In the beginning, when the internet was formless and void, pastors said, “Let there be a church website, to reach people we have not yet met!” And it was so. There was a cost, and it required someone with technical expertise to set up and run, but it was much cheaper than billboards. And pastors saw that it was good. And the 1990s passed, and the 2000s came, the first decade.
Then the web went social, and pastors said, “Let there be a church Facebook page, to engage in conversation with members and neighbors.” This meant not just broadcasting a one-way message and hoping it reached the right people, but listening to others and responding to their questions and concerns on a regular basis. And pastors saw that it was good. And the 2000s passed, and the 2010s came, the second decade.
Then people developed Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, and many other networks and apps that caught the attention and imagination of the digital generation. Now pastors began to feel overwhelmed by the number of social media channels, and by the constant barrage of content in them. Some began to create a church profile on every new platform that came along, casting messages frantically out into the void in the hopes of reaching their neighbors. Others decided that the traditional ways of connecting with people and proclaiming the Word of God were sufficient, and chose to leave cyberspace to those who were younger and more tech-savvy.
Now I ask you, which of these did as God desired when it came to spreading the Good News?
Of course, there is no easy answer. The Bible contains no commandments that speak directly to the kind of information overload experienced daily in the 21st century.
We can apply some general principles of faithfulness in seeking to be hospitable, friendly, invitational, missional, evangelical, or whatever wording captures a congregation or denomination’s tradition of reaching out to those who are not (yet) part of the faith community. But the day-to-day challenges of setting goals, developing a strategy, and implementing a concrete plan for online communications require constant learning and adaptation on the part of pastors, staff, and volunteers.
If you do have a Facebook page, you may have noticed that posts get far fewer views than they did just a few years ago. This article explains how the increase in content and changes to Facebook’s algorithm have led to declining reach in the past couple years:
Essentially, everyone has to earn their space in News Feed. If they publish posts that are interesting enough to get likes, comments, shares, and clicks, their reach increases. If their posts bore people and are ignored and scrolled past by anyone who sees them, their reach decreases. And since the natural trend is for reach to shrink as competition grows, Pages have to work harder and harder to stay visible.
So now you need to be maintaining the page, posting interesting content, engaging with readers/members (both listening and responding), and paying for ads as well. It can be a lot to keep track of! While some pastors have the know-how, most don’t have the time. The myth that the internet makes reaching out to the “unchurched” free and easy has been debunked.
Of course, there are many resources to help you figure out how to invest time and money into the process to get a greater response to your communications. United Methodist Communications offers a number of helpful articles and tools about online ministry, making the most of your website, and engaging with social media as a church.
But if you would like an experienced communications professional to give you an overview, help you develop a social media marketing plan, and train volunteers to carry it out, contact Sacred Stones Ministries – we’d be happy to help you figure out how to make the most of your resources to reach out online!