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Is Social Media Really THAT Important?

Your Brand Represents the GospelNo.

Oh, did you expect me to say yes? To sell you on the undeniable need for developing a social media platform? To convince you that if you don’t start tweeting, your influence is going down in flames? Let me elaborate.

Social media is important. It matters so much that I wrote a book about using social media to share the gospel. I think you should buy it, read it, and pass it along. And yes, people, businesses, churches, and other organizations that ignore it are certainly in jeopardy of becoming obsolete. But it’s not all-important.

As a Pastor, I sometimes find myself lamenting my own emphasis on it. Unhealthy churches that use social media well will probably remain unhealthy unless they dig into some much deeper factors. And leaders who get sucked into the celebrity culture of social media without a firmly grounded character will lose their passion for Jesus and for real friendship and instead give into their addiction to the applause of mere acquaintances.

I want to help churches and organizations in the area of social media. I really do. I’m working through my blog here, through, and with Lifeword Media to offer help, especially to fellow pastors who see the need to grow in this area. But sometimes, I must admit, I feel a little drowned by it. I’m a big believer in the power of personal branding, and I’ve managed to do a good job of branding myself as that Pastor who knows about social media. And on some days, I regret this.

Why? Because social media isn’t my first love or my greatest passion. So let me open up for a minute about some things I’m way more passionate about than being successful in the online world.

I love Jesus. I love walking with Jesus and deepening my walk with Him. Some of my best days are days when I don’t tweet or post or host an online discussion. They are days when I have an unusually large amount of time alone with the Father, where no one sees and no one follows me.

I can look back at a season of my life when I woke up in the morning and checked email and Twitter, then had a quiet time with God. I’ll just say I don’t ever want to go back there again. Let my testimony be a warning to you – seek the King first.

I love my family. On a recent trip to Chicago with my bride of 17 years, I didn’t work. And other than a few photos of interesting things, I just spent large amounts of time talking to the love of my life. And tucking my kids in at night and saying prayers with and over them is not a moment that my social media following is privy to.

There have been moments when social media has been too large a focus for me. While there’s a place for it, my family should never have to compete with it for my attention.

I love the church. I love to see churches get healthy, become purpose driven, and reach new people. Social media helps, but it doesn’t fix a broken church. If I had just one hour with the average Pastor to discuss the question, “why isn’t my church growing?,” social media would occupy the last ten minutes of that conversation.

We would spend most of that time on having a biblical ecclesiology, a scriptural and healthy leadership structure, a process for disciple-making, and well-defined core values. Every church should be using Facebook, but it’s a near-the-surface relational tool that must be supported by a healthy body.

I love preaching. And I believe that preaching is WAY more important to the life and health of the church than social media. Before offering tips for using Twitter to reach out to community leaders, I’d rather talk about preparing and delivering Christ-centered, gospel-saturated, relevant sermons that move the church and its people forward in their faith.

God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to shape the life of the church for two millennia. Just as the printing press, radio, and television help to extend the ministry of the pulpit, so can social media. But none of these mediums will ever replace the power of a well-delivered sermon.

I love theology and church history. One of the problems that we, who love social media, hesitate to admit is that when we are soaking in the world of social media, we are giving undue emphasis to contemporary thinking while often neglecting to nurture our connection with our roots.

In other words, there is so much being written and published right now that we forget all the stuff written back then. Right now, I’m reading through Calvin’s Institutes (and I’m not even a Calvinist) as I seek to understand the theology of one of church history’s most prominent influencers.

Social media makes leaders overnight, like mushrooms, whether they deserve the voice it provides or not. But theology and church history makes leaders over the long haul, with character and deep roots and rich fruits.

Chances are, if you know me only by virtue of the “online” me, you know I’m pretty into church communications and organizational effectiveness. But you who want to know the real me, need to know that my love lies elsewhere in things that are timeless and meaningful and can’t be praised enough in 140 characters or less. And if you’re just getting into the world of social media, heed my warning, don’t let it consume your love, your attention, or your affection more than the things that matter most deeply to the heart of God.

Facebook Is Making Online Outreach a LOT Harder: 6 Ways Churches Can Still Use It Well

Facebook PageThe gospel did okay before Facebook, and will do just fine without it. But plenty of churches and organizations like mine have found Facebook to be an incredibly useful tool for getting the word out about Jesus and His people. We’ve devoted time, energy, and even financial resources to gathering a community of fans who read posts, click links, and pass things along to friends.

Now however, Facebook is changing in ways that are bringing the pain to brands of all kinds, including churches and Christian organizations. In short, they’re changing their algorithm so that the content posted by pages doesn’t get seen by many fans. (Hat tip to Jim Gray for the links.) You may have assumed that you see 100% of the updates from any page you’ve liked. It hasn’t been that way in years since Facebook’s normal layout shows people what they deem “top stories” as opposed to all the most recent updates from your friends.

Pages have been posting updates that only get seen by 30 to 40% of their fans, at best. More recently that percentage has dropped to 10 to 20%. And it’s eventually going to be 1 or 2%. One of our daily devotional posts used to see about 1,500 eyes and get about 20 to 30 likes. Now one of our devotionals will still get 20 likes but only see 500 eyes, and it’s about to get even worse. Why? It’s simple. Facebook wants brand managers to pay to sponsor or “boost” their posts to be seen by their fans.

Is that fair? It depends on whom you ask. At the end of the day, it’s all up to the people who own the business called Facebook, but most brand managers feel quite cheated right now because they paid Facebook for advertising to help them get fans and now are having to pay again to get their content in front of those fans. Our church has sponsored some content since we’ve been using it, but the posts we don’t sponsor just don’t travel as far as they used to.

While Nike and Nabisco figure out what to do from the perspective of corporate brands with large marketing budgets, my concern is with churches and nonprofits who don’t necessarily see a financial return on their investment (at least not directly from the sales of products or services). Here are my best solutions for churches to consider.

1. Don’t put all your eggs in Facebook’s basket.

This has always been true, but it’s even more true now. Don’t count on any third-party, freely offered service to drive all of your online promotional effort. Companies change policies all the time and change happens faster now than ever. Facebook has become wise to the fact that companies that make money pay that money to marketing firms who use Facebook’s free platform to earn more money. Facebook believes it’s time to get their cut. Who can blame them?

2. Diversify your social media presence.

For the moment I’m still convinced that Facebook is the most important platform for social media marketing, but that’s only because of the broad demographic of people that use it. People of every age, in every locality, of every political preference and marital status use it. And, it’s a place for every kind of content (text, link, photo, and video) and every genre of content (news, entertainment, personal posts, and pointless but funny things too). So if you want to reach every kind of person in your community, Facebook is still the primary place to start.

Having said that, it is definitely time for churches to think about using Instagram to reach people through imagery, especially younger people. Twitter has a pretty active community among media types and leaders, news producers, and professionals. LinkedIn is still heavily used by corporate workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders in business. Each offers a different medium for the posting and cross-posting of content. Don’t try to do it all, but do more than just one thing.

3. Give more power to the people.

What’s the point of having fans to begin with if the goal isn’t ultimately to empower those fans to carry your message further into their own respective friendships and relational circles. We tend to think about the reach of our church’s Facebook page, but there is significantly more influence available to the church when you realize how many members (whether dozens or thousands) are engaged in social media. Usually, their credibility is higher with their friends than your church’s brand anyway.

So take the time to educate people about how to share their faith and their church online. Having read about these most recent shifts in Facebook’s direction, I put together a post for our Facebook page that has been handy in empowering people with our message and tips on how to spread it.

We also circulate some basic how-to articles on using social media via a page on our website dedicated to the cause, such as our post on 10 Ways Anyone Can Use Social Media to Help Grace Hills (which you’re welcome to steal, edit, and use for your church too).

4. Spend money on Facebook advertising.

As agitated as you may be with Facebook’s decision-making process, I still believe that using Facebook’s highly-targeted advertising platform is way more cost effective and has a much higher return on investment than most traditional print advertising models. And, it’s relational. There’s tremendous power in seeing that my friend liked something that I might also like, and that’s how Facebook ads work. You can get as specific as advertising to single Moms, age 37, within a 5 mile radius of Bugtussle, Kentucky who have indicated an interest in hair growth stimulants for gerbils.

5. Use your Facebook page as a destination point.

Up to this point, I and other social media strategists in the kingdom have advised churches not to see their Facebook pages as destinations, but merely as the distribution point for their messaging. We’ve said that people are generally going to see your updates in their news feed, not on your page. While that’s still essentially true, there is now more value than in the past in sending people to your Facebook page, or to individual posts on your page’s timeline via their permalink. In our weekly church newsletter, I always post a link to our “” and ask people to share it when they’ve watched it. I also post all too-long-for-a-tweet updates on Facebook, then tweet the link to the post on Twitter.

6. Keep preaching, serving, loving, and sharing the gospel.

Do I believe social media has value in spreading the gospel? Um, yes. I wrote a book about it. But I say in that book that it’s not about the technology itself. Facebook is a recent invention. Media (truth, information) has been spreading socially (via relationships) since the garden of Eden. So keep doing what we’ve been doing for 2,000 years – sharing Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God.

7 Tips For Better Social Media Connections

Big Cup o' JoeIn the world of social media, there’s a common scenario that goes a little something like this:

FOLLOWEE TO NEW FOLLOWER: Hi! Thanks for following. Check out my services and my blog, and like me on Facebook!

In other words, I don’t know you or care who you are. I just want you to know me and buy my stuff.

When you first connect with someone new over a social media platform, it’s far better and wiser to establish a genuine connection. Here are seven tips for a better way to connect.

  1. Pay attention. Read the bio, click the link, read a tweet or an update or two.
  2. Reach out. Say hello, the way normal people do offline, without selling anything.
  3. Take a real interest. Comment on something personal about the person.
  4. Make another connection. Suggest someone they should connect with in their field.
  5. Add some value. Offer a tip, or to help in some way, but not by selling a service.
  6. Respond. Keep the conversation going.
  7. Be the trusted friend to whom they might turn for help (including paid services) later.

You can’t know everyone, and you can’t always fully flesh out this approach with every connection, but when you want to connect with someone beyond the first follow, there is a better way. Imagine the above scenario, aligned with these tips. It might look more like this…

FOLLOWEE TO NEW FOLLOWER: Hi, thanks for following. You’re from Denver? Been there a few times and love the views!

NEW FOLLOWER TO FOLLOWEE: Thanks! Yes, I work for a marketing firm in the mile-high city.

FOLLOWEE TO NEW FOLLOWER: Cool. Loved the work you did on the Widgets-R-Us logo. Have you connected with Jacob Cass (@justcreative)?

NEW FOLLOWER TO FOLLOWEE: No, haven’t seen his work, but I’ll follow him for sure. Thanks!

FOLLOWEE TO NEW FOLLOWER: No problem. I’m in the SEO business if you ever need any help in that arena. Keep up the good work!

This isn’t necessarily blossoming into a have-you-over-for-dinner-on-Friday kind of friendship, and that’s okay. You can’t do that with hundreds or thousands of people. But you can be personal, authentic, and genuinely helpful. It’s a better way to do things, and good social mojo demands it.

The Growth of Social Media [Infographic]

Can you effectively lead a church without being on Facebook? It may not be such a dumb question, in my opinion. Can you lead, teach, and shepherd without technology? Sure. But can you infiltrate the culture with the gospel while walking in a circle of avoidance around the culture? To put it another way, can you snub the local favorite coffee shop and still relate to the people around you?

So the question is, are the people you want to reach showing up online? Let’s see…

The Growth of Social Media

Source: Search Engine Journal.

I don’t know… maybe it’s starting to take off…

How to Be More Engaging With Your Church’s Facebook Page

I love stumbling across great, practical resources like this piece by Paul Steinbrueck on 7 Ways to Engage with People on Your Church Facebook Page. He suggests…

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