Facebook for Churches – The Free Ride is Over

Facebook was a gift for churches when it came along. Social media is people networking, and churches are in the business of people networking. Or should I say churches should be in the business of people networking. Often churches feel safer retreating within and relating to people within their bubble rather than growing networks from the outside. To illustrate this someone in my church recently asked exasperatedly “who are all these new people?!”.

The Free Ride Is Over
Facebook back in the day was free. It was the best thing since sliced bread for those who discovered and got over the fact that you need to simply scroll past what you don’t like. Sadly for the Baptist church the leadership generation was and still are unwilling digital immigrants. The new generations coming through are digital natives but church communications are still controlled generally by white guys over the age of fifty who just don’t get social media.

The biggest mistake churches have made traditionally with regard to Facebook is using it as an inside-the-bubble communication tool rather than to use it for its vast networking potential. There is a new mistake that churches are making: failing to realise that in order to use its networking potential they may have to start spending money.

Spending money on communication is foreign to churches. That smacks of ‘marketing’ after all doesn’t it? The end result is that the business down the road that sells alcohol spends more time, money and effort trying to connect with locals than churches do. Local businesses offer products and services of no eternal value, churches offer the keys to the Gospel – which is of infinite eternal value. Churches generally spend very little on communication. Drive past your average Baptist church and look at the sign. What does it tell you about their approach to communication?

Sucked In, Pay Up
The free ride on Facebook is over. Those crafty people in Zuckerland sucked us in, and now in order to be visible we have to start paying.  There are a two key ways churches need to start considering budgeting for social media (especially Facebook). The first is Facebook adverts. These can be targeted to your local area, and to specific demographics and to people who are interested in particular things.

Church Advertising
In my other life I own a gym and I know that in my two neighbouring suburbs 90 and 30 people respectively search each month for ‘[suburb]-gym’. So within 3km of the gym an average of 120 specific searches are made for a local gym. Old school communication saw me blanket the local area with thousands of flyers at a huge cost. The new digital age enables me to target those people specifically through Google advertising and Facebook advertising.

Using keyword search terms research churches can find out what people in their local area are looking for in relation to spirituality, faith, etc. Armed with knowing what people are searching for they can specifically target people through paid social media adverts or boosted content of their own.

I’m not of the belief that evangelism is a ‘come to us’ proposition but nor am I of the conviction that it is all a ‘go to them’ proposition. With respects to the services (play groups, children’s groups, youth groups, etc) that churches offer or special programs/outreaches such as Alpha group, paid social media advertising is a worthwhile investment especially if you keep track of the metrics to ensure that you are reaching the right people and getting the responses you are calling for. Church advertising is simply letting people know what is going on, and giving them an opportunity to get involved. If you need to spend some money on that it’s money well spent.

Boost My Church
Another way in which churches can use paid social media well is to ‘boost’ posts. Lets just say a church has had a youth weekend and they’ve put together a great video showing young people having a blast. This is content which the church can ‘boost’ so that it reaches more people. Any content which you would strategically like to put in front of people’s eyes is worth boosting.

Other content worthy of boosting may be a worthy cause the church supports, a feature on your playgroup or a feature about an event.

Organic Is Still Best
The best way to make your content viral is not to pay, but rather to think carefully about the copy you place in the text box, the content that you feature and the call to action that you include. Armed with this and a church full of active social media users (influencers) you can counteract the increasing monetisation of social media. Viral, organic content always gets more results than paid. An example of this would be one of the most followed Facebook pages in the world: Humans Of New York, or HONY. Hony was started by Brandon Stanton in November 2010.

Initially the project was designed to photograph 10 000 New Yorkers and plot them on a map but he started taking notes of their stories and publishing the photos with the accompanying stories. The page has as of writing 17.5 million followers. It does not and has never used advertising. The power of the site is in the content: stories of every day people on the street.

HONY has now grown into an influential philanthropic entity as well as publisher. The story and content of HONY should be instructive to churches about what makes people respond on social media. It may well also be a hint to preachers about how to engage people. If you set out to buy your way into 17.5 million followers on Facebook you would need an infinite amount of money. Key take home lesson: organic beats paid if done well.

So Which Is It To Be?
I use both methods. When I become as good as Brandon Stanton at organic social media engagement I’ll stop using paid services but until then I’m covering all bases.

More Info

For more in depth know how about social media check out our webinar series Facebook For Churches. Our beginners level webinar can be watched here.

Upcoming webinars include:
Facebook for Churches – Intermediate level on Wed 22 June
Facebook for Churches – Advanced Level on Wed 29 June
Up to date webinar info and how to join in can be found on our events page.


Blog by Stan Fetting, Crossover Operations Manager, May 2016