A lot of churches utilize the digital and social media landscape to keep their followers informed and updated. You know what I'm talking about: upcoming events, volunteer requests, prayer needs, and the like. And let's be sure to give a shoutout to all the churches who turn their Facebook pages into the digital lost & found bins of the Internet. Sorry, but if grandma hasn't found the family heirloom crockpot that she lost back at the 1963 church homecoming, then it probably ain't gonna happen.
While there's certainly nothing wrong with the megaphone approach to social media, I tend to caution this strategy for churches and even for faith-based nonprofit organizations. There's a much better use of our digital space. Ponder the following with me: How could we better represent Christ in this arena? If Jesus were on social media, how would He react and respond to things? Is it really as simple as What would Jesus do?
These are interesting questions. I'm sure we could sit here all day theorizing. And the idea of Jesus Himself being on social media is certainly an interesting, if not entertaining, one. (Where are all my Church Comms buddies?) Regardless, the Local Church — His Bride — is there now. I believe we have a responsibility to, at the very least, encourage people in the midst of a world that is often plagued by bad news, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, chaos, fear, worry, doubt, and disillusionment.
Here are some creative and practical ways you can do that on your church's social media platforms:
#1. Design and post encouraging Scripture images.
Remember that people are visual before they are verbal. They retain information better when they can tie it to a visual image. And not just any image — a well-designed image that is appealing to the eye. Ever wonder why those Bible verse social media graphics from the YouVersion Bible app are shared at viral levels? It's due in large part to two things: 1) the inspirational encouragement and power of the Word of God and 2) the well-designed nature of the graphic itself. People want to share those images with their friends and family and then they want to pass the encouragement onto the next person.
Pro tip: If you're not designing your own original graphics, there are plenty of free and inexpensive resources for churches on a budget.
#2. Elevator Testimony photos and/or videos.
These are so easy and, if your digital audience is anything like the ones I've worked with, they will eat them up. Find someone in your church who will volunteer to give you an Elevator Testimony. Take a hi-resolution photo of that person and make sure they're smiling really big. You can also shoot a short video. If you're unfamiliar with an Elevator Testimony, here's how it's formatted:
Before I met Jesus I was [adjective 1] [adjective 2] [adjective 3].
I met Jesus in [One sentence description of how and when they came to Christ.]
Now I am [adjective 1] [adjective 2] [adjective 3].
Here's the most recent one I posted for Northside Bible Church in Mobile, AL where I serve as Communications Director:
Your church may not have those kind of testimonies, or it might, but either way, everyone has a story to tell. And stories are powerful, especially the encouraging ones. Make use of them on your social media platforms. I guarantee you'll get some engagement and responses.
#3. Celebrate success stories in your church when they happen.
This could be anything from a baptism, a salvation, or even a drug/alcohol-free anniversary. It might even be a Christian businessman or woman with an incredible story to tell. It could be that prodigal who finally left his pig pen to come home. Let those moments shine. Take photos. Shoot video. Post them to your social platforms and let your followers in the digital sphere see what God is doing. He gets the glory every time.
#4. Post encouraging quotes from the sermon throughout the week.
This is especially great for your church's Twitter feed if you have one, but it works just as well for Facebook too. Extract four or five encouraging and uplifting quotes (keep them short) from your pastor's latest sermon. Space them out over a few days and post one per day in-between your other regular content (verses, testimonies, graphics, photos, events, etc.) Your followers will enjoy sharing and retweeting these. They're sort of like little "encouragement snacks" that you can scatter across the trail as they circle back around to the following Sunday. You don't have to design graphics to make these quotes stand out, especially if they're short. Just type them right out into the status box and post it.
#5. Post links to encouraging content, material, and resources.
Did one of your small group leaders reference a devotional or a book? Did your pastor happen to mention a YouVersion reading plan on grace somewhere in the middle of his current series on grace? These links can be encouraging, beneficial, and helpful for your audience. They should ring out in your ears like little sirens when you hear them during the Sunday message. Make a note and be sure to post them to your church's social media platform(s) that day. Not only will you likely provide your pastor the time and work of posting that content to his personal social media accounts, you'll be sharing the content with a wider audience since your page is public and therefore accessible by the entire world.
What do you think?
Social media — and the digital sphere as a whole — is full of incredible ways that we can encourage, inspire, comfort, and love people as the Local Church. I believe it's what we're called to do there as we reach them with the hope of the Gospel. If social media is a cultural battlefield — as some have called it — then may encouragement, grace, and the love of Jesus be our battlecries.
Alright. Before I even start writing the meat of this post, let's just pause for a moment to face the cold, hard truth: We all have a tendency to overcomplicate things from time to time. I know I do. Whether it's in our ministry lives, our personal lives, our relationships, our churches, our businesses, our careers, or some combination of all the aforementioned, it can be terrifyingly easy to convolute things that are actually, at the end of the day, quite simple. Heck, I even overcomplicate my food and my coffee. (Starbucks-only Venti vanilla latte hot with an extra pump of vanilla, anyone?)
Believe it or not, there's a psychological term for this. (Isn't there always?) It's called complexity bias. Our brains and emotions are naturally hardwired to make some situations and circumstances far more complex than they were ever intended or designed to be in the first place. Oftentimes we do this for one core reason: We're battling with our own insecurities and shortcomings, which typically leads to blaming another person or set of circumstances — rather than accepting our own responsibility — which then only serves to deepen our misperceptions about reality.
Those of us who serve in ministry see this happen all the time. And sometimes we ourselves are guilty of tumbling headfirst into the trap of over-complication. I would argue it's not so much a trap as it is a snare set by the Enemy, but we can have that theological debate over a cup of complicated coffee some other time. (Your treat.)
For now, let's refine this to the specific ministry niche of small church communications and take a look at how and why simplification is, in all actuality, a good thing.
#1. Simplifying Small Church Comms Increases Engagement. Complexity Repels It.
You want people to interact with your church on social media. You want them to leave comments, encourage one another, and speak truth. You want them to fill out the prayer request submission form on your website. And you'd really love to see someone subscribe to your pastor's darn YouTube channel. But if you're a small church with too many digital platforms and channels operating at once, many folks in your congregation are probably going to feel overwhelmed. When this happens, they will be far less likely to engage with any of your digital and social media at all. Or they'll just pick one (usually your Facebook Page) and stick to that.
Scale back where you can and don't clutter your social media channels or your website with unnecessary posts and content. Don't put your church on platforms you don't need yet. People do not want to have to sift through that. There's a delicate balancing act to social media management and — despite what you might read — there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Post the type of content and the amount of content that is appropriate for your specific audience. What works for you will be different than what works for the church across town. And speaking of that other church...
#2. You Don't Have To Be On Every Platform. Seriously.
Oftentimes the small church feels that they must be everywhere, do everything, and have all of the cool toys because the neighboring church down the street seems to have it all figured out. They see that church's website, Facebook Page, Instagram account, Twitter profile, YouTube channel, and sermon podcasts and think they need the same. Oh and don't forget the senior pastor's TikTok account. It's like, totally lit, bro.
The assumption tends to be: "Wow, that church is really knocking it out of the park." And, in all honesty, they might be.
But, in the small church world, in a smaller community or town, a well-designed, functioning website and a strong Facebook presence can make a tremendous impact for the Kingdom and the advancement of the Gospel. Those two things alone can allow your church's message to resonate far and wide. Instagram and Twitter are often unnecessary for many small churches, particularly if you don't have the time, skills, or the manpower to keep up with them. Start with the core fundamentals and the basics and then worry about the rest later.
#3. Complex Websites Are Not Seeker-Friendly.
Your website is usually the front door of your church. It's what people see before they see you. (Sometimes it's your Facebook Page.) People who are interested in attending your church need to be able to locate basic, essential information before they ever visit your physical building. Ask yourself: Can online seekers easily locate my church's street address? Staff page? Service times? Ministries? Parking information? If these items are buried under mounds of complex menus and dozens of unnecessary pages, seekers will give up and move on to the next church in the area. Why would they bother visiting your church or learning more about it if they can't even figure out how to get there in the first place?
#4. Simplifying Small Church Comms Allows for More and Better Ministry. Complexity Inhibits It.
At the end of the day, everything that falls under the umbrella of Church Communications — from digital and social media to print materials — should be pointing people toward Jesus and encouraging them to follow Him. Your platforms should literally become places where ministry occurs, truth is spoken, and real life transformation happens. That happens best when things are simple to understand, utilize, and apply. Inundating those platforms with an array of overly-complex elements will only serve to dampen, and eventually eradicate, your ability to reach — much less minister to — your audience altogether.
Remember: Jesus didn't complicate His ministry. Neither should we. Let's keep it simple.
If there's one truth about the role of the pastor and that of the Church Communicator, it's that we're both on the same team. Moreover, we both long to see our people worship God, learn from His Word, and apply the principles of Scripture to their lives as they become disciples and disciple-makers. So what is it that occasionally causes tension or friction between pastors and techies? Why is it often so hard for us to understand, encourage, honor, and value one another? Why do some of us butt heads like big horn sheep?
Let's be honest here: There are moments where the connection between pastors and Church Communicators is incredibly tense, awkward, and uneasy to say the least. Sometimes it's downright unhealthy. This is rarely ever intentional on the part of either person, and yet, nevertheless, the problems can still arise. Sometimes it's just a matter of the techie wishing the pastor better understood certain aspects about the role of the techie within the church and within ministry. This is sometimes our own fault for not communicating what we need — which is ironic considering that we are Church Communicators. Sometimes it's a matter of the pastor not understanding technology, which can lead to being intimidated by it. That isn't necessarily his fault and, to be candid, most pastors don't want to have their hands in the tech anyway.
Ultimately, both people need one another in order to have a strong and fruitful ministry that makes a difference in the local community. No matter which position you're in — pastor or Church Communicator — there are some things that you can do to alleviate potential issues and strive for an awesome partnership as you serve the church and advance the Kingdom of God together.
Here are a few ideas:
#1. Go to lunch or coffee together. Get to know each others' hearts.
A lot of miscommunication, tension, and frustration between individuals in ministry stems from a lack of understanding, empathy, and deeper connection. So much of this could be avoided if those who work together would just take the time to get to know one another first. Have fun, laugh, and tell stories. Discover the other person's vision, goals, and drive for ministry. Ask questions about their ministry history. Have an open mind and listen to their ideas. Who knows? You might even learn a thing or two from the other person. What's more, you might even become friends. *gasp*
#2. Affirm and thank each other.
It may sound like a cheesy cliché, but everyone needs to feel needed. We all appreciate feeling appreciated. To my fellow techies: Thank your pastor every so often for delivering an encouraging or challenging sermon. To all the pastors reading this: Thank and compliment your Comms Directors for their hard work and long hours at the screens throughout the week. This will serve to strengthen ties and bond everyone together all the more.
#3. Ask questions and seek to genuinely learn.
If there's something you need to know or want to learn about the role and territory of the other person, just ask. We can serve better, more effectively and more efficiently when we understand the functionality of each position and develop a respect for it.
#4. Admit when you're at fault.
Just do it. No Excuses.
#5. Remember that no one is perfect.
Even Jesus had trouble with His "staff." The disciples were not flawless (by any stretch of the imagination) and Christ was continually calling them to a life of holiness while simultaneously lavishing grace upon them as well. We should do the same for one another. God doesn't call us because we're perfect. He perfects us as we are called. He doesn't make choices and ministry appointments based on who people are, but rather on who they will eventually become. We should remember this as we work together with one another in the ministry environment.
#6. Build a team atmosphere together and then be an integral part of that team.
Nothing encourages unity more than bringing people together through fun activities like staff retreats, Escape Rooms, bowling nights, or hiking trips. Incorporate some creative leadership training activities into these outings and aim for trust-building, personal connection, and lots of laughs.
#7. Always have regular staff meetings.
These sessions allow for pastors and Church Comms Directors to voice things in the company of other staff members that may be easier said in a group setting or might have been forgotten in earlier one-on-one conversations. As a leader and core staff member in your church, you should be developing those under you and checking off on areas like progress, struggles, questions, and any decisions they might need you to make. Pastors and Comms Directors will work better together when they see how things are going within staff meeting settings and can make adjustments together as needed.
#8. Pray together and for one another.
Every church leader — pastors, elders, worship leaders, Comms Directors, children's ministers, etc. — all shoulder enormous weights and responsibilities every week while simultaneously juggling the burdens and duties of their personal lives. Ministry means hard days. Ministry means long hours. We need one another and we need prayer support from those on our team.
For services to run smoothly and digital media to operate efficiently and effectively, pastors and Church Communicators need to work in tandem and do all that they can to bring honor and glory to God together. We should remember that we're working for the same cause and that the strength of our relationship is the bedrock of other parts of the staff and ministry.
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!