop your skills, even if it means reaching out to someone for some coaching.
#5. You'll create confusion about your church's model.
As a tech-savvy teen, college student, and 30-something, I've always had access to the Elevations, Hillsongs, NewSprings, and North Points of the world. But, as the Communications Minister for a small country church in south Alabama, I know that the digital design styles and strategies of those churches are not compatible with mine. Always study the models of other churches and become well acquainted with your own. Meet with your pastor for those discussions. You won't be able to adopt and adapt effective ideas and methodologies if you don't even understand your own church's model, purposes, visions, and goals.
There's a dozen more reasons you shouldn't just blindly copy megachurch design and digital media and expect it to work the same way within your small or midsize congregation. I've really only scratched the surface here.
What're your thoughts? How have you successfully adopted and adapted inspiration, practices, design styles, digital media methods, etc. from larger churches into your own? I'd love to hear from you. Drop a reply in the comment thread below or shoot me an e-mail!