Alright, we need to have us a little chat. No, no, I'm not mad. I just think a little clarification and general housekeeping are in order. Let me explain. The more I spend time with church communicators, pastors, and many other small church leaders in general, the more I'm noticing a disturbing trend. Ok, so maybe it's just more annoying than it is disturbing. Either way, it's really not good and it should be addressed before it becomes a bigger issue, particularly since it prevents a lot of small churches from ministering to their communities to the fullest extent. Let's call it a matter of "digital definitions," shall we?
See, here's the deal, folks: A Facebook Page is not the same thing as a website. Let me say that one more time: A Facebook Page is NOT the same thing as a website.
Yes, Facebook itself is a website. (You know, facebook.com.) Simply put, it's a site on the web — one of about two billion in case you're counting. But, it's not just any website. It's a particular kind of website known as a social networking site (SNS). By definition, it's "an online platform that allows users to create a public profile and interact with other users." Furthermore, it's a business. Facebook is free for its users, but it has to make money somehow. META, the company that owns Facebook, primarily draws in revenue by selling advertising space on the various SNS platforms that it owns. META also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and a few other tech companies. This places META in the Big Tech top five, along with other giants like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. (All of whom will probably one day usher in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but that's a discussion for another time.)
Now, you might be wondering what the heck any of this has to do with anything. And you're really wondering what it has to do with you and your church. Well, the reality is that a lot of pastors, church leaders, and even comms volunteers — particularly those in the small church space — are operating under the mindset that having a Facebook Page is the exact same thing as having a website. Many of them do not even know that there is a difference between the two. Believe it or not, I've been to churches where I've asked, "So do you guys have a website?" and someone will reply, "Yeah! It's facebook.com/churchname."
I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but if your church is only on Facebook, then it does not have a website. It has a Page that exists within Facebook's platform and is therefore subject to the rules, definitions, and realities of that platform. The fact that you had to name a public company (Facebook) before saying, "backslash" and then giving me the name of your church, followed by .com, should have all been indicators that something was amiss. This is not a website where you have primary control over your content. This is a public profile on someone else's website and THAT WEBSITE happens to be Facebook. So, in the bigger picture, Facebook (or, really, META) has the right to exercise authority over your content. Here's an easier way to think of it: Your church is ON a website, but it doesn't HAVE a website.
With that established, let's talk about why you need your OWN website in addition to a Facebook Page and/or expanded social media presence.
#1. It's Affordable.
The number one hesitation and argument I hear — especially from small church leaders — is: "We don't have the money for a nice website." While it might be true that you don't have the budget or financial resources for a $1,000 website, I would be willing to bet that you could afford a Wordpress, Squarespace, or Wix site. The most popular plan over at Squarespace is their "Business" plan and it rings in at a whopping $23/month. (You can see all their plans and features here.) That includes everything from your free custom domain, SSL security, unlimited bandwidth, plenty of nice templates, mobile device optimization, 24/7 customer support, and more. And if we're being honest, your church probably spends more than that on monthly printing costs alone. Personally, you probably spend more than that in one family outing to Chick-fil-A. There's undoubtedly something you can cut out in order to invest in an affordable, professional website. And the benefits far exceed the cost. This website will become the face of your church to the local community (not to mention the world), your primary platform for discoverability and first impressions, and an indispensable tool for ministry, outreach, and evangelism. (Side note: I'm a big advocate of CloverSites and personally use their platform for my church and for 6.14 Ministries. I've also built and designed websites for other churches from this platform.)
#2. You're the boss of your site, content, and audience reach.
Facebook, like any other SNS, is run by CEOs, presidents, vice presidents, officers, staff members, committees, and a vast array of department heads. In this case, Mark Zuckerberg and his crew wear the pants. They make the decisions about the platform. They have board meetings and don't bother inviting me or you. They implement the algorithms that determine what people see in the Newsfeed and WHEN they see it. They control everything. For better or for worse, your church Page — which is technically classified as a business Page by Meta — and its audience reach are completely and utterly at the mercy of ole Zuck and his gang of techies as they occasionally change these algorithms. Not too long ago, Facebook shifted its Page algorithms in a way that made person-to-person engagement far more visible in the Newsfeed than brands, businesses, media outlets, etc. Churches took a hit when this happened. (It's why many churches are placing a higher focus and emphasis on their groups now in addition to their Page.)
With a website, you've paid for the space. You own the domain. You might even buy the site template. So even though you're going through a "company" like Wordpress, Squarespace, or Wix, you have 100% control over the content and the audience reach. There isn't going to be a middleman interfering with anything. If they were to mess with your stuff, they would lose your business, and they don't want that to happen.
#3. People find churches on the Internet. Period.
It's 2022. When John and Susie Q pick up their three kids and four cats and move to a new town because of John's job transfer, they don't grab the local Yellow Pages in an attempt to find a new church. They don't bake an apple pie for the next door neighbors and ask them where the best Baptist church is located. And they certainly don't pick up their rotary phone and ask for the operator (whose name is probably Sarah.) Those days have long since passed. John will whip out his iPhone or Android and Google "churches near me." Within milliseconds, he'll have a slew of options to choose from and — if these churches have set up their websites properly — he'll be able to use his Google Maps app to navigate to the church of his choosing. On a side note: A church website, particularly one that is SEO-friendly [Search Engine Optimization], is far more likely to be ranked higher in the Google results than a church Facebook Page. In other words, an SEO-friendly church website will be seen first and probably clicked on first. So while it's great to have a Facebook Page for your church — and you absolutely, 100-percent should have one — a website is still a must if you want to be seeker-friendly. After all, your website is where folks are going to get to know you before deciding whether or not to darken the doors of your physical building. It's where they're going to check out your beliefs, meet your staff, listen to the pastor's sermons, and take a look at the various ministries that you offer.
Social Media Purpose vs. Website Purpose
If you've read this far, then let me first of all applaud your attention span. Some of you might be thinking, "Ok, I get the technical difference between the two. I just don't see a point in having both. They basically do the same thing."
So before we leave this conversation, we need to further clarify and differentiate between the primary purpose of a Facebook Page and a website. One is for engagement, conversation, and community [Facebook]. The other is for discoverability and access to information [website]. Think of them like two different, but slightly similar tools with varying functions. Yes, your church Facebook Page should be informational. Yes, your church website should be engaging and community-oriented. But SNS sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are where your church will thrive in building, connecting to, and engaging/conversing with the local community in the digital sphere. (Which will then lead to in-person connections.) It's called social media for a reason. It's designed to cater to interactivity. Hence all of the comment threads, likes, reactions, GIFs, emojis, advertisements, videos, etc. And don't forget Facebook Groups, which is huge in terms of digital community. People hang out on social media around the clock, 24/7, 365 days a year.
Your website, even with its ability to receive and send direct messages, is not the most optimal platform for engagement. And people certainly aren't "hanging out" there and having regular conversations with one another. I realize that many small churches may be intimidated and overwhelmed by the idea of consistently managing one to three social media platforms on a daily basis, much less posting content to them. But if you're going to serve, help, and influence others, you need to be where they are. And the reality is that there's roughly 2.96 billion monthly active users on Facebook alone. That's a lot of folks. A little handful of them are in your community. And as a church — as The Local Church At Large — we simply can't ignore that.
In terms of the specifics on how to utilize Facebook vs. how to use your church website, here are some general thoughts and accompanying examples to help you get started:
There's no need to post every single one of your regular weekly small groups, Bible studies, or Sunday school classes to your Facebook Page on a recurring basis. Not only does it clutter up your Page, but it can be a little annoying for your followers. And certainly don't schedule these as weekly Facebook Events either. These things can go on the monthly calendar on your church website (which you should have.) The monthly view of your calendar allows longtime members and first-time seekers to get a bigger picture view of everything happening at the church. As far as the Events tab on your Facebook Page, let it be mostly reserved for special events that you plan to notify people of several weeks or months in advance and invite them to via the "Invite" feature. (Note: If it's a Facebook Event, it should naturally be on your website calendar as well.)
That summer women's conference? Facebook Event and website calendar.
Chili cook-off fundraiser for youth group? Facebook Event and website calendar.
Wednesday Midweek? Website calendar. Facebook post if you like. Not Facebook Event.
Men's Sunday school class? Website calendar.
Weekly college, youth, A.W.A.N.A., or kid's groups? Website calendar.
Random pizza party for youth? Facebook Event and website calendar.
Weekly Celebrate Recovery? Website calendar. Occasional Facebook Post if you like. Not Facebook Event.
Rule of thumb: If it's a weekly occurrence at your church that people expect to happen, then it probably doesn't need to be a Facebook Event. Create an Event when you want to get their attention both in the Newsfeed and by sending them a personalized invite to that Event. (Note: They'll need to be on your friends list for you to send an invite.) It's all about balance.
Normally, I don't recommend cluttering your website with an over abundance of photos and photo galleries. Put your Facebook Page's photo albums feature to good use so that you can keep everything neat, clean, categorized, and organized. Side note: Be sure to label your Facebook photo albums and add the correct dates.
Personal Contact Information
Believe it or not, I've worked with churches who were uploading .PDF versions of their member directory to their website. Um, this is a no-no. First of all, unless you've password-protected that specific page, you're giving everyone's personal contact information over to the entire world and, by default, opening yourself up to the possibility of future lawsuits. Bad idea. Secondly, no one really utilizes church directories all that much anymore. But, if your church does, then leave it as a print item only and an in-house item only. Don't put it on the World Wide Web for everyone to see and access or potentially hack.
If you're streaming live every Sunday and/or Wednesday to your Facebook Page, then you don't necessarily have to post the URL link to your website's sermon audio page every week as well. The majority of your Facebook followers are going to watch/listen to the Livestream. However, you can and should occasionally promote the fact that you have a sermon audio page, particularly if those sermon audio files are downloadable (and they should be) and if your sermon audio is available across multiple podcasting apps (and it should be.) Your Facebook followers need to be aware that there are several ways to watch, listen to, and download the pastor's sermon content.
I believe one of the best things about social media for the Local Church At Large is found in its ability to help us better tell the personal stories of God's redemptive grace, love, and mercy. Sure, you can do this on your website via videos and your pastor's sermon audio. And that's great! But, again, people aren't hanging out on your website to the degree that they're hanging out on Facebook. Moreover, they can't interact with the content in the same way that they can on Facebook. So post video and/or photo content to your Facebook Page and tell stories of how God is working in and through your church and in the local community as a whole. When people leave comments, reply back to those comments. This goes a long way in not only encouraging your followers and spreading the hope of the Gospel, but also boosts audience reach, increases engagement, creates conversation, sparks additional comments, etc. And that's the whole point.
Specific example: Check out any of the Elevator Testimony photos over on my church's Facebook Page and you'll see what I mean. Here's a direct link to our Page: facebook.com/northsidemobile. Our followers enjoy commenting on, reacting to, and sharing these stories and photos. Your church may have different types of stories. But, no matter what they are, I'm sure they're worth sharing so that your church can talk about them and engage with them, your local community can see them, and the world can know about them.
Facebook is here to stay, my friends. So are websites. Know the differences and utilize them accordingly. As ministers of the Gospel, small church pastors, church communicators, and missionaries to the ends of the earth, let's make good use of our digital resources, tools, and platforms.