Most people have a fairly decent idea of what Church Communications Directors, AVL technicians, social media managers, graphic designers, production assistants, videographers, and photographers do...on Sundays. You'd practically have to be blind to not see us flying around the room like decapitated chickens performing last minute checks, flipping on cameras, monitors, and soundboards, running audio cables, maneuvering lighting into position, frantically typing sermon teaser copy for the livestream, booting up presentation software, double and triple-checking song and sermon media, and gulping large amounts of Starbucks between every other task.
But, the reality is that few people have even the slightest grasp on the amount of time, effort, energy, and personal sacrifice that goes into this sacred, difficult, and exhausting calling. We don't see all of the behind-the-scenes work required to launch a new ministry, brand and market that new ministry, draft and design a sermon series template all week long, update and manage a website, implement and manage a months-long social media campaign, create endless, original and high-quality graphics on a regular basis, foster digital and social media engagement, or edit several hours of audio content or video footage down to the neat little packages that you enjoy in your Newsfeeds and podcasts throughout the week. The honest truth is this: Most of us don't have a clue what it takes to lead, operate, and maintain a Church Communications ministry. All we know is that it exists and it [hopefully] works the way that it should [especially on Sunday morning.]
After 20-plus years in the Church Comms space — particularly in the small church world — I know firsthand the challenges, demands, and unseen truths that accompany this often overlooked, misunderstood, and under-appreciated role.
Here's 10 things that your Church Communicator [probably] won't ever tell you:
#1. I spend my own personal money on a lot of digital media, software, and/or equipment.
There are countless things required to produce the various forms of media you see, hear, and enjoy from your church on Sundays and online during the week. One of those things is cash. Quality design programs like the Adobe and Affinity suites don't come cheap. High-end video editing software like Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro, and DaVinci Resolve aren't freebies. Laptops, tablets, and cameras cost an arm and a leg. And stunning graphics, visuals, and stock photography [which are needed on a daily basis] all add up over time. The average church doesn't have funds set aside for any of this. It's usually the last thing they would even think to work into the budget. Most Church Communicators are pulling out their own debit and credit cards to acquire these things, oftentimes without ever telling a soul. They're creating personal accounts with Lightstock, iStockPhoto, and a slew of others. They're buying their MacBook Pros, their software subscriptions, their iPads, and much more all on their own dime. They're making sacrifices and cutting things out of their own personal budget so that the Gospel can go forward through the use of digital and social media.
#2. I work while the rest of you are asleep.
Many Church Communicators are bi-vocational or have other personal and family responsibilities during the day. Quality graphic design takes a lot of time, drafting, and redrafting. This inevitably leads to absurd work hours (including posting social media content while on-the-go) and many long nights of graphic design, video editing, and much more. [It doesn't help when pastors send us their sermon notes on Friday or Saturday evening.] It's not uncommon for Church Comms folks to stay up until midnight or later toiling away on their latest projects. Yes, they really are sleep deprived zombies. Yes, they really do survive on coffee and other caffeinated beverages.
#3. I can't solve every technological problem or perform miracles.
If a piece of equipment dies midway through a service, there may be no reviving it. These things happen. It's called reality. Even the best technology isn't flawless 100 percent of the time. Remember that the next time your church's livestream goes down or the soundboard crashes for no reason at all. You may be complaining about missing the service because you were elsewhere that day, but your Church Communicator is enduring a barrage of criticism for failing to solve an unsolvable issue.
#4. I sometimes skip out on family time and turn down invites from friends.
Due to the nature of their work, Church Communicators practically live behind computer screens — at home, in the office, during the worship service, and all throughout the week. It's not uncommon for them to work straight through a lunch break, cancel plans with family, or reschedule with friends so that they can edit video, design graphics, send the weekly e-mail newsletter, and update social media. They take what they do seriously. They take pride in their work. They want to meet their deadlines. And, most importantly, they want the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the digital space and to "the uttermost ends of the earth."
#5. I battle perfectionism and grapple with being a workaholic.
The balance between work life and personal life is a hard one to find. It's different for everyone. Church Communicators are constantly thinking about how they can better serve and care for their congregation, their local community, and the world through the use of digital and social media. They never stop striving to improve their skills and abilities. They draft and redraft until designs are perfect. They edit and edit again. They possess a strong urge and desire to see the local church fulfill its mission and reach more people for the Kingdom. Yes, this is a high calling. Yes, these passions are virtuous. But when the emotional, physical, spiritual, and social worlds collide, it can wreak havoc. It's often difficult for Church Communicators to "turn off" creative-perfectionism-work-mode in order to focus on rest or family time.
#6. Being a Church Communicator can be lonely.
Earlier I mentioned that Church Communicators often miss out on family and/or friend time. Moreover, it can be overwhelmingly challenging for them to find anyone outside of the church world who can relate to or understand what they do. And sometimes it can be difficult to befriend anyone inside of the church itself. There's also the occasional difficulty associated with being both a Church Comms Director over a team, while still being a close friend to fellow staff members and other techies. In an ethical quandary, you may find your strong, assertive, and decisive leadership traits completely at odds with your empathetic, supportive, and compassionate tendencies. In other words, your role as a leader may battle and jockey against your position as a friend. Some Church Communicators tend to isolate themselves in these situations.
#7. I'd like to participate in prayer times or altar calls, but often can't.
In many live worship service settings, a Church Communicator cannot just up and abandon his or her post. This is particularly true for camera operators, videographers, sound and audio technicians, and livestream managers, but applies just as much to content creators, photographers, and engagement leaders as well. Many small and midsize churches are understaffed and/or completely volunteer-based, particularly the digital media and communications teams. When the pastor opens the altar for prayer, it's often the Church Communicator who cannot participate because he or she is manning a piece of important equipment that requires their full attention. In fact, it's not uncommon for social media managers and livestream operators to be praying with and for online viewers in realtime as they submit prayer requests in the digital space during these moments. To do this, they have to remain at their screens.
#8. Yes, believe it or not, sometimes I want to talk about subjects outside of ministry and technology.
In case you're unaware, Church Communicators are people too. Contrary to popular belief, they're not aliens from outer space. Yes, they are weird. But they have other interests. They have likes and dislikes and hobbies. They even have favorite foods, music, movies, and sports teams. (Shocking, I know.) While they may wrestle with working too much or being perfectionists, they also find great relief from stress in having conversations about their most recent fishing adventure, the new restaurant or coffee shop they just discovered, the TV drama they can't stop watching, or the captivating book that they haven't been able to put down.
#9. I miss Sunday School hour or small groups because I'm in pre-service prep.
Most Church Communicators arrive an hour or more before the main worship service starts in order to launch digital media, boot up presenter software, test microphones, check band instruments, mix audio levels during worship band warm-up, run cables, double and triple-check livestream platforms, and perform a half dozen other tasks that will ensure a smooth and error-free morning for everyone in attendance. When a mistake, error, or problem is discovered before the service, they scramble to resolve it to the best of their abilities. They arrive early enough to account for the possibility that on any given Sunday this could occur. (See #3 above: No piece of technology is perfect 100 percent of the time.)
#10. Sunday is not my only work day.
Those in the Church Comms ministry world have a saying. It goes like this: "Social media never sleeps." — Just like most other full-time staff positions, Church Communicators work every day of the week, whether from the office, from home, or the local coffee shop. They have an abundance of complex and demanding responsibilities. They juggle a wide assortment of tasks and projects. And they shoulder an immensely heavy, stressful, and often utterly exhausting workload. Graphics, videos, photos, sermon audio, regular social media posts, website updates, marketing materials, logo designs, ministry branding: These things don't magically appear on their own out of thin air. Someone has to spend exhaustive hours behind a screen creating, crafting, customizing, and designing them. Videographers and photographers will work on large projects for weeks or months at a time. In addition to all of this, a good Church Communicator will also spend Monday through Saturday prepping for the next Sunday (and don't forget Midweek service), while remaining in regular contact with pastors and fellow staff members. Last minute digital media design and implementation is the stuff of nightmares and they avoid this as often as humanly possible.
If there's one thing you can take from this list, it's this: Church Communicators are not perfect people. They're just as broken as the rest of us. But they're called by God to use their gifts, talents, and abilities to lead and minister to other broken people; to show the love and grace of Jesus to their church, community, and the world; and to trumpet the Gospel forth through every visual and auditory medium possible. This is the passion and the calling that keeps them going during those long nights and even in the midst of criticisms.
And remember: they're doing the very best they know how.
Extra events. Additional small groups. Logo requests. Late night band rehearsals. Last minute digital media changes. More screen time. Longer hours. Increased social media engagement. Technology upgrades. Plans for a second campus.
At first glance, most of these seem like positives for a church of any size. Others may just seem a little annoying. But, in the small church world, they can be — and often are — the driving force behind overwhelming burnout among tech and communications staff and volunteers.
WHAT THE HECK IS BURNOUT?
No, guys, we're not talking about what you and your college buddies used to do with your Mustangs and Camaros in the abandoned supermarket parking lots late at night when you should've been studying.
Merriam-Webster defines "burnout" as: "[noun] exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation as a result of prolonged stress or frustration; [verb] to cause to fail, wear out, or become exhausted especially from overwork or overuse."
As a lifelong P.K. (that's pastor's kid for the uninitiated), I've seen ministry burnout happen in some very up-close-and-personal scenarios. I've battled it myself. Along with the adjectives in the aforementioned definition, I would also toss in spiritual exhaustion. But we'll get to that in a minute.
When it comes to the proper execution of the average Sunday morning service experience at any church (small ones in particular), there may be no other role — excluding that of the senior pastor — which faces the probability of burnout more than the communications director. Every week this unsung hero gets out of bed to not only accept Mission: Impossible, but also to ensure absolute perfection and the least amount of casualties and glitches along the way. This is hard enough on its own without adding the stresses of unattainable expectations, dwindling tech team volunteers (or none at all), leadership misconceptions about their role, underfunded resource budgets, undervalued abilities, unrecognized talents, and the fact that we probably won't even be recognized at all unless something explodes. Frankly, Ethan Hunt and his IMF team of super spies ain't got nothin' on the average small church techie.
Of course, these pressures may not be a reality for every church comms director. But for many, they are more than just reality. They are the very pulse of what we shoulder day in and day out. And it all culminates in those few Sunday morning hours when all of your work and effort comes down to the wire and everything is on the line. It's enough to tempt even the best of us to throw a MacBook out the window and board a one-way flight to Fiji.
Now, let's go back to that spiritual aspect I mentioned a second ago. We throw around the phrase "spiritual warfare" all the time. Consider this: What if Satan — Public Enemy #1 for believers — isn't trying to destroy your ministry by hurtling temptation grenades into your life? That would be pointless, right? What if he's not firing the rocket launchers of financial anxiety, pride, idolatry, bitterness, addiction, or pornography? Kid's play. What if he has pulled out the big guns? What if his ultimate endgame is to actually see you doing so much church ministry — in so many venues, juggling so many things simultaneously, more than any one human being was meant to accomplish — that you eventually become so overworked, so utterly and overwhelmingly exhausted, despising everything about ministry life itself, and just quit altogether? This is the weapon of burnout, my friends. And it is one of the most deadly and inconspicuous weapons in our Enemy's arsenal. It will sneak up on you like a United States sniper and before you can blink, you're down for the count. It happens all the time.
HOW DO I FIGHT IT?
I'm so glad you asked. Here's some of what I strongly recommend for church comms burnout — whether you're full-time, part-time, or volunteer:
#1. Talk to your Leadership.
In the small church world, this is most likely going to be your senior pastor. If you're the Comms Director, I'm betting you're a one-man or one-woman show. Some of you might have a team of steady, committed volunteers. Others may have the "I'll be there when I can" team members. Still, others may be in the Twilight Zone of recruitment and training, floating aimlessly while trying to figure out how to make it all work. But if you're the communications leader, then the ranking leader above you is going to be the senior pastor. If you already have a good relationship with your pastor, this won't be difficult. Schedule a time to meet with him — preferably in a low-stress, casual environment. Grab coffee or lunch together and tell him what you're up against physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. Be honest, authentic, and transparent about your exhaustion. Let him know that you need some time to rest, regroup, recuperate, and refresh. It will benefit you and it will benefit the church. You are never able to minister to your fullest and most optimal potential when you are in burnout. And if the church has to do without your talents, abilities, and skills for the length of time that you are gone, then so be it. Your physical, mental, and spiritual health is far more important.
#2. Decrease your screen time dramatically.
And yes, this includes your tablet and smartphone too. Those of us in church comms ministry spend an exorbitant amount of time on our gadgets every single day. EVERY. SINGLE. FREAKING. DAY. I know what you're thinking: "Well, duh, Josh." But stick with me. From iMacs, MacBooks, and iPads to iPhones, PCs, and Androids, we're on some sort of device almost every hour of the day. Unless we're sleeping, we are eating, living, and breathing church comms. As the saying goes: "Social media never sleeps." This is a 24/7 ministry. (Especially when we have to delete spam comments at three o'clock in the morning.) And it's worth noting that we're not just managing digital and social media content, designing graphics, handling e-mails, and sending newsletters from our home or office. Most of us are mobile as well. We're also doing it on-the-go from our tablets and smartphones in the middle of catching lunch with a friend, picking our kids up from soccer practice, or even while we're waiting on the doctor to come back into the room with our prescription (True story, bro.)
This abundance of prolonged screen time is obviously bad for our mental, emotional, and physical health. There's plenty of settled science out there on that. But, to make matters worse, many church comms directors allow screen time to take precedence over personal Word and prayer time, which can be detrimental to spiritual health. Even worse, we're experts at making excuses about it. We'll convince ourselves that we're doing it all for Jesus so everything is all good. If you're in this boat, I would encourage you to step away from the screens and move closer toward Christ. Spend more time in prayer and in the Word. Don't go meet a friend for a Bible study and coffee and tell yourself that's enough. Find time for just you and Jesus. No one else. And when Mr. Apple and Mr. Android buzz with notifications, tell them that they can wait.
#3. Take a mental health day (or week or month.)
Take advantage of the off-time that your pastor agrees to give you when you ask (see #1). That might be one weekend. It might be a full week. Maybe you're in a stable staff environment where you can take a month off, grab your family for a roadtrip, and never be missed. But periodically throughout the year, you should be able to take random and sporadic mental health days when needed. These should be days when you can spend time with your family, engage in a personal hobby, go see a movie, read a book, try that new restaurant in town, or just take that ever elusive nap. Nothing complicated. And certainly nothing ministry or church comms-related. In short: Give your brain a break. I personally recommend a "day of rest" somewhere during your week. Monday is a good day for this, since Sunday is our triathlon of responsibilities.
#4. Remind yourself of your calling.
For those times when breaks and mental health days are not possible — and burnout looms overheard like a menacing thunderstorm — recall to your heart and mind the original vision and purpose to which you were called by Jesus into this ministry. You are in church comms for a reason. You are designing, creating, sharing, posting, and distributing content with the sole purpose of sharing the Gospel and the hope of salvation in a digital realm that is overflowing with lost, broken, lonely, and hurting people. You're editing video, audio, and creating sermon graphic templates for eternal Kingdom work. Your visual content that shows up on the screens every week connects people to the message in a deeper and more emotional way, something that previous generations never had. And your church has an opportunity to be one of the small, flickering lights in the vast darkness of social media and the Internet. Embracing your vision and purpose with passion, clarity, and focus will help to carry you through those hectic seasons of chaos and stress. Remember: Just by posting that Bible verse graphic or uploading that sermon audio file or designing that last minute sermon template, you could play a small role in someone's salvation. And that makes every minute of your job — even the excruciating and frustrating ones — worth it.
#5. Call in the calvary...er, I mean, train the calvary.
You can't be the Lone Ranger of small church comms. God never intended for you to be the Superman or Wonder Woman poster child for this ministry niche. Get rid of your cape. Ditch the spandex. Knock it off. A healthy and strong leader is always wise enough and humble enough to know when it's time to bring in back-up. More than that, a good leader should be training back-up and volunteers along the way.
Things don't have to fall apart when you leave to go on break. Your church comms disciples should be more than able to man the fort in your absence. In the small church space, this will mean replicating yourself. Yes, duplicating yourself. Training other people to do what you do. Not necessarily with the same level of perfection or obsessive attention to detail that you might possess. But, at least training them to get the basics done. I live and work in the small church comms space every day and believe me when I tell you that this can be done. It may take a little time to find and build your team. But even if it's just a couple sound techs, a couple IT guys who double as livestream operators, and a volunteer willing to tackle a few social media tasks, you're golden. Let God handle the rest.
Everyone serving in ministry — especially those serving in a full-time position — will endure seasons of hectic chaos, stress, pressure, and busyness. It comes with the territory. Ironically, we should be expectant of these times because it means our church is healthy, active, and alive in the local community. It means we are being the hands and feet of Jesus. Busyness and work are not always bad things in and of themselves. And just because we get busy doesn't mean we have to succumb to exhaustion. And just because there are high standards, long hours, and intense deadlines, it doesn't mean we have to be paralyzed by them.
Call in your calvary. Train your calvary. Have coffee and lunch with people from your calvary. Stay focused on your divine calling, stay close to your leadership, stay physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy. Watch God work wonders as you play a small part in this amazing thing called ministry.
If you're a living, breathing human being with a heartbeat, a pulse, and working set of lungs and are reading this post right now, I would wager that you — or someone you know — are active on social media. I mean, it's 2023. At any given time, there are almost 5 billion people buzzing around on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and the like. Even the senior citizen demographic continues to overwhelmingly invade and infiltrate, er grow, on Facebook (11.3 million users aged 65 and above.) I remember a time when most "old people" scoffed at the notion of scrolling mindlessly through a Newsfeed full of random content. Now, you have to shout grandma's name across the room three times because she's distracted by the comment that she's leaving on the photo of her high school bestie who she hasn't seen in 100 years.
Social media has evolved a lot over the last decade or so (groups, events, ads, etc.), and it's clear that it's quickly become one of the most powerful tools for the Local Church to utilize in staying connected to its community and taking the Gospel to that community. But, like any good tool, it has to be used correctly. Unfortunately, most churches create their social media platform(s), fill out a little info, and then just let the platforms float in the vastness of cyberspace.
This isn't exactly the most effective strategy. It's sort of like having a really expensive tool hanging inside your garage, but never putting it to good use, even when it's needed. Why would you do that? Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram won't cost you a penny to use. And there's an entire world of people (literally) on each one. How can you possibly ignore that?
Whether you're a new church plant, an ancient religious dynasty, a modern megachurch with all the latest tech and toys, or a small rural church in the country just trying to figure things out, social media has a lot to offer your ministry efforts. With all of this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to throw together some tips, pointers, and suggestions on how to use it more effectively:
#1. Choose Your Platforms Wisely.
As many of you know, I primarily work within the small church communications and revitalization space. Because of this, I talk to a lot of small church pastors (and small church comms volunteers) who feel like their church should be on "all the cool and popular" social media sites. No. Stop it. Don't inflict pressure on yourself to be everywhere. Also, don't be intimidated by that megachurch in your town. Remember, they've got the time, money, resources, management oversight, administration ingenuity, and people resources to assemble, pay, and supervise an entire team of digital media content creators and social media managers throughout the week. Your church might just be lucky to pay the light bill every month. Don't overcomplicate or overthink this. Digitally speaking, you don't have to be everywhere at once and you sure as heck don't have to — or need to — compete with the megachurch around the corner. Instead, pick one platform (I recommend Facebook) and manage it with excellence. Do that and let God handle the rest.
There's a reason that they call it "social" media. It's built for conversations and connectivity. In fact, it's literally the entire point. So make sure that your church's Page or account responds to people who leave comments or send direct messages. Respond just as often as you post content. Conversations don't work well when only one person is doing all of the talking. It sort of defeats the purpose. Even worse, the other person might get the idea that you don't care or that they are not important enough to be heard. You would hate for this to be the case when it comes to your church. Always be sure to respond to your followers when they leave comments on Facebook and Instagram or when they reply to a tweet over on Twitter. I can't stress the importance of this, particularly when it might be someone who is considering coming to your church in-person for the first time. They may be testing the waters to see if any of your social media platforms will respond and show a level of care and concern.
On the flip side, it's also up to you as the Page administrator or account manager to create and foster engagement. This means posting content that causes people to want to leave comments and have conversations in the first place. It could literally be something as simple as a Facebook post like, "What was your favorite part of the sermon today?" Or even, "What was your favorite song this morning? Drop a comment below!" Utilize Facebook's background color feature (and preferably select a color that matches your logo) in order to catch people's attention in the Newsfeed. This isn't rocket science. It's actually common sense when you think about it.
#3. Have Fun. Be Funny.
I can practically hear the gasps echoing through the computer screens now. Whoever said Christianity had to be boring? I believe Jesus has a great sense of humor. He probably messed with the disciples all the time. And then there's God the Father. How can you create something like a platypus, a blob fish, or a proboscis monkey and not laugh about it or at least crack a smile? Use tasteful humor on your church's social media platforms and I promise you'll see engagement. Don't be afraid to post a good Bible joke every once in a while, a biblical meme, a clip from a Christian comedian, or a funny graphic that ties into your pastor's last sermon. Heck, you might even make fun of your pastor if the opportunity presents itself. Have fun, but don't go too crazy. Take what you do seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously. And if you get fired, you've never heard of me.
#4. Be Cool.
This is different. What I mean here is simply, "Don't be overly cheesy." As much as it's important to have fun, it's also important that your content, engagement responses, graphic design, etc. all still be professional and remain in keeping with the latest trends and standards. Become a student of church communications and digital and social media management and you will excel at what you do. And, even more important, people will notice and they will continue to return to your platforms and interact with the content that you post.
#5. Stop Using Insider Code Words. Seriously. Just Knock It Off.
Hi, we would like to invite you all to our Small-Home-Life-Transformation Group this weekend where, Lord-willing, Pastor Bob will feel led by the Holy Spirit to bring an anointed Word of Truth centered on carrying your cross through the resurrection power of the Holy One of Israel, Son of El Shaddai, while avoiding the scoffers and mockers of the Last Days who follow their own evil lusts and cast their pearls before swine. See you there!
This happens all the time and, in case you can't tell, it really grinds my gears. (Translation: It annoys me.) There are a whole lot of "church idioms" and "church culture" phrases. Sadly, we throw them around constantly, even on our social media platforms, without giving them a second thought. I can be just as guilty. But, we have to remember that these things are not used in everyday conversation for the average church-seeker, potential visitor, and especially the nonbeliever. It can be easy as Christians to use these words and phrases because we understand the context behind them. However, this won't be the case for much of your community. Utilize and implement language that is inclusive, friendly, casual, warm, welcoming, and easy to understand.
#6. Maintain Attractive and Inviting Pages and Profiles.
I say it all the time, but it's true: We're living in the most visual generation in history. Also, people are visual before they are verbal. If you want them to engage with your church's Facebook Page, Twitter profile, or Instagram, you need to post well-designed, clean, neat, and professional content. This means having someone on staff or on your volunteer team who has an eye for graphic design. Ideally, this person should be the one generating the visual content. If you're a small church and this seems out of reach for you, consider bringing in an outsider to do some training and coaching. (Hint: This page might help you out.)
#7. Tell Stories and Be Authentic.
Stories are some of the best forms of content that you can post to your church's social media platforms. Video content has shown to be the most engaging, but even quality photography combined with text can do the trick. There's a reason that ancient parables, urban legends, and mythological folklore never cease to die. As human beings, we love to tell stories. We love to hear them and to hang onto the really good ones. It's in our nature. Anyone with a recent smartphone and solid writing skills can tackle this for church social media. Examples include personal testimonies from church members, ministry spotlights, mission trip highlights, local community involvement, staff or volunteer team features, etc. The possibilities are almost endless here. Be creative.
#8. Incorporate Prayer.
Technically this is a part of engagement, but I would be remiss if I didn't give "Social Media Prayer" its own category. You would be shocked at the level of responses and interaction you'll see on your church's platforms if you simply post the following question: "How can we be praying for you today?" People will leave sincere prayer requests and then it's up to you, as the page or account administrator, to respond to at least the first few. I strongly suggest and recommend that you take five or ten minutes and literally type out a prayer that is specific to each person's need or request. If all goes well, before you know it, you'll see people jumping into the the threads and praying for one another as well. You're literally ministering to and encouraging your church through and on social media. It's an incredible thing to behold and to be a part of when it happens.
The question today is not whether your church should be on social media. That's a no-brainer. The question is how well you will choose to manage it and how effective your platform(s) will be on a daily basis. Set goals, drive hard toward engagement, ministry, encouragement, and outreach, and Gospel-centeredness.
Do you have any church social media suggestions, tips, or strategies you would like to share? I've really only scratched the surface with these eight tips. We could easily go on all day. I'd love to hear from you! Drop a comment below!
About a month or so ago, I decided to sell one of my acoustic guitars. I won't go into the personal details of why, but suffice to say there were some memories associated with it that I no longer wanted to keep around. Honestly, I hadn't picked it up in ages. I love my two Yamaha grand concert, trans-acoustic guitars — one of which was a very meaningful gift from my parents. I lead worship twice a week at my church and occasionally at other local venues, rehabs, and ministries. Then there's the times I'm playing them at home, learning a song, practicing or whatnot. So you can imagine that my instruments get a fair and decent amount of use.
But this guitar that I sold was a Taylor. If you're a guitarist, then you know that letting go of a Taylor is sort of like selling your BMW, Rolls-Royce or Aston Martin. You don't really do it unless you have a darn good reason. To make a long story short: I was able to successfully sell it, got a crazy good price for it, but was left feeling very empty and nostalgic. Not because I wanted to return to some part of my young life or chase old memories, but because I knew how much I was going to miss the quality, craftsmanship, beauty, elegance, and amazing playing action of a Taylor guitar. So what did I do? You guessed it. I took the shockingly good money I made off of my old Taylor, spent time doing lots of research, making phone calls, asking questions, and bought a brand new, completely different make and model Taylor. It's made of different wood (dark Hawaiian Koa); it boasts Taylor's new and improved Expression System 2 electronics; it has a different gloss, finish, and a shaded edgeburst; it has a unique Spring Vine fingerboard inlay; even the bridge nut, saddle, and truss rod are completely different than my previous model. It's different in virtually every way. But, guess what? It's a Taylor guitar and it's uniquely mine this time.
How silly is all of this though? What happened inside of me emotionally and mentally? Are Taylor Guitars really the kings of the acoustic guitar world? Perhaps. I could easily make that argument based on an infinite number of factors. (The same goes for Apple products.) I could spend all day talking to you about their superior tonewoods, physical elegance, trademark electronics, and how they boast the most playable neck in the industry. And then there's the unparalleled photography and videography in their print and digital marketing, including their famous Wood & Steel magazine.
But, never mind about that. Here's what happened to me: I was clearly and deeply affected by Taylor's brand. My dad is a 62-year-old lead pastor and often reminds me that when he hears the word "brand," he just thinks of cows, cattle, and branding irons. Maybe you do too. Things have changed a little bit since the 1800s though. Branding is no longer limited to some sort of identifying logo, insignia, or trademark. It's not limited to your marketing or your catchy slogans. And — in this particular context — it has udderly nothing to do with horned bovines. (See what I did there?)
As the son of a pastor, I get that you might not be keen on this whole branding notion. It probably sounds like corporate business lingo and, in your mind, that's a whole separate world. Most pastors tend to get a little squirmy when you mention "marketing" and "church" in the same sentence or conversation. But whether you like it or not, your church already has a brand. You may not realize you have one. You may not refer to it as a "brand." But you do have one. And yes, even if you don't have a logo, you still have a brand. Your brand is simply that unique characteristic that makes you, you. It's that defining element that people in your community point to or remember about your church. It's the thing that first-time visitors remember when they leave.
Every church has one. You might be known as "that church with the giant cross." Maybe you're "that little brown church in the cornfield." Or perhaps it's something deeper like "the church that always feeds the local homeless on Sunday afternoons." You could be "the really friendly church where everyone is loved like family."
If you're a pastor/church leader who is regularly in tune with the heartbeat of your people, then odds are you know your church's exact brand. You probably just didn't ever think of it as "a brand." But the neat thing is this: You and your church have the power to influence and effect your brand in meaningful ways. [Or in detrimental ways if you're not careful.] You have the opportunity to utilize your brand in the local community.
Many of the churches I work with through revitalization are either in the process of building their brand completely from scratch, restoring a brand that fell from grace decades ago, or discovering the brand they've had all along. For any of these to work — and for it to affect this current generation in purposeful, significant, and substantial ways — you're going to have to tell your story. The truth is that your church, even if it is battling brokenness and pain, has a story to tell the world. And everyone loves a good story — millennials in particular. (Ever wonder why movies like Top Gun: Maverick are insanely successful?) On a side note: Remember that millennials have been oversaturated by the Internet and social media and are considered to be the most media-exposed generation in society. Because of this, they are often extremely difficult to impress, inspire, or influence. It makes sense, really. They have literally seen everything under the sun. If you forego originality and merely copy someone else's idea, they will smell your phoniness a mile away. They crave authenticity and a story that has a solid beginning, middle, and end — and preferably a happy ending.
If your church is thought of as "that place where former addicts find hope and healing," then that's a story that deserves to be told to your entire city. There's literally no reason to keep that brand a secret. Don't fall into the trap of thinking it's arrogant, cocky, or pompous for a church to brag. After all, you aren't bragging on yourself. You're bragging on God. Shout that sort of branding from the rooftops. Grab a megaphone and scream it from the hilltops.
Churches who want to reach and impact this current generation will be enthusiastic and passionate about how God chooses to use them.
These churches will become master storytellers. They will use digital and social media.
Our culture doesn't want another cheesy, stale, or fake marketing campaign. It doesn't want another boring story. It wants something genuine, real, and full of triumphant purpose.
The Local Church has exactly that. The Local Church has the Gospel — the greatest story in all of human history. Share it and your personal story with your community and they will want to be involved.
After all, it matters for the sake of Eternity.
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.