Social media is not going away anytime soon. What many thought was a fad 10 years ago has only ingrained itself deeper into our lives. Churches should use social media to add an online extension of their in-person, incarnational ministry – never as a substitute for it. However, as more and more churches build their social media platforms, I’ve noticed a number of common mistakes, and I want to warn against them.
Here are three common mistakes I’ve seen churches make on social media and some suggestions on how to avoid making them:
1. Posting only announcements
This is probably the most common social media mistake I’ve seen churches make, but it isn’t the most egregious (that’s the next one in the list). Many churches fall into the rut of treating their social media accounts like virtual church bulletins. It’s understandable, and it isn’t the worst use of social media, but it falls short of the best use of social media, to be sure.
Social media can be much more than a virtual church bulletin or bulletin board, but it will definitely take some creativity and time.
What can a church post other than announcements and other bulletin-like items? All kinds of things! Ask people to share prayer requests, and have your prayer team spend some time praying for them. Set up a weekly time for a pastor to host a Facebook live to talk about the coming week’s sermon, or perhaps how a church could live out the last week’s sermon. Share encouraging Bible verses or other edifying quotes from Christian history.
2. A lack of responsiveness
This is the most grievous social media error I see churches make. The church bulletin board doesn’t respond to people’s questions when they ask them, and when a church treats its social media like the church bulletin board, the same logic follows there. It is vital that a church with a social media presence use that social media presence to be available to anyone who may stop by the social media account.
In effect, having a church social media account without any real monitoring is like opening your church doors to the public but not having anyone at the front desk to greet the people who come in needing prayer or some other kind of help. It creates the illusion of availability and openness but doesn’t deliver on it.
If you are not willing to have someone man the post of the church social media account and respond to questions or concerns that filter in through it, you’re better off not having a church social media account at all. It can actually harm the witness of the local church if someone comes to the church page, tirelessly tries to reach out to the church for help in some way, only to never hear a response.
The best way to guard against this mistake is to have a team of people who can communicate with each other regularly about who is due to be “on duty” at any given time to respond to comments, replies, or messages for the church’s social media accounts. It is important that churches get this right, perhaps more than anything else a church does on social media.
A social media presence can be a magnificent extension of the incarnational ministry a church does in its community, but missing the mark on this point can undermine everything.
3. Running poorly-targeted Facebook ads
This is a less common error I have seen, but it is a hard one to watch because it means a church is wasting money on Facebook ads.
I live right outside Nashville, but I regularly see Facebook ads for churches in other states. I’ve seen ads for churches in Oregon, Texas, Massachusetts and elsewhere. Whenever I see these ads, it makes me sad because one of two things is happening. Either 1) the church knows it is running ads well outside its community and is trying to get its pastor or band famous across the country or 2) the church doesn’t know how to create a Facebook audience targeted at people who live within a number of miles of their church and actually may attend.
Facebook ads are a tremendous use of money to grow awareness about a local church if they are used correctly. They are like the modern-day postcard. But often, churches create audiences made up of a wide array of people who live far away from the actual church and would not attend no matter how much the Facebook ad interested them.
Avoid these mistakes as best as you can. Post more than announcements. Be responsive. Create Facebook ads targeted at your community.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chris Martin is a social media manager for LifeWay Christian Resources and is student ministry director at City Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn.)