The Ultimate Social Media Strategy For Smaller Churches

Small churches have a different blueprint than large churches. Scale your social media appropriately.

February 11th, 2013

If you’re one of the smaller churches in North America, you’re not alone. Most churches are small. Take a look at these statistics…

  • The average American congregation is 75 people1
  • 90% of all American congregations have 350 people or less2
  • 96% of all Canadian congregations have 350 people or less3

If you’re one of the smaller churches in North America, you know better than most that your resources are limited.

You probably also know that social media should still be a part of your church experience in engaging your people and the community. The question is, with these limited resources how does your church adopt a social media strategy that’s not only efficient but also effective? The key to social media for you isn’t to do it all, but to do a little bit well.

The Impact Of Social Media

The impact and demands of social media on our culture are undeniable. Check out these stats:

  • 90% of Millennials use social media4
  • 1 in 5 couples meet online5
  • Every minute, 72 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube (that’s over a decade a day!)6
  • If Wikipedia were made into a book it would be 2.25 million pages long7
  • The most active group on social media is mothers with children under the age of 58
  • The fastest growing user base on social media is 65+9

Social media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. Erik Qualman famously said,

“Businesses [churches] don’t have a choice on whether or not to DO social media, their choice is how well they do it.”

Your church is probably already participating in social media in some capacity and even if you aren’t, you’ve come to the right place. This little guide is specifically targeted at smaller churches because I come from a smaller church myself. I know the unique demands and pressures that come from having limited time and money to accomplish everything that needs to get done.

Also, a smaller church’s approach to social media will and should be different from that of a big church. If you have only 100 followers on twitter instead of 5,000, the content you’re sharing needs to be different. This guide understands that and is tailored particularly for your smaller church.

Why Social Media Is Important

Even if your church isn’t thriving on social media, your community is.

When I was a kid, my little church used to advertise in our local newspaper. That was the way we got the word out. I’ve also done door-knocking, tract distributing, and used many other throwback evangelism techniques. But today, if you want to reach your community, the best place to start is social media.

The reason social media is important to your church is simple: go where the people are.

Your community is longing for hope, purpose, and belonging – your church can offer that. But if you think a 30-minute talk once a week inside your church building is the best way to offer that – you’re doing it wrong. The statistics listed above paint a very clear picture: social media plays a central role in how we communicate, and it’s only becoming more widely used and more pervasive.

What’s The Point?

Social media for smaller churches serves two purposes:

  1. It engages your congregation
  2. It reaches out to new people

Different social media platforms serve different functions and have different strengths. It’s important to understand that you’re not joining social media to blast your message to the ends of the earth. There are enough businesses already flooding the Internet with their messages – don’t be one of them. Here’s what you should do:

1. Engage Your Congregation

The best place to start when you’re considering social media, is how you’re going to interact with your congregation. You already have a church full of people (or semi-full). They already trust you. Social media is all about trust, so start with your congregation first. Engage them. Post things that are relevant to their everyday lives. Interact with them when they update their statuses. One of the coolest parts of social media is that people give you explicit permission into their lives. Now use that permission to show that you value them.

2. Reach Out To New People

I should be careful how I phrase this, because when I say “reach out to new people,” I don’t mean spamming their newsfeeds and inboxes with your church events. The best way to reach out to new people on social media is to have a viable presence. If you are doing church well, it will speak for itself.

Understanding that, it’s important to be present on social media and to interact with others but don’t feel like you have to be constantly sharing just how awesome your church is. It will take time, but eventually your reputation will supersede you and that’s what you want anyway.

The 5 Pillars Of Social Media For Smaller Churches

Okay, so at this point you know why social media is important and you know who you are targeting. Now let’s take a look at the 5 pillars that will be the foundation for all the social media choices you make. These aren’t actionable steps (those come later). These are the philosophies that will guide your social media decisions. And if you use them appropriately, they’ll set you up for success.

1. Don’t Do It All

You’re a smaller church with limited resources (and so am I!). The worst thing you can do is go out and sign up for five new social media accounts. At our church when we were first starting out, we were very conscious of this and intentionally targeted our efforts. Start with only up to three social media accounts. We started with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Of those three, I recommend beginning with Facebook first, Instagram second and Twitter third.

(Despite what you may have heard, Facebook is still the biggest player in social media and more of your church will be on Facebook than anywhere else).

2. Be Yourself

Your social media personality needs to be an accurate reflection of your church. By having a presence on social media, people will begin to get a feel for who you are based on your posts and interactions. Over time they may even make a decision to check out your church. But what could be worse than someone coming to your church and realizing your services are nothing like the persona you shaped on social media?

If your church doesn’t have awesome music, don’t say it does. If your church doesn’t have a very open and inviting atmosphere, don’t make that claim. Just be yourself.

The reason social media became such a powerful tool for organizations is because people were sick of businesses, corporations and churches spewing big words that didn’t mean anything. They wanted real interactions.

Social media offers real interaction, but it only works if your church is honest and real. Don’t downplay your weaknesses and don’t overplay your strengths. Just be yourself.

3. Listen

The biggest benefit social media will bring to your church is the opportunity to listen. But this doesn’t happen automatically. Just like in real life, people are prone to speak more than they listen. It’s important that you actively fight this tendency and focus most of your efforts on listening to what others are saying.

It’s important to think of social media as a regular person-to-person conversation. If you were engaging someone in real life, hopefully you wouldn’t dominate the conversation by not giving them any opportunities to speak. Social media is the same way.

A wise man once said this,

“My dear brothers (and Facebook users), take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.”

By listening on social media, you can gain valuable insights about your community and your congregation. Once you know what people are saying, you’ll be able to respond in a way that is helpful to them. But it all starts with intentional listening.

4. Give Value

People don’t care what you have to say.

That’s the bottom line and it’s the truth. I’ve said this enough already but it’s so important: don’t flood people’s timelines with your events and how awesome your church is.

Listen to what people are saying, learn about people and understand them, then post things that will be useful to them. As a leader in the church you probably already have a good sense of the church’s pulse and the community’s pulse. That’s a good place to start but don’t underestimate what you can learn from people on social media.

It never ceases to amaze me how transparent people choose to be on social media. When people interact with you on Facebook, they are letting you into their lives and are trusting you. Don’t break that trust by talking all about yourself.

Post articles that touch on an issue you’ve been sharing at church, post helpful reminders, and post funny stuff every once in a while that will give people a good clean laugh.

Choose to be the church that isn’t always talking about themselves. Be the church that cares for others.

5. Repeat

It’s very likely that in six months, even if you follow every step, you may feel like that you’ve made no headway.

Social media may be a newer technology, but it is by no means a quick fix. Just like a regular relationship, it takes time to build trust and it takes time to build a presence on social media.

Don’t expect a really fast turnaround. Just work at it, be persistent and most of all be consistent. It won’t happen overnight, but the worst thing you can do is to start, and then quit because everything didn’t happen at once.

Remember that social media isn’t a fad – it’s here to stay. It will play a central role in your church’s communication for years to come.

8 Actionable Content Steps

We’ve talked a lot about philosophy and strategy so far. So let’s get right into some actionable steps your church can take to immediately provide real value and content:

1. Respond To Every Comment

This one is simple. If people are interacting with you in any way – respond. Even if all you can say is, “Thanks for the comment!” Or even if you just “like” their comment, don’t leave any interaction alone.

2. Post Often

Consistency in social media is key. A good rule of thumb is: 1 Facebook status updates per day, 3-10 Tweets per day and 1 Instagram posts per day. Just don’t go overboard.

3. The 80/20 Rule

This is a good principle to remember. Always post 4 things that are helpful to other people before you advertise about yourself. Using this rule will make sure you’re never talking about yourself too much.

4. Share stories

Instead of blatant advertising for your church, consider using a story instead. They are much more relatable and emotional. People will read a story about your church and will be touched by it without even realizing you were promoting your church.

5. Don’t Try To Be Perfect

Recognize you will make mistakes. Take them in stride and move on.

6. Comment On Current Events

If you’re ever unsure of what to post, a good go-to content type is current events. By posting on current events and making a light comment, you show that your church knows what is going on in the world and isn’t inside it’s own little bubble. And that’s a good thing.

7. Keep It Light

Due to the lack of face-to-face interaction, social media is a hotbed of arguments and controversy. People aren’t afraid to say how they really feel because there isn’t the awkwardness of confronting another person.

Whatever you do, do not feed controversy.

Do not post controversial articles and do not start conversations on controversial topics. Most people already view the church through a bad lens, so don’t do anything to feed that.

This doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for the Word of God. Just be smart. If someone posts on your page asking, “What do you think about abortion?” for the entire world to see, delete the post and send them a private message.

You don’t need that kind of bad publicity.

8. Deal With The Haters

Social media brings out the haters and the trolls. And if your church has a viable presence on social media, people will come after you. Recently I posted, “Come out and see a special speaker this weekend at our church!” and a guy responded, “Stop preaching your *!%$@^ fictional stories!” (I cleaned up the language a bit). I’m not sure if he didn’t believe we had a special speaker or not, but either way he wasn’t happy.

There are times to respond to haters and there are times to just delete their posts and move on. Be conscious of this.

Conclusion

Chances are your church is already active in social media in some capacity, but if not, there is no better time to start than now!

If your church is already using social media, use this guide to evaluate how far you’ve come and where you’re going.

I know social media can be daunting for many people. It’s easy to sign up for a lot of accounts, but it becomes difficult when the results don’t pour in right away.  Most churches just abandon their efforts.

I wrote this guide to be as straightforward and simple as possible, so implement the strategies we talked about and refer back to them when necessary.  Stick with it and don’t give up!

What’s your biggest frustration in social media? Share it in the comments. I’d love to talk about it!

  • Lankesh11

    Dude, you’re so right about the foreign country thing. It can be really uncomfortable. What a bummer if the church feels like that to people.

    • And it doesn’t have to be that way! Just a little shift in thinking will go a long way.

  • Cleo4780

    It’s nice to see the price of some of these things coming down. Maybe when all churches mainstream media, it will get even better. Our church just had its budget meeting and it was amazing how they could spend $2,000 a year on a phone bill (?) and not have any decent media.

    • If you had a church of 50 people and each gave 20 bucks you would have $1000 and then would be a great start for a media budget.

      It doesn’t take much. Just a shift in thinking really.

  • dsylvester

    Loving this!! I just submitted on the “free video announcements” even though we’re a ministry group…this sort of stuff is so applicable for all the events and functions that run through our ministry. Thanks Brady!!

    • So good! Looking forward to working with you guys on this Devan.

  • I totally agree with you Brady, the cost of ignoring media is just too high for any church. I think that churches that are doing media usually don’t understand how important this medium is because when you analyze where they are spending their money, I bet you anything you’ll find that they are spending it on other things which might not be providing very much value to the congregation.

    Great post man 🙂

    • I agree, Peter. Sometimes it’s hard though because we’re always hearing about stuff that we SHOULD be doing. Making that change isn’t always smooth.

      Nevertheless, the entry cost of media is getting so low nowadays that what’s the worst that could happen? Let’s just dive in!

  • Joshua Hodson

    I think its also with mentioning a lot of software is actually free as well these days. We use software such as Inkscape instead of Adobe Illustrator which is mooore than adequate for churches that don’t have professional graphic designers

  • Courtney Brinker

    This is a great, helpful article! Our church is just beginning to post on facebook, which is exciting! The worldwide church does need to be where the people are at. We need to be reaching the youngest generations. Thanks for the tips!

  • Joe

    My suggestion regarding minimizing heated discussions on controversial subjects is to create links or notes on the site (if that is possible) that state the position of the church on those controversial subjects. Then when someone asks, “What do you think about abortion?”, then you can politely refer to the link for the stated position. I know that can create controversy in of itself but if we don’t identify collectively as a body on where we stand on issues we truly foster divide in the body for the sake of tolerance. People are looking for direction as well… why hide it?

    • Dale Critchley

      Agreed, if you recognize that all man-made bills, laws, and court rulings are imperfect, but even the worst may have a nugget of good in them. Instead, communicate how identity as a forgiven and freed child of God informs a loving approach to the topic. What does the “abundant life” look like in each context?

      And I definitely agree with discussing these matters personally when possible. Find out where they’re coming from. What’s going on in their lives that causes them to ask the question?

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  • Andy Thomas

    awesome, thanks … love this

  • Nicholas Ikechukwu

    Nice one, I think the team is in need of this now, do you have anything on the ethics of social media also, like hashtags, mentions, how to caption and summaries

    • Roxanne Wiedemann

      Hey Nicholas – so glad you enjoyed the post! We have tons of content on social media. To find our latest posts on this topic, simply type social media into the search bar at the top of this page.

      Some posts I think you might find particularly interesting are:
      – 5 Advanced Instagram Tactics for Churches : http://prochurchtools.com/best-video-cameras-church/
      – The Exact Frequency for Posting on Social with Jonathan Malm : http://prochurchtools.com/pcp140/
      – Repurposing Content for Social Media with Diana Wei Fang : http://prochurchtools.com/pcp091/

      Hope that helps!