Sometimes when I consult with churches, I provide marketing and communications support. Before ministry I was the Creative and Art Director for a design and marketing agency in Phoenix. So for more than 23 years, I have kept myself on the cutting edge of advertising and helping people grow their businesses (including churches) – well, I have tried to anyway. Then came social media… and I thought I might actually have reached my threshold of learning and staying on the cutting edge! How could there be so much to absorb so quickly?!
As the internet has grown, trying to keep up with it all has become more and more challenging. The landscape of marketing, of knowing how to advertise, where, when and with what message, of trying to communicate your best ideas to the right people has been changing faster than anyone thought they could keep up with, including those of us that are the experts. And frankly, not much has changed in the last 10 years. It still moves faster than people realize, and oftentimes can make our heads spin.
So when I was asked to write an article about growing your church through social media, the first thing that came to mind is pretty much the first thing I say to many ministers in the field as I watch their eyes glaze over at the thought of adding one more thing to their plate. “Keep calm and blah, blah, blah…” The “blah, blah, blah” piece refers to what happens for many ministers and spiritual leaders when conversations arise around marketing, and actually DOING social media… everything begins to sound like the adults on “Peanuts.”
If this sounds like you in any way, then my first piece of advice is KEEP CALM, and breathe. A wonderful place to start if you would like to engage in marketing, specifically social media, to grow your church. I’m not going to spend time talking about the “how-tos” of getting on Facebook or Tweeting, or the mechanics of any social media vehicle. My goal is not to make you a social media expert, but rather to make you an expert at your own community, and giving it a voice to reach those that have yet to hear that you offer resources that enable us to live meaningful and abundant lives.
We all know you can’t communicate everything you want to say with 140 characters on Twitter, or a photo with a single quote on Facebook, or a few hashtags on Instagram, so stop thinking you can. Since you aren’t going to be able to communicate the whole vision or mission of your community, you are going to have to be intentional, creative and specific.
So before I start to sound like the adults on “Peanuts” and you begin chanting at me “Keep calm and blah, blah, blah,” let’s start at the beginning – that place that has nothing to do with your computer or the internet. Although I will say this: if you want to grow your church, or spiritual community, you have to be online. If you’re not willing to go there, then you can stop reading and go back to your regularly scheduled program. The world has gone virtual. People are online everywhere and oftentimes in more than one place at a time. More of our lives are being lived online, so the question isn’t IF we are going to use social media to grow our communities, but rather HOW to effectively engage with it. So here are three things you can do to begin, or even rejuvenate, your social media plan.
Do your own work
More often than not I hear from ministers and leaders why doing social media isn’t possible, or it’s hard, or too time consuming, or, or, or… Trust me, I get it. It can be all those things, if we decide it is. So here’s the first homework assignment to support you in “getting social” to grow your ministry, that really has nothing to do with getting online.
Listen to your own inner dialogue. When you hear conversations about Facebook, Twitter or marketing in general, do you feel any tension in your body? If so, ask that part of your body what it is trying to tell you, then nurture it. Do you hear yourself thinking about how you have to get it all done knowing you can’t really get it all done? Do you find yourself adding it to a list of things to do? That never ending list that has taken up residence on your desk or smartphone and feels like it weights 800 lbs.? If any of this rings true, or things like this, then you need to create a new relationship with social media and marketing. It can be a conduit for healing our own inner beliefs of inadequacies and worthiness, without ever posting or tweeting a single word.
We need to take a hard look at how we spend our time. Knowing that taking on something new will require a learning curve, which will require time from us. That means we will need to let go of how we spend my time on something else. Am I really that indispensible in all these areas of activity in ministry? If I am afraid in some way of doing new fangled things, then I need to give that fear a voice in order to heal the belief that lies underneath. What better fodder for a Sunday talk?
Focus your message
Is this post, tweet, or picture I want to share in service to our vision? If it’s not truly IN SERVICE (and not everything is) then why are you doing it? This does not mean that your posts always need to be “Unity speak” or a Fillmore quote, or Christian memes for that matter. But what you post, like, and share should answer the question, “How does this affect the community within and without our 4 walls?” Posting for the sake of posting (because you think you are supposed to post) serves no one, and frankly wears you out.
Everything we do on social media should be in service to your core values. So what are those? Do you have clear cut core values for your community? Core Values are the DNA of the community, they are not something to aspire TO, they already are alive, so give them a voice, tell the world how they are in action in your church. You probably tell your congregation on Sunday mornings how lives are changed by your presence in the community, so why not online? So homework assignment #2 is to start simply writing a list of things you might want to say to someone. Make sure that each item on your list answers the questions above.
People use social media because they want to connect, to engage with another – not just read pithy quotes and look at pretty pictures. There is a spiritual starvation spreading in our culture, we have the capacity to feed the masses, in many ways, and social media is a powerful tool for nourishment. So if we can , to some degree, provide that connection and engagement why wouldn’t we? That doesn’t mean to be online liking or commenting on lots of posts. It does mean though that we can engage at depth by making our presence known.
One of the most thought provoking ways we can do this is to pose questions designed to make people think. It’s ok to afflict their comfortability just a little bit, as long as we offer the comfort for their afflictions as well. People’s darkest moments often come online, so let the world know, or your corner of it anyway, you are present. Of course we prefer face to face connection. Holding another person’s hand, looking at their face, hearing their words, and they ours, can be the most healing and uplifting encounter. It’s just not always possible, so be active and available online.
Homework assignment #3, is to spend time on Facebook, Instagram or wherever, and notice your feelings of connection. The moment you think it’s not possible to “really” connect online, think again. Notice where you hang out, what you read, who shows up in your feed, not organizations, but real people. Make a note of how you feel about your online interactions. If you don’t feel inspired or empowered, then go back to homework assignment #1. Connect with yourself and find the glory in that connection and write down ways you could communicate that to another.
Keep calm and no more blah, blah, blah
All three of these homework assignments have nothing to do with actually getting online. Think of them as the foundation to building a strong presence. If you are already active online, then consider making some shifts in what you are doing. If you dabble a little or not at all, then it’s time to stop dabbling. To grow means to expand, develop, or to increase by natural development. Isn’t that our spiritually journey as individuals and communities? And it’s important to remember that growth happens through healing, in all it’s forms.
Myrtle Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, said healing was a two step process. The first step to healing was to believe. So are you believing in the process or the outcome? (I’ll give you a hint: the answer is BOTH, but in this case I am asking you to believe in the process). The second step is to be open and receptive to the healing stream of life. That healing stream sometimes is obvious, comforting and inspiring. And sometimes it doesn’t feel good, and comes in a lot of strange packaging. Odd as it may sound, social media is one of those streams, so let’s step into it and grow.