In case you haven’t noticed, 2020 has been a rather, well, freaking insane year. Between political upheaval, riots in the streets, something called COVID-19, increased racial and religious tension, Australian bush fires, earthquakes in Turkey, locust swarms in India, the sudden death of Kobe & Gigi Bryant, the postponement of the Olympics, pepperoni shortages, and those pesky murder hornet rumors, I’m thinking Christ’s return is probably happening any day now. (Read your Bible. It might be tomorrow.) Oh and, by the way, we’re only in August.
But, don’t worry. I’m not going to launch into a sermon. That’s my dad’s domain. I only point these cultural things out to say that church leaders — including communicators — have been faced with a whole new set of challenges, many of which we’ve never encountered. And frankly, it’s left a lot of us wondering: Is what I do even important anymore? Does social media and all the marketing and branding that goes with it really matter right now in the midst of a national pandemic? Do people even care?
The answer to each of these questions, as far as I’m concerned, is unequivocally and overwhelmingly yes.
COVID-19 Proved Social Media Managers To Be Indispensable.
I get it. We’re not nurses, doctors, EMTs, policemen, firemen, or even elementary teachers (unless you’re bi-vocational, in which case I tip my hat to you, Superman.) But, generally speaking, we are not on the frontlines battling against killer viruses or falling into life-threatening situations. In fact, most of our friends and family members enjoy joking about how nice it must be to get paid to play around on Facebook and Instagram all day. Am I right?
I’ll be the first to agree that working full-time in the social media world can have its perks and even occasionally be fun. But it can also be, and often is, incredibly time-consuming, stressful, annoying, tedious, exhausting, and utterly maddening. Social media managers are much more than people who sit at their laptops sharing photos, commenting on threads, and laughing hysterically at stupid memes. We are copywriters, graphic designers, marketing strategists, digital strategists, brand developers, content creators, data analysts, demographic researchers, community gatekeepers and audience peacemakers. And, within the sphere of Church Communications, everything we do is meant to support the overall mission of the church, which hopefully includes reaching and ministering to the lost — even the lost on the Internet.
Now think back to March (I know, it was a nightmare): When your church had to shut down temporarily for COVID, where did the majority of your congregants flock for the sermon every week? Probably the church Facebook Page. Maybe you were even live-streaming a Sunday morning and evening service, a midweek service, and a Bible study or two in between. And if you’re the social media manager, you know that one of your major responsibilities is not only to ensure that the Livestream is up and functioning — working in tandem with your video production team — but to also respond to comments in the chat and engage with virtual viewers and visitors as often as possible. Why? Because they matter just as much as a person who walks into your church’s physical building. Moreover, good online engagement can result in an in-person visit.
Social Media Managers Are Responsible For First Impressions And Digital Ambiance.
About 1.73 billion people check Facebook every day and are considered to be daily active users. So the odds of a seeker running across your Page are pretty high, particularly at a time when many folks are itching to get plugged back into a local church. (Remember: people use Facebook as a search engine like Google.) Page managers know firsthand that they alone bear the burden of handling how the church will be perceived by the public via high-quality posts, photos, videos, graphics, etc. All of this digital content must reflect the real ambience of the church so that the correlation feels right when a visitor makes that transition from connecting with you online to showing up in person. Side note: Great church social media managers are keeping things positive, joyful, and hopeful on their platforms during these uncertain times.
Social Media Managers Are The “Digital Gatekeepers” of The Church.
This is one that I personally take very seriously. If you’re married to or live with a social media manager, then you probably know just how much time we spend on our devices. (Somewhere a wife is jabbing a husband in his ribcage.) But this is because — unlike other various forms of digital management — social media managers interact with their audience on a regular, usually daily, basis. It’s how we increase our audience size and our Page’s general public visibility. And it’s also just good ministry and communication methodology.
However, good church social media managers know that — beyond the marketing aspect — they also must faithfully protect the church’s digital territory. So when that disgruntled ex-member who despises the pastor fires off a profanity-laced comment on your latest live-stream video (not that this would ever happen, right?), you must immediately be on the receiving end of that notification, check it, delete it, and ban said user from the Page or at least hide the comment from public view and send the person a private message.
Obviously that’s an extreme example, but believe me, I could enthrall you with hours of stories from my own personal experience and those of fellow Church Comms leaders about the bizarre, silly, gross, and altogether ridiculous things that people post to church Facebook Pages. For some additional info on types of trolls and how to deal with them, check out this excellent blog post by my buddy and renowned Troll Slaying Extraordinaire Seth Muse: Types of Trolls and the Spells that Kill Them.
Culture Is Shaped And Influenced By Social Media.
This has definitely been the year for things to go viral, many of which have inspired some of the greatest memes ever to grace the Internet. Whether it was news stories, politics, tech humor, or silly commercials, people have paid attention as social media amplified these issues and topics to insane levels.
The same power of influence rests with church social media managers and their audience, which includes the church’s digital followers, the physical church family, and the surrounding local community as well. We’re called to influence those inside and outside of the Church for the sake of the Gospel and to encourage those in need of hope and help. That's ministry. That's being the hands and feet of Jesus in the digital sphere. And the need for this has never been greater as 2020 rolls on, leaving so much turmoil, chaos, anxiety, and unpredictability in its wake.
Church social media manager: You are indeed essential. What you do is important. Hang in there. And know that I’m rooting for you.
Long before the COVID crisis sent pastors and small group teachers into a frenzied scramble to master platforms like Zoom, GoToMeeting, or Google Hangouts, a whole lot of folks in the business world were already video conferencing on a daily basis. I personally know several individuals — including my little brother — who weren’t phased at all by the national shift towards these tools. Of course there were the seasoned techies like myself who had only ever utilized platforms like FaceTime or Skype and now found ourselves asking, “What black magic sorcery is this?”
Anyway, video conferencing is great. I serve on staff at a church that implemented Zoom and most folks found it useful, particularly during our brief COVID shutdown. My dad, the lead pastor, continues to use it regularly throughout the week to meet with local and non-local pastors and church leaders and to participate in prayer groups that include people who are spread across multiple cities and states. Our church has regathered for in-person fellowship, but Zoom remains valuable for a few of our small groups and for ministry-to-ministry communication in general.
I’m not ignorant though. Not everyone is like my little brother or my dad. One was already well-acquainted with the tech, and the other adapted quickly and stuck with it. Unfortunately, many pastors, elders, volunteers, and small group leaders need training on how to use video conferencing platforms as well as on proper digital meeting etiquette. But, rather than drone on endlessly about HOW to use Zoom, HangOuts or GoToMeeting (Google and YouTube are your best friends for tutorials), I thought I would simply pass along a few tidbits of advice from my own unique experiences and observations. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Please introduce everyone before you start.
There’s truly nothing more awkward than being in a meeting — real or virtual — where someone is a total stranger. If you were having the meeting in-person, and you knew that there were some folks who had never previously met, you would naturally extend the courtesy of introducing them before getting down to business. Do the same thing over your digital platform. It will make everyone feel comfortable and welcomed.
2. Be mindful of your personal attire and background view.
If you’re going to be video conferencing with your pastor — or even your small group — you probably shouldn’t be wearing your pajamas. Also, before you turn on your camera, look around your office or your room and see if it’s neat and free of distractions. You don’t want to be “that guy” everyone talks about afterwards. There should be little to no background noise and no sudden movements. Yes, this might mean you have to send the kids and pets out of the room.
3. If you're the leader, have an agenda.
What’s the point of this meeting? Why are we all here? What topics need to be covered and discussed and in what order? These are all questions you should have worked out long before everyone arrives on their cameras. Hopefully you would do the same thing if you were meeting in a physical conference room.
4. Look directly into the camera when speaking.
In order to best simulate eye contact with the individual(s) on the conference call, you will need to look straight into your device’s camera rather than at your own live playback video. Viewing yourself will give off an overall impression of distractedness because your eyes will be fixated on a random section of your screen. Not cool. Remember: as leader or facilitator of the meeting, you want everyone to feel engaged and included in the conversation. Eye contact is one of the best ways to make sure that happens. Or, in this case, the illusion of eye contact.
5. Don't eat anything during the meeting.
This should really go without saying, but apparently it must be said. It’s kind of disgusting to watch other people eat their food live on a webcam and it’s especially unpleasant to listen to them chew. (There are mute and video-off options for a reason, folks.) As a general rule, don’t do it. No one needs to see you scarfing down that Chalupa Supreme you grabbed from Taco Bell on the way home. If you’re starving and can’t wait, turn off your camera and mute your audio.
6. Do a test-run before the meeting.
Make sure your camera is functioning properly and that all of the meeting settings are to your liking. Zoom even allows you to take the meeting for a spin before going live with it. Familiarize yourself with all of the options at your disposal.
There’s a dozen other things I could rant and rave about, but I’ll cut it here for now and give you all a chance to drop some thoughts, tips, and suggestions into the comments! What have your experiences with video conferencing been like? What did I miss or leave out? Let me know and I may add them in a follow-up post. Thanks for reading.
The old adage ‘everybody loves a happy ending’ isn’t just a cliché phrase or a cheesy album by a British pop-rock band, it really is true. Human nature hasn’t changed as much as we might like to think. In fact, even more than that, people love a good story — the story that leads them to that happy ending. I was recently reminded of this as I watched Tom Hanks’ “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” for the first time and found myself emotionally overwhelmed by the tale of journalist Lloyd Vogel and his real-life encounter and subsequent friendship with Fred Rogers. Director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster did an outstanding job bringing viewers into the confrontation — er, I mean, interview — between Rogers and Vogel, carefully retelling every moment of the poignant and sentimental narrative, history, and background. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Hanks’ Oscar-worthy performance front-and-center either, but I digress.
Anyway, the art of storytelling has been around for centuries. Jesus Himself was a master storyteller in the form of parables. Only within the last several decades has America, specifically Hollywood, perfected it as a cinematic and digital art form in order to stir our thoughts and lead us into glorious escapism from our mundane and trivial lives. (COVID quarantine movie nights, anyone?)
The Church, however, needs storytellers just as much —if not more — than Hollywood needs them. Yes, even small churches. Stories are personal and when they’re properly and correctly told, they can communicate the truth, goodnesses, beauty, wonder, and splendor of God on levels that impact and influence people to their very core. They can provide a transparent view of the inside culture of your church in a way that causes people to take notice. As a Church Communications professional, it’s your job to use the art of storytelling to reach your church body and the surrounding community in a deeply intimate, specific, and special way.
So, when, where, and how does this all happen? What does it look like in a practical sense? Allow me to break it down and to start with a quick caveat:
Always remember that the subject of your story is JESUS. I can’t overemphasize this. Your church should be striving to continually and consistently tell the story of Jesus — His grace, redemption, and eternal promise of salvation — in and through everything that it posts, designs, markets, films, and/or produces. Regardless of how advanced your tech is or how fancy your media may be or not be, He has be in the spotlight. After all, if it doesn’t move people’s attention and hearts toward Christ, then what’s the point?
One of the best ways to communicate with your people is through your digital and social media platforms. (If you’re a small church struggling to understand, manage, and implement sites like Facebook and Instagram, you can see some of my previous posts or reach out to us at 6.14 Ministries for help.) The majority of your attendees and visitors will have access to web-based content and smartphone apps, which means you can place your unique stories into their hands quickly and conveniently. In doing so, you’ll increase connectivity and engagement with your congregation. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
1. Post photos and videos that tell meaningful stories.
We are living in the Golden Age of visual media and, when it comes to stories, people are more drawn to pictures and videos than words of text or lengthy paragraphs. At its core, the art of storytelling is nothing more than an attempt to form a significant and substantial connection with a human audience. If you want your stories to resonate, utilize photos and videos.
2. Use your website as a storytelling platform.
If I don’t feel or see a sense of connection, belonging, or engagement via the ministries on your website, there’s little chance I will visit your church. Your job as the Communications professional is to brand the site with graphics, videos, and/or photos — accompanied by text — in such a way that causes people to be drawn to your church and to want to learn more. The staff page is a great place to tell some unique stories through their bios and goes back to that transparency aspect I mentioned earlier.
God is telling a unique and powerful story in and through your church and it involves the people who are there every single week. They ARE the church. What are those stories? Which ones need to be told? Where and how do they need to be told? In a Facebook post? An Instagram video? An e-mail newsletter? A photo accompanied by an interview style write-up? A full production video to be shown on your multimedia screens during the morning worship service? These are all options to consider. Telling stories through your digital venues will allow your church to impact current attendees and to reach potential ones, while encouraging everyone and bringing the message of Jesus and the hope of the Gospel to each demographic. And that’s what ultimately matters.
There are several other digital storytelling methodologies for churches. What are you doing? What have you seen be successful? What did I miss or leave out? Sound off in the comments on this post and let me hear from you!
Before being called into full-time Church Communications ministry, I spent about 15 years working in the customer service industry for two major clothing companies. (Yes, that’s 15 Black Fridays and 15 Christmas seasons.) Oftentimes I was forced to endure — er, I mean, attend — mandatory meetings and training sessions designed to better enhance my skills as a retail employee. I’ll be honest: I utterly loathed these so-called meetings. I can’t tell you how often I thought to myself, “I’ve been doing this for over a decade. Why do I need to drag myself out of bed to attend a 7:00AM meeting on a Saturday morning?” Not even the free doughnuts and coffee made up for sitting through two hours of mind-numbing content, cheesy corporate videos, and monotonous lectures from managers who didn’t want to be there any more than I did.
But the truth is that even the most seasoned and experienced employee needs to be reminded of the basics from time-to-time while simultaneously remaining open to learning new and innovative ways of seeing and doing things. And one thing folks in the customer service biz are learning now more than ever is that people place an extremely high value on convenience. In fact, I would argue that, when it comes to businesses and restaurants, COVID-19 has caused people to value convenience more than community or relationships, at least for the foreseeable short-term future.
You don’t have to look much further than Chick-fil-A and Starbucks to see what I mean here. One caters more to convenience, one more to a community atmosphere. I’m a regular connoisseur of both, but sadly my local Starbucks hasn’t allowed customers to sit inside at tables (community) since the start of COVID. Sure, you can still walk in and place an order, but once you’ve received your beverage, you have to leave. No more coffeehouse atmosphere office sessions for me. Of course Chick-fil-A just opened up a third drive-thru line and kept moving those cars right on through. Why? Because they prioritize efficiency and convenience.
And so do church seekers and first time guests. They aren’t a part of your community fellowship yet.
With that in mind, here are a few habits churches need to ditch if they want to have any chance of seeing guests return for a second visit: