They did not have a social media class in seminary. I am a proud alumnus of Olivet Nazarene University and Nazarene Theological Seminary and I cannot imagine leading a group of people without this education. Upon graduating, I felt well equipped to preach, teach, counsel, care for the sick and lead a congregation in sharing the Gospel. Then I started my first pastoral assignment and realized there were some things that I did not learn in college.
As Associate Pastor at Victory Hills Church of the Nazarene in Kansas City, Kansas, one of my main responsibilities was advertising for the church. I was the one to make the call on how the church would spend its limited marketing budget. As I felt newspapers and radio stations were continuing to decline in popularity, I thought the free option of social media seemed like a great option for advertising. However, they did not teach me how to do social media marketing in seminary. While I did have some small successes from time to time, I never really found a way to effectively engage individuals who were not already a part of my congregation.
Now, with six more years and several more social media ventures under my belt, I realize there were a few simple changes I could have made that would have made my church's social media accounts much more effective. Here are just a three:
Social media is not an online newspaper. When I was first creating Facebook pages for local churches, I was thinking of them as an alternative to the free community sections of the newspaper. So, much like a church would use the newspaper, I typically and primarily only posted announcements of upcoming events or sermon series. While I may have received some views and likes from church members, I rarely ever saw people from the community engaging with my posts (or even less often, attending the events). The newspaper classifieds and community sections rarely provoke excitement and enthusiasm from their readers. In the same way, filling your Twitter feed or Facebook page exclusively with event announcements will rarely create opportunities for community engagement.
Easier is not always better. When I was first attempting to increase visibility for Lawrence Faith Church of the Nazarene, I decided to make my first attempts at a church Twitter account. (I had been on Twitter personally for quite some time, but never with a church account). As a bivoctional pastor working full-time outside of the church, social media was not my highest priority and could not monopolize my time. In order to make things easier for me, I decided to sync my church's Twitter account to the church's Facebook page; whatever I posted on my Facebook page would automatically go out as a Tweet. However, anytime my Facebook post was longer than 140 characters, my Tweet would be truncated with a fb... The problem is that no one ever clicks on a truncated link. Syncing my accounts was easier for me, but much less effective in engaging community members.
I am not my church and my church is not me. Having multiple social media accounts on the same smart phone app is convenient, except when I accidentally tweet a personal comment on my JCCC office account. How embarrassing! Personal accounts and organizational accounts are called such for good reason. Some churches and pastors confuse these as their standard operating procedure, however. The problem is that when community members visit your church social media page, they expect to see content from the perspective of the church as a whole and not from the perspective of a pastor. Likewise, personal accounts that only post newspaper-like announcements are rarely interesting to anyone.
There is a major paradigm shift in interpersonal relationships that likely is not being taught in a seminary classroom. True relationships and strong communities are actually being built via social media. There is a great opportunity for the Church to engage the world in modern and relevant ways if it can learn the new language of social media engagement.