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Going Social to Plant Churches

Wires

photo credit: Paolo Margari

There is a formula for launching a church in America. Collect lots of money. Spend lots of money getting the word out. Turn the big crowd of strangers into a church. It’s easy… if you have lots of money. But c’mon, church planters are hackers by nature right? It’s possible to get the word out in a better way, especially today.

When we began planting Grace Hills, we didn’t want to drop a ton of money on massive but impersonal means of announcing our arrival – and we didn’t have a ton of money anyway. So we used Facebook. We’re still using Facebook. And it’s working.

  • We started with two couples (including the Cox’s). We spent $0 on traditional advertising but had 35 at our first gathering in July of 2011.
  • We grew to approximately 80 within six months by word-of-mouth and while spending $0 on traditional advertising.
  • We launched with 176 on our first Sunday, mostly gathered through Facebook, word-of-mouth, and search engines.
  • Today, we’re the most “liked” church in northwest Arkansas and an estimated 75-80% of our first time guests found us on the web.

Why Social Media Works

I’ve never liked the term social media even though it’s fairly standard now. It’s tough to talk about it without calling it something, so social media it is. The reason I don’t care for it is that it implies that social media is something new. In reality, it’s something very, very old, which is the reason why I believe it works so well.

Media (information) has been around since God began to reveal Himself to Adam and Eve. And social (relating to one another) has also been around since Eden, though it was broken by Adam and Eve’s sin and has yet to be fully repaired.

Even in our broken condition, we are social creatures desperately in need of meaningful relationships.

How to Use Social Media In a Church Plant

Before jumping in, understand the different meanings and uses of different platforms.

  • Facebook is IT for the local church. Other tools help, but Facebook’s user base is, for the moment, unbeatable.
  • Instagram is a close second in terms of “average” (non-marketing and non-social-media pros) people hanging out there.
  • Tumblr is one of the fastest growing tools among millennials.
  • Twitter is awesome for leaders relating to other leaders, but not as great for local church connectivity.
  • Youtube and Vimeo have their own unique advantages for video.

And with that basic understanding in mind, get started. Here are some somewhat random tips for using social media to plant a new church.

Start With a Website

When we think about social media, we think of the social networks mentioned above, but I’m convinced that you need to see your church’s website as a social network in and of itself. It’s a content hub, of sorts. Sometimes your goal is to move people from social platforms to your site. Sometimes it’s the opposite. And sometimes they simply co-exist for different purposes, but having a hub on the web is essential. And if you’re going to have a website:

  • Design it with the end user in mind, which means caring less about aesthetics than about usability.
  • Make certain pieces of information obvious on every page, such as gathering times, places, and directions.
  • Tell the story of who your church is with more than just bland, impersonal statements and data. Use pictures, testimonies, and video.
  • Make it findable via Google. Otherwise, it doesn’t exist. I can’t cover SEO at length here, but Google it.

Use Facebook Pages Well

We launched our church website and our main Facebook page before we relocated to start planting so as to get a jump on connecting with people. We started hearing from people wanting more information long before our first vision meeting. And it grew quickly. And if you’re going to use Facebook, use it well. For example…

  • Understand the difference between a profile (which is for people) and a page (which is for brands, organizations, celebrities, etc.).
  • Use your personal Facebook profile to connect with new people in your community, people who get in touch about your plant, etc.
  • Maximize your church Facebook page’s features such as the cover image, avatar, events, and “about” section, which should include a url to your website so no one has to dig for it.
  • Build one single page. When it reaches critical mass, then start “sub-“pages such as pages for your kids ministry or small groups.
  • Assign as few “admins” as possible. It’s better to have people interacting with your page than as your page.
  • Use events, but don’t be obnoxious. Create the event and post links to it. It’s sharable by nature. Don’t blast invitations to all of your friends randomly.
  • Be sure to use a verifiable address so that your page is also a place. If people “check in” and there is a separate “page” that exists for your location, you can and should merge them together.
  • Write often. At least daily. We shoot for three times per day but rarely do quite that much.
  • Link out to other websites only when absolutely necessary. Facebook wants to keep people inside of Facebook, so your post won’t go nearly as far if you add a link to it.
  • Converse. Answer messages, reply to comments, and be helpful to those with questions.

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Use Other Tools Appropriately

I like Twitter more than Facebook, personally, but I see Facebook as the more important tool in church planting. That doesn’t mean, however, that other tools aren’t helpful. They just have more specific uses.

  • Use Instagram to capture moments and experiences – pictures and videos of kids having fun, volunteers serving, etc.
  • Use Tumblr to curate everything in one spot as a mobile bulletin.
  • Use Twitter to connect with community leaders, leaders in the press, etc.
  • Use LinkedIn for learning and connecting with peers and colleagues.
  • Use Youtube to offer snippets from message videos.

Provide Easily Sharable Content

You are a content-producing master! Every sermon involves hours of preparation and when the service is over, often so is the sermon. We take our messages and break them into bite-sized pieces and share them as a daily devotional on both our website and our Facebook page. Video testimonies are powerful as well. All of the content a church produces can be distributed to the volunteer army of people in the pews to equip them to share their faith, their church, and their story.

Managing Volunteers with Facebook Groups

I’m a Facebook group nut! I probably start way too many of them. We use closed groups for our volunteer teams – media, first impressions, worship, staff, etc. We like that when someone posts, it shows up in the news feeds and notifications of group members but gives them control over these features. It involves people in Facebook who might otherwise not log on much.

Take It Offline

I’m a big believer that you can initiate relationships online. I also think it’s important to find ways to go offline, to meet face-to-face, to serve others in a hands-on way. Social media might just be the introduction to relationships that extend much further. I can’t tell you how many mentors, friends, and future church members I’ve met over Facebook and Twitter. But you can only go so deep in a public status or reply.

So what have I missed? What’s working for you?

Please, Feel Free to Share With Your Friends

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