Two Key Principles For Churches Doing Social Media

by Bobby Gilles

in Church Communications

Overwhelmed bicyclists carrying mattresses and furniture on bike Overwhelmed by social media networks, rules and strategies?

If you’re a church leader who wants policies, procedures, tips and “rules” for social media strategy, you’re in luck. Many blog posts, websites, podcasts, workshops and conferences explain the fundamentals. Some of them will also sell products or services to enhance your social media clout.

But what if all the advice seems overwhelming? What if you find yourself creating profiles on more networks than you can even remember, let alone keep up with?

Have no fear. Although social media marketing is a deep topic, and you can find plenty of good teachers and products, you only need to remember two things:

  1. Keep it real
  2. Keep it simple

Social Media For Churches: Keeping It Real:

You’ve probably heard about services that will automate your social media status updates, publishing a link and the headline from your blog or other blogs you read, and sync them so that you can simultaneously publish to a bunch of outlets at once?

You don’t need all of that stuff.

The hallmark and promise of social media is that real people will really communicate with each other. Like face-to-face conversations. If I post something on Twitter, you can rest assured it was really me. I really respond to questions and comments, and I really “Like,” “G+” and “@ reply” to things people post that I find interesting, helpful, funny, convicting or stimulating.

Social media is social. It’s different from broadcast media. Does this mean you can’t tell people about your blog post, or an upcoming church event? Of course not — you talk about those things in a face-to-face conversation, so you can talk about them in social media

But it’s not all you do in face-to-face conversation. You also listen and respond. And you share things you find funny, heartwarming, challenging or enlightening. You even talk about some other pastor’s new book besides your own, and some other blog that has a great new post on your favorite topic.

So be that way with social media too. Be your real self.

So my church profile has to do all those things? 

Yes and no. Some social media outlets — Facebook, for instance — limit the amount of interaction you can have with people under your organization’s profile. I can’t “Like” a status update as Sojourn Community unless the update is posted on Sojourn’s wall.

But I can do those things as Bobby Gilles, and I can encourage our pastors, staff, deacons and worship leaders to do the same. People are more comfortable interacting with individuals than organizations, even if the organization is a beloved church. After all a church is made up of people. There is no person “Sojourn Community,” only the people who make up its membership, staff and elder body.

Other social media companies (Twitter, for instance) let you post as your brand in the same way you can post as an individual. And this is often a good idea. But again, people like to interact with people. Don’t hide behind an organizational Twitter profile, and assign its use to a staffer or intern. If you’re a pastor or church leader, you’ll do better to get on Twitter yourself.

At Sojourn, our church organization social media outlets do mainly “broadcast” news and links, while we give free reign to our pastors and staff to start and join conversations using their own profiles.

Social Media For Churches: Keeping It Simple:

Every week it seems like someone comes up with a new social media network, or a new “Facebook for churches.” Church leaders strain under the weight of these network, feelings as if they have to “have a presence” in all of them.


Go where the people are. Sojourn is on YouTube, Vimeo and Flickr, but our daily social media efforts involve only Facebook and Twitter. And yes, they are linked, so when we publish on Facebook it auto-publishes to Twitter. This is the only aspect of automation we use in social media. We are active on Twitter though. I check the account several times daily, responding to people and sometimes publishing Twitter-specific updates.

Five years from now, these companies may have gone the way of Myspace (which is trying to revive itself — who knows, maybe it will work). We might be somewhere else; we might be in three places. But we won’t be in ten. What church can dedicate the personnel (even volunteers) to managing a large number of social networks? And if you do have that much personnel available, shouldn’t they be doing something more valuable than to interact in places where only a few of your members and townspeople are even active?

Focus your efforts. If not, you will inevitably be a mile wide and an inch deep in all your networks.

What does keeping it real and simple mean? A study in what not to do:

I’ve read of a couple experiments in the past year, each of which went about the same way: someone tweets an identical message to a bunch of churches in her community — something like:

I’m new in town, and would like to check out your church. Can tell me your service times?

And typically, the vast majority of churches never respond. Never. Because no one is listening — they’re just broadcasting automated messages.

Don’t do this. Whoever is acting as your church on Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else should answer questions. If she or he doesn’t know the answers, they should find a pastor who does. Social media is supposed to make it easier for people to reach you, not just for you to reach them.

Beyond this, you can certainly get more strategic and benefit by reading good blogs on church communications, attending conferences and networks, and reading books (next week we’ll publish a list of the My Song In The Night Top 10 Books On Church Communications). But whatever else you do, just remember:

  • Keep It Real
  • Keep It Simple

Top photo by Jhayne, used via Creative Commons license

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