Connecting, Sharing, Extending: How Churches Are Using Social Media

Have you commented on, liked, or shared something your church is doing lately? More and more, congregations are using social media tools to share who they are to the wider world.

“Churches are being challenged to change how they perceive themselves in ministry, and how others perceive them and how to use technology to their advantage,” said Rev. Sidney Couperus, pastor of Mountainview Christian Reformed Church in Grimsby, Ont. Mountainview CRC, a congregation with more than 700 members, has a growing collection of online videos, produced and published to the video-sharing site Vimeo, by volunteer Peter VanGeest.

VanGeest said the three-minute video testimonials they’ve shared have received the biggest reactions. “It doesn’t matter what kind of trouble you have in your life, if somebody shares theirs, then you right away feel you’re not the only one, and we have a lot of that kind of reaction. They’re very popular,” he said.

Those results reflect what Jerod Clark, project manager for Church Juice at ReFrame Media, has seen overall. “In general, social media has become a very visual platform. So sharing pictures or sharing video are far more successful than just sharing text alone or even sharing a link to something else,” Clark said. ReFrame Media is part of Back To God Ministries International, the CRC’s media ministry.

Mountainview CRC also reflects something else Clark has noted. “Many CRCs are using Facebook better today than they were a few years ago. The biggest disconnect comes in church communications strategy,” Clark said, agreeing that many churches do not yet have a plan for intentional online communication.

“We’re getting there,” VanGeest said. “[At first] you use social media kind of haphazardly… but we’ve been more intentional in the last month and I’ve gotten as many hits in the last month as I’ve had in the last six months [on] Vimeo.” He said that instead of one person posting to social media for the church, each ministry is doing their own posting.

Clark pointed out that today there are still churches debating whether they can even take pictures of people in their congregation, while others have said, “You know what? We’ll set up a policy, we’ll make sure we’re doing it all legally and then we’ll just go because we know that showing our church in action will actually get people to engage better with us online.”

For Victoria (B.C.) CRC, which has a membership of about 250, social media presence includes church accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The church’s part-time office administrator Yvonne Van Rhyn does the majority of the posting but the church’s two pastors (husband and wife team Rev. Brittney and Rev. David Salverda) and the youth ministry coordinator also have administrative access on Victoria CRC’s Facebook page and post occasionally. Van Rhyn said the four check-in with one another in weekly staff meetings to keep track of who’s posting what. She said that the use of social media in their congregation is an “ongoing process.”

“How do we evaluate what worthwhile means?” questioned Van Rhyn “Some people would look at it with the number of likes or the number of hits … but I’d say it’s more that if we’re keeping people engaged who are starting to disengage – if social media can be a platform that’s keeping them engaged then that makes it worthwhile.”

Van Rhyn added, “Social media is just one aspect of how we show who we are as a congregation. We’re still expecting that people come [to church] because of a relationship with someone else.”

One church that is further developed in its online communication is Elmhurst (Ill.) CRC  “We have a social media calendar so that there is a balance between broadcasting events and extending the [worship] services,” said Sheri Van Spronsen-Leppink, part-time director of communication for the church. “Since we know that the folks on Facebook are not just local to us, we want a balance and not just advertising events. Our social media presence is part of our church – there is more of a message there as well.”

Knowing its audience is part of Elmhurst CRC’s strategy. A team of communication-focused volunteers participates in analysing data – determining where followers are from and recognizing how various posts are shared or responded to. Thursdays are pastor’s blog post days and Van Spronsen-Leppink said those personal messages have seen the most sharing and reposts. The church also has ministry-specific Facebook pages and sharing groups.

“Social media comes down to taking a look at your congregation or the people you’re trying to reach and saying ‘Where are they hanging out?’ and finding that right spot,” says Clark. “For every church, it could be different.”

Resources:

Peter VanGeest, audio and video volunteer at Mountainview CRC, said his church changed its one-person posting approach to a ministry-specific posting approach after listening to this church communications talk on crcna.org

Church Juice operates The Juicys each year, a way to recognize and reward those churches who’ve worked to improve their church communications. Check out Fairborn UMC’s 2015 winning Social Media Strategy.

Sheri Van Spronsen-Leppink recommends this article for churches just starting out: http://thomrainer.com/2015/07/seven-keys-to-an-effective-church-social-media-strategy/

About the Author

Alissa Vernon is a news editor at The Banner.

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