LIMA — According to Buzzplant Strategic Media Solutions, an online, Christian-based, digital advertising agency that surveyed 250 churches to see how they were using social media, over 30 percent updated Facebook pages daily, 67 percent had a blog that was updated one to two times a week, but 74 percent did not have a paid staff member that updated the church’s social media pages.
These statistics show that while churches have definitely dived into the social media pool, many are still learning how to use it effectively.
According to Jessika Phillips, president at NOW Marketing Group in Lima, social media is a term that describes relationship marketing. It is a way to form online communities that share information, ideas, personal messages and other content such as videos or photographs.
“It’s perfect in the realm of churches,” she said, “because social media is about building relationships. It’s a little less intimidating for people to find answers and connect through social media than it is for them to walk into a church.”
The Rev. Aaron Bump, pastor of worship, arts and media at Harvest Baptist Church in Wapakoneta, manages a Facebook group page for his church.
“We primarily use Facebook,” said Bump. “I think we use this because it’s an extension of our people. You want to use whatever methods to reach your people.”
Like many churches, Bump uses Facebook to announce events, while church members use it to share prayer requests and praises. He also added one of its greatest advantages is that it is a way to get to know people.
“Facebook gives us a greater ability to know what’s going on in people’s lives,” he said. “You get to know the real people, not just who they are those few hours on Sunday. Our whole goal as pastors is to care for people and help them grow in Christ. By seeing more of people’s lives on Facebook, it helps us do that more effectively.”
While Phillips said that the main social media outlet area churches use is Facebook, she mentioned several others that churches might want to try.
“Podcasts and live streaming are things that are ideal for churches,” she said. “A lot of people are busy, but they can listen to the message at home or on their phone. Blogs are another way of sharing your message. You can have a conversation and it creates a viral market feel.”
Another avenue that many churches miss is using Google Plus. “Google Plus is not used a lot but could work well,” said Phillips. “It helps search engine optimization. That just means if someone is looking for an answer on Google, then that search engine will bring up not only an answer but the one that is closest in geographical location. That means if someone is searching, say Baptist beliefs, Google will bring up not only relevant information but nearby churches as well. It’s a great way to reach the right people online without offending them.”
Of course, as with any tool, there are pitfalls. Phillips said the main pitfall most churches fall into is creating a page on Facebook or starting a blog, but then not following up on it.
“If you create a page, you need to have someone monitoring it regularly,” she said. “It can be hurtful if someone reaches out and nobody monitors the page except every three months or so. You aren’t using it to its full potential for relationship building if you are not responding to people. It is better to not even create a page, if you aren’t going to have a stellar one.”
Bump said that while seeing more of people’s lives is mostly positive; sometimes that positive can turn into a negative.
“The same thing that can be a positive can also harm the testimony of the church,” he said. “If people are saying they go to Harvest Baptist and then are putting things that are a bad testimony up on Facebook, that can be a negative, but there have been very few of those instances.”
Bump added that the false sense of anonymity leads to some interesting things. “I think it gives people a sense of freedom to say and post things they’d never do in person. It’s a weird phenomenon. Integrity is what you do when you think nobody is looking. Facebook and Twitter gives a glimpse into that.”
Phillips added a church with a social media presence also has to be prepared to answer sometimes difficult questions in a public sphere.
“You have to be prepared that you may get challenged in front of others,” she said.
While social media does have some drawbacks, it can be an effective tool churches use to reach out to their members and community.
“Facebook,” said Bump, “is a natural way for us to meet our people’s needs.”