If you've ever met and/or worked with me in-person, then you know I'm incredibly passionate about the Local Church using digital and social media to spread the Gospel. It's probably my favorite thing to help pastors and church leaders implement and my favorite subject to speak about at summits and conferences. I wouldn't be surprised if I eventually wind up writing a book on the subject.
This week, I wanted to jot down a few tips, musings, and suggestions on church social media management, as well as some of the lessons I've learnt from my 20-plus years in this ministry niche.
#1. Keep your social media pages and profiles clean and professional.
First impressions are critical in Church Comms and when it comes to social media, an unprofessional, poorly designed, or cluttered page can be an instant turn-off for a potential visitor. This is especially true for the Gen Zers and millennials. (You may find this annoying, but that doesn't change the reality.) If there's one thing psychology has repeatedly told us about the human brain, it's that we make concrete decisions based on first impressions. These decisions are often difficult to change. Think about the time you resolved you would never return to that one restaurant or movie theatre because of the terrible experience you had. We've all been there.
Remember: Your church's social media presence communicates volumes about your church and, unlike your physical building, it's viewable and accessible by the entire world (and all before they ever decide to attend.)
To make an outstanding first impression, you need to have the right social media tools, design programs, strategies, posting methodologies, and a game plan for engagement. You need to have a professionally managed page with well-designed content and well-worded posts. People can tell when you're being lazy and just phoning it in. Don't do it.
#2. Highlight your volunteers.
Use video or photo mediums to shoutout your volunteers on your church's Facebook and Instagram pages. This is a great way to let your followers meet new faces or get to know longtime volunteers even better. It also adds an element of authenticity to your page (more on that later), something which is desperately needed within digital marketing these days, and particularly within the Local Church.
#3. Use recurring posts.
Did you know it's ok to post the same content more than once? In fact, it's a good thing. Your entire audience isn't online at the same time. They have different lives and their schedules will vary dramatically. Reposting important content will give them the chance to see it in the feed again later, especially with the way all of the crazy Facebook algorithms are working these days.
#4. Always engage. Always.
I mentioned earlier that I've been doing this Church Comms thing for quite a while now. There may be nothing that grinds my gears worse than a church page moderated by folks who never reply to comments or direct messages. The Local Church is called to be relational. Social media is exactly that: It's SOCIAL. Ask questions and respond to your people when they leave comments. Make them feel included in the online community.
Also, if we're going to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the digital sphere, we must reply to comments and messages, particularly from visitors and seekers. If we ignore them, they will move on.
#5. Don't compare yourself to or be intimidated by 'the competition.'
Although there are several basic rules of professionalism, neatness, and orderliness you should undoubtedly follow, you shouldn't become so immersed in this way of thinking that you start copying or mirroring successful churches. Maintain your own special digital identity on social media and be unique in your posts. You have no need to be better than or similar to another church on social media. You can always learn from them and adapt their successful formulas to your own strategies.
#6. Be Authentic.
This tip piggybacks off of number five. People are drawn to truth, credibility, and honesty. In a world full of lies, scandals, and cover-ups, we've grown to deeply appreciate people who are real, genuine, and authentic. Posting deeply personal testimonies and stories of spiritual victories to your page is a great way to maintain authenticity. (Everyone loves a great story.) You never want your church to be perceived as fake or full of goody-goodies.
#7. Utilize humor.
Far too many Christian social media pages and church pages exude a deeply theological or profound tone of voice. In other words, everything they write sounds super serious. There's nothing wrong with this for posts about Scripture or sermon content. But your page should be posting engagement posts as well and some of those should be lighthearted and fun. If you can make your audience laugh and smile, they will continue to return to your page and will be more inclined to share your content.
#8. Brevity is [usually] your friend.
In the world of social media, you have two seconds or less to capture someone's attention in the Newsfeed. They will typically not read a paragraph-long post, much less a multi-paragraph post. Just because it's called "Facebook" doesn't mean you need to write a book. Also, video content is more engaging and can stop the scroll. People love watching videos, especially short ones. If your pastor is posting daily devotional videos, be sure to share them every once in a while to the main church page. Keep things simple, short, and to the point.
#9. You can't and don't have to be everywhere at once on social media.
This is especially true for a lot of the small churches I have worked with where limited staff and lack of volunteers is an issue. If you're a lead, assistant, or worship pastor trying to juggle your regular responsibilities with managing the church's social media accounts, my guess is that you're feeling overwhelmed. The truth is that you don't need to feel the pressure to be everywhere and on every platform. Facebook is an excellent start and from there you can move on to Instagram and Twitter if/when you're able to handle it. It's far better to devote your time and attention to having a high-quality presence on one singular platform, rather than attempting to be everywhere at the same time and ultimately wind up accomplishing nothing in terms of digital ministry.
#10. Become a masterful storyteller.
I've discussed the importance of storytelling in a previous post and in a podcast episode of Rescuing Churches, so I won't belabor this point, but it really does matter. Storytelling is literally one of the most powerful and effective ways in which human beings communicate with one another. There's a reason that myths, folklore, legends, ancient fables, and centuries-old parables have always spread throughout the world over the course of global history and continue to resonate. As a broadcast journalism major in college, storytelling was a big part of my education. Even if you don't consider yourself to be strong in this area, I would challenge you to become a student of quality storytelling. Read books and blogs on the subject. Have coffee with people who excel at it. Then, strive to weave intriguing narratives through some of the posts on your church's social media platforms. Your content will resound more powerfully if a memorable story is attached.
Ok, I'm stopping here at 10 because, well, I have to be up early in the morning and there's almost an infinite number of tips and strategies for social media. What did I leave out? Are there some tips that have been helpful for you? Did you find my list to be beneficial? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below or shoot me an e-mail!
After the initial thrill of laboring in Church Comms ministry begins to fade, you might feel brutally punched in the gut by a handful of disconcerting realities. Don't get me wrong. Church Comms is still fun and, if it's your calling from God, it can be one of the most fulfilling things you choose to do with your life. Take it from me. I'm 36 and I've been in church tech since I was a nerdy high school sophomore. Fast forward to now and I've been the Comms Director for my church for over a decade and counting. And the last four years-plus as full-time Comms Director for 6.14 Ministries — a church revitalization 501(c)(3) nonprofit that my dad and I launched together here in south Alabama in 2018. I've been having a blast. (I'm still a nerd too.)
It just would've been nice if someone had given me the magic codebook on digital media ministry long before I found myself drowning in countless late-night (sometimes overnight) sermon graphic template redesigns.
But, since no such book actually exists (shocker, I know), allow me to use this post to reveal a few of the mysteries and unknowns. I'll be sure to wrap it all out with some thoughts on how to maintain your sanity and still have a blast in the process.
What No One Ever Tells You About Church Comms:
#1. It's often utterly exhausting.
I'm always tickled by the zealous newbies who come barreling headfirst into digital ministry thinking that as long as they write occasionally engaging content on Facebook, they're golden. I wish it were that simple. Good Church Comms Ministers will spend way more time personally replying to comments, direct messages, e-mails, prayer requests, etc. and will analyze and adjust things across multiple social media platforms as needed. They'll also scrutinize data in the dashboards and use it to better market the church in an effort to reach the local community and the world with the Gospel. It's a full-time, 24/7 job. The Internet and social media never sleep (which means you won't either.)
#2. Church Comms is a tough grind and graphic design is only a part of it.
For some, this might be earth-shattering news. Design is only part of the Church Communications process. Marketing, public relations, print material, digital and social media management, live event operations, personal contact/communication, conflict resolution, pastoral staff communication, audio/video/lighting, board room proposals and budget pitches, and much more are all part of this ministry niche. Also, you have to work with people from every walk of life imaginable, which keeps things interesting to say the least, especially if you're an introvert.
On a side note: Design won't always be effortless. What you envision for your pastor's sermon series theme may be completely different than what he has in mind. Be willing to go back to the drawing board as many times as it takes.
#3. Social media is fluid and things change without warning.
One of the more difficult and complex aspects of the social media landscape — particularly over the last two to five years — is that it is constantly shifting and changing. This is especially true for platforms like Instagram and Facebook, where the algorithms seemingly change on a dime. (Ever heard of the Metaverse?) As a Church Communicator working in social media management, you'll need to keep up with these developments. You can expect little things to change along the way — like page cover sizes and image resolution requirements — but algorithms are a whole different ball of wax.
#4. People can be rude, mean, and critical, even unintentionally.
You'll come to develop a thick skin working in Church Comms (and in ministry in general.) People will insult, change, modify, or even completely delete and remove things that you spent countless hours designing, planning, structuring, coordinating, and establishing. A lot of times this will happen by accident. Sometimes it will be on purpose. You can't always take it personal, even when it feels personal. Respond with Christlike love and kindness, even to those who complain about worship media font sizes being too small to read or the lighting in the sanctuary being too dark during the music. If you got into ministry looking for a pat on the back every week, then you might want to start searching for a new line of work. Just sayin.'
#5. Page likes and follows don't matter. Engagement, discipleship, and spiritual growth do.
One of the more prevalent fallacies I see amongst today's generation of Church Comms creatives is the assumption that digital fame equals more disciples. That's not always the case. In fact, it's rarely the case. You can have an incredibly entertaining, interactive, and visually stunning digital presence that attracts hoards of new followers and never see an ounce of spiritual growth, life transformation, or discipleship take place as a result. Spend less of your time and energy trying to build an impressive online appearance and more time being the hands and feet of Jesus in the digital sphere.
#6. You're not Superman/woman. You need a team.
Believe it or not, you need sleep and time to refuel like anyone else. You're not indestructible and you can't design, manage, post, write, and oversee everything yourself. Whether your Church Comms objectives are rudimentary and basic or impressive and complex, you'll need a team of people to help with everything that is required to meet the goals. Make sure that your team members feel comfortable asking questions and admitting when they're unsure of how to do something. The more you help each other and build off of one another's strengths, the better team you'll be.
#7. Even the best technology will fail.
I don't care if it's the latest, greatest Apple gizmo or gadget. I don't care how many knobs, lights, or channel controls it has. If it can shatter, explode, or burst into flames for no apparent reason and at the worst time possible, then it will. It's only a matter of when. These fun moments will force you and your team to think on your feet and maintain your cool while simultaneously solving the problem. Good luck.
#8. Theology is a part of your job.
It might be the natural impulse of many a Comms Director to have volunteers engage with and reply to visitors to the website and social media platforms. (Believe me, I'd love to do this myself.) But as a leader you have to remember that your digital audience is full of real people who have real-life situations. One thing that COVID taught us in particular is that it's more important than ever to designate someone who can pray for people online in real time, comfort them, answer their questions with theologically sound explanations, reference Scripture, and truly minister to them. (If that person has to be you, then so be it.) Working in Church Comms means that you will often be the voice of your church and there is an extremely large weight that comes with that position and the responsibility should not be taken lightly.
#9. Your ideas won't always sell.
Creatives occasionally have a tough time being told to go back to the drawing board. Whether it's lighting projects, audio production, graphic design, digital and social media management, or anything in-between, we retain a strong and deep sense of personal connection to our work. I've pitched many sermon graphic designs over the years that weren't even close to what the pastor was looking for. I have to be okay with returning to the drawing board each time. So do you. Keep the bigger picture in mind and remember that all of your work is for Christ, not men. (Colossians 3:23-24)
#10. Shortcuts are not your friend.
Not only are shortcuts in Church Comms a bad idea, they don't even really exist in the first place. Taking the easy way out on graphic design, digital and audio production, social media management, etc. will just cheapen the quality of your work and lead to oodles of problems and headaches for you, your team, and the church. There are no "hacks" in this ministry niche and to try to use or implement any just makes you look like a lazy hack yourself. Stay away from these, as tempting as they might seem.
How To Stay Sane, Have a Blast and Other Important Final Thoughts:
Church Comms is hard work. Period. So is ministry. The combination of technology and ministry is an interesting and completely different animal altogether. A few tips, thoughts, and advice from personal experience:
What do you wish someone would've told you about Church Comms early on? Is there a thought you want to share with your fellow techies and creatives? Drop a comment in the thread below or shoot me a direct message!