Making Facebook Work This Year.

I’ve been contemplating the efficacy of facebook for a church (or other organization).  I’d like to take some time this new year to reflect on what seems to work and what doesn’t.

What you see above doesn’t work.  It gives information, you’re right.  It shows what we were doing, at the time, certainly.  There is nothing wrong with sharing information and announcements on facebook, but that can’t be the totality of it…in fact i’m not convinced that facebook is even particularly good at working like a calendar or bulletin, but I think there are ways to do that…I’ll get to that in another post.   What I want to say today: facebook is meant to connect with people on a relational level.  There should seldom be a post that doesn’t share a photo, video or link to an interesting story.

But, just because you have a link or a photo doesn’t mean its good.  Some churches augment their ‘announcement feed’ with links to denominational news stories or, worse yet, stock photos**.  If that is the extent of what we do, then we are doomed.

I want to suggest that developing a successful church facebook page comes with continually developing original content.  There is no other way to do it effectively…

Photos:  Pick up a digital camera or the nearest smart phone and take photos.  Not blurry snapshots and not all of them can be from the back of the room.  Get in close to people and show happy expressions.  OH, and please, get a variety of people.

Get Permission:  It should go without saying, but please take the time to ask permission from adults to use their photos and make a permission slip for photo an video a part of your sunday school registration so that you can easily know which parents are cool with you using their children’s photos and which ones don’t.  Don’t post photos where children’s faces are clearly visible without permission (the exception, for me, is public performances where the photo or video is of a large group from a distance)!

Video:  It can be as simple as an iphone or as complicated as a professional camcorder, but there are middle-of-the-road options for most churches.  Get a digital camcorder with an external mic plug (there are some inexpensive ones).  With an adapter or two from radio shack you can plug the church microphones into your camera and have decent sound if you do an interview.  But, again, don’t just put up anything.  Just because it is video, doesn’t mean it is good.  Just panning across a crowd will cause yawns to form and people will not click your next video.  Sure, pan the crowd and get videos from behind children and adults so that you have some b-roll that you can use without faces…but get some close up videos and pull people out of the room and ask them to tell what is happening; why they chose to come; and what they like about the event / the church.  Remember, we are not reporting just WHAT happened, but who and how it makes us feel.  and then… most computers have a basic video editing program.  open it up and put together a short video.  For the most part (for shots around the church or short interviews): don’t go over 2-3 minutes, in fact, 30 seconds – 1 minute will give you the best results in my experience.

Recommendations:  There is a very under-used section on facebook pages called recommendations.  For a company it is used for customers to ‘recommend’ the company or the product they sell: “I love [restaurant]’s food because it makes me think of home,” “Everytime I walk into this [business] it makes me think of the day I got engaged.”  Companies use this section to connect.  Churches need to start asking people to think about what they love about the church and post it there.  It is called evangelism and this is a very simple yet powerful way to share our feelings about our church in a visible way.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to remove unhelpful recommendations or comments that get put there… and seek out a variety of voices for this section: get your youth and college students involved here.

Insights:  There are a million tutorials for facebook and the most accurate are right in the facebook help section…  spend some time learning about insights.  They are powerful tools that help you understand how your page is being used.  Very basically, the more that people like, share and comment about a post or recommendation…the more others are going to see your church and know that your organization is an active force in the community (that is “Reach”)

Comment, Share, and LIKE:  Talk with your church staff or leaders to set an expectation that they would spend some time on the page and encourage them to regularly like, comment and share posts.  Now, here is the thing:  discourage people from liking everything.  Why?  My friends are likely to stop paying attention if something from my church comes up on their feed 5 times a day from me, but when staff and church leaders see something that actually connects with them – they should be sharing it.  When a person sees a variety of postings from your church that many of their facebook friends are connecting with, they may actually pay attention!

Oh, and if you are the page admin, don’t be afraid to share items to other people’s timelines.  For instance, when we had a Cantata I put up a video ‘as the church’ and then shared it to the choir director’s timeline.  If it is an item that especially needs attention, “Like” it yourself or comment on it (as yourself, not the page).

Voice: I can not stress this one enough…  Use the right voice on facebook pages!  There is a blue bar at the very top of the page, if you are the admin.  It will look something like this:

For most posts for major events, youtube videos, etc. I make sure that I am posting, commenting and like as “Normal First UMC,” but the staff and I have been trying to upload some photos short video clips and comments using our own voices…  (just go to the blue bar and click to change to your own “voice”).  In the new facebook timeline they appear in a seperate section that gets less notice on the page, but they don’t have to stay there!  Go to the “recent posts by others” click on “see more” and you’ll see all the personal posts that have gone up.  Click on the X.  It doesn’t delete it (although you could) but it gives you options and one of those options is “allow on page.”  That moves the post by someone else to the main part of the page.  It gives a more personal face to the page and to the church.

Hiding:  One last thing, this season we did advent devotional.  Each day I wanted to put up the most recent devotional as a note, but, I didn’t want 31 notes clogging up the page and making it look…well…boring.  So I put up the next day’s note each evening and “hid” yesterday’s note.  The note wasn’t deleted and people could still comment on them and they were still showing up in people’s feeds, but there weren’t 31 notes in a row on the timeline by now, either.  This is critical to understand: what you see on your page timeline is not the totality of your church’s presence.  Facebook is a complicated mix of timeline, notifications, newsfeeds and ads.  Posts exist even when they are hidden from your timeline and old items can be made new, simply by having people go back and like them (or re-sharing an old photo or video).

A successful page will have annoucements (although usually in the form of “events”), sure, but will have a focus on relationship building and content that is personal (not stock photos or, too often, denomination news links).  If you’d like to see some of things I’m talking about in action, feel free to stop by  Our page is far from perfect, but we are moving in the right direction.  I think that the staff are making great strides in how we take our church online and aim to ‘connect’ not just inform.

I hope your new year on facebook will be fruitful for you and your church!

**Hey, we occasionally use stock photos…but I suggest there is usually something better to use, it just takes more effort.

That’s your new website?  Really?
Image found at:

I’m in the midst of thinking about church websites.  I started, as many pastors do, by looking at what I think are “better” church websites.  What I find are a lot of sites that look the same:

  1. You have the static, old HTML format pages that are out-of-date, not relatable,  and …well… ancient.  No thanks.
  2. You have the cookie-cutter sites from E-zekiel or some other company that are obvious from a mile away, are unintuitive, have back-end management systems that are either so complicated that staff job descriptions should require programming languages or are so watered down that you can’t implement mainstream apps like google and youtube, well, enough said, No thanks.
  3. Or you have, what I’ll call, the next-wave church website.  They are much better.  They are visually stimulating and are setup for more dynamic content and they are far less expensive than they used to be.  But they still all look much like one another…  they are still trapped in this mindset of “come to us,” and they still tend to be ‘information-based’ instead of relational.
These websites have come a long way, but I feel like even the best of them are still running behind corporate websites saying, “We want to be like you.  Wait up!”
What is it we need for the church of this millennium?  What is the right answer for us?
In my blog I have already been shouting (in fact, I’m blue in the face) that we need dynamic, relational content on our sites…but I’ve, sadly, always been thinking of the existing model of church website with ‘dynamic’ content and more relational content in an existing structure.
This week I’ve been thinking that this is altogether the wrong concept.
Right now, the typical church website tends to have information about itself, some stories about upcoming events (all of this in a depressingly informational style), a calendar, a link to sermons / bulletins, and the *ALL-IMPORTANT* newsletter.  Hmmm,  Church websites, then, are taking a variety of things we already and making their proprietary website a forum for distributing them.
Why are we letting a gutenberg-based (500 year old technology) medium, for instance, dictate how we do church communications?  Why all the disjunct technologies and modes put together in such a contrived fashion???  How do we think completely out-of-the-box to redefine how our church communicates both on-line and internally?
I have a couple of thoughts, but, to be fair, I need to work on them here in Normal before I say anymore here online!  Put on your thinking caps and let’s get outside of the box.  Let’s transform church communications.
Here is to Creative and Effective Communicating!
Dynamic, Emotive Content

    For the past two weeks I’ve spent a lot of time considering communications and church.  You see, as a church we have typical ways of communicating:  Weekly bulletin, monthly newsletter, sunday morning announcements, and let us not forget those pesky phone calls and emails from the pastor, secretary or volunteer coordinator.  Now, of course we have many new ways of communicating with our congregations such as e-news emails, but if you look at the types of communication I have listed so far, I have focused on informational communication.

    The newsletter or bulletin are perfect examples of informational communication.  Green Bay First United Methodist Church has a beautiful example of a newsletter.  I mean, the newsletter itself is perfection.  It is professionally edited and printed with color and photos and graphics.  Yet no matter how often it is sent out, no matter how much information is contained in it’s 12 or 16 pages, there are always people who chronically say, “Why didn’t I know about [church event of choice goes here]?”  How many church communicators have had this very problem?  Now before I try to diagnose this issue let me step back and say that the newsletter is very effective for those people who receive it and read through the whole thing from cover to cover.  (and this is not exclusively the action of the elderly despite common misconceptions)
    Well, for one thing, everyone wants to stuff a newsletter or bulletin full of their committee’s or groups news items not to mention local community announcements.  Well, this isn’t a bad thing.  The newsletter is meant to be a clearing house for information, like a newspaper.  Yet, Newspapers are barely surviving right now.  Is it perhaps time to recognize that (generally speaking) a new generation receive their news differently than the past?  The problem is not how much information is in the newsletter (sometimes, it is actually an issue of prioritizing news: but this is not the subject of this blog) but simply the way in which people are now trained to receive news and information.
    For me, I have iGoogle setup so that when I bring up my browser, I have my favorite calendars (my personal, school and church calendars) which show up to the left of the screen, weather in evanston, pittsfield, and st. louis to the right and top news stories in the center.  As I get into blogging I’m also beginning to setup a list of favorite blogs and youtube channels.  You see, I don’t have to sift through 12 pages of newsprint with information of no interest in order to find the things that are important to me.  I can type words into a search engine or have dynamic content streamed right into my browser.
    If the church is interested in communicating effectively we need to look carefully at how people already communicate outside of the church.  How they calendar; what their texting and facebooking habits are; and how they ‘surf the web.’ What we will find is that church websites that are generally static, have proprietary calendars and are information driven are already antiquated.  So what would be effective?
    The most memorable and effective communication we do is face-to-face communication.  Whether it is a sermon, a story or a simple greeting in the hallway we are communicating information, sure.  But we are, more importantly, communicating relationally.  We are sharing stories and it is not just one-way.  This is what Communicating Christ, when done effectively, will look like.  Our websites should have dynamic content streaming in from parishioner’s blogs and youtube channels.  We would tell stories and express testimony as our primary goal on the website of the church with concise and clear information with those stories.  We will utilize mainstream communication avenues to provide content so that those interested in our programs can pipe our blogs, calendars, and videos into their existing programs and websites and do away with the need for people to sift through long articles and complicated websites for the information that pertains to them.
    It is time for our churches to rethink communication and not in emulation of other churches, but we must look at our own communities and ascertain how they already communicate, clarify what conversations our church community should be engaging, and find creative ways for these conversations to take place in ways and through forums which is accessible for our community.