If you look at the social media feeds of most churches, you will find a string of announcements. The church Facebook or Twitter feed is often a recap of the bulletin or newsletter, one announcement at a time. Don’t get me wrong; I am glad these churches are on social media. That is a good first step. But they are missing out on the potential of social media.
In the current state of social media, there is unprecedented potential to attract new people to your church. However, just sharing announcements and information isn’t going to do that. If you want to attract new people, you need to engage with people.
The same principles that apply in the analog world apply in the digital world. If I decided that I wanted to reach new people at my local Starbucks, I could stand up and start announcing activities at my church. On the other hand, I could start conversations with people, interact with them, and get to know them. Option one is much, much easier but is likely to get me kicked out of Starbucks. Option two is much slower and much harder. In the end, option two may or may not lead to more people coming to my church. However, that is still the way it works. People don’t meet Jesus through announcements, they meet Jesus through engagement.
The beautiful thing about the current state of social media is that it is designed around engagement. Whether it is through likes, comments, and shares; or retweets and follows, social media platforms are networks of engagement.
So how do we engage? If you want to get the attention of people who aren’t church people, you need to offer something other than church content. Someone who doesn’t go to church isn’t likely all that interested in your church events. Often even events designed for the community are announced in such church language, that they are less than invitational.
If you want to create engaging content for social media, you need to ask yourself two questions before you hit “post” or “tweet.”
#1 Is it relevant?
I imagine most of us think that everything we share on social media is relevant. Ask the question another way. “Is this post relevant to people who don’t already go to my church?” Chances are, posts about your new bible study, choir rehearsals, pastor appreciation month, or women’s tea are not going to catch the attention of people not already involved in your church.
The Rio Texas Conference does not market in the same way churches do. Our audience actually is church people. However, as I look through the analytics on our Facebook page, the recent posts with the most engagement had to do with Hurricane Harvey. Those posts were liked and shared by people with no connection with our conference. Why? Because that destructive hurricane was relevant to anyone near the Texas Gulf Coast and people all over the world who were interested in the aftermath.
What are people talking about? What is important to them?
We usually get this engagement when there are national tragedies. A lot of churches invite us all to pray in the wake of national or international tragedies. Others take it a step further and offer words of comfort and hope.
To be relevant, we need to think about what is relevant to others and then think about how the church’s unique voice can speak into those things.
#2 Is it engaging?
If we want engagement, we need to be engaging. If we want people to comment and share our material, we need to ask the question, “Why would someone share this or comment on this?”
Getting people to like, share or retweet something on social media is a true mark of engagement. That means the post was relevant, interesting, and compelling enough for someone to take the extra effort to do something about it. I know, it’s not much, just hitting a button. But, it is also making a statement, a public statement to all their friends that this is something they like. (Granted, people like and share cute cat videos, so apparently, they are relevant, interesting, and engaging.) Sharing is an even clearer statement of one’s approval of a post. Sharing says, “I like this enough that I believe my friends will want to see it too.”
Comments are where things get interesting. This type of engagement is what you should really be looking for. Once people comment, you can respond. That is called a conversation. Take a look at your Facebook news feed. Pay attention to the comments. What are people commenting on? Posts with the most comments tend to be posts that invite comments. Now, rarely do posts say, “please comment.” They do, however, invite responses in some way. When someone posts asking for prayers, people tend to respond that they are praying. When people ask a question, people tend to answer. When people share something particularly compelling, people can’t help but comment. How many of your church’s social media posts get comments? When they do, are you responding?
Responding to comments is essential. That is how conversation work. Responding can feel difficult. (As it can be for some of us in real life.) But keep the conversation going!
Time to get to work.
Here are some ideas to get you thinking about posts that may create some engagement with people who don’t already go to your church.
Photos and descriptions of your church serving the community.
People love their community, and they may be interested that a church is doing something to help. They might want to join in!
Helpful information for people in your community.
Does your community have an event coming up? Do you have information on where to park or the best times to go? Share that. You could even ask people to share their own info.
Biblical and practical advice for dealing with problems facing your community.
I believe the church has a lot to share about issues that everyone faces. What can the church offer to people struggling with stress, their kids, their finances, their marriage?
Invitations to church and events – tailored to people who don’t already come.
If you want to invite people to church on Sunday or to your pumpkin patch or blessing of the animals, think about who you are inviting. Maybe show your photos and copy to someone who doesn’t go to your church and get their honest opinion on whether the invitation is invitational.