Getting the Most from Your Congregation's Facebook Page
For individuals, Facebook is a pleasant way to pass some time and keep in touch with friends. For congregations, it can be much more.
Rachel Walden, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA's) communications specialist, works to help congregations use social media as effectively as possible. Many congregations underuse Facebook, she believes. She finds that the majority of congregations use Facebook to communicate with people who are already connected to the congregation––informing them about Sunday services, events during the week, the progress of renovations, and social justice projects. There is much less content aimed at reaching people beyond the congregation’s walls.
“For most congregations, Facebook still serves many of the same purposes as a newsletter,” she notes. “What I’d like to see is more congregations use it to also reach out to non-Unitarian Universalists (UUs), to newcomers, to show them what Unitarian Universalism is about.”
She encourages congregations to post links to articles from uuworld.org, uua.org, and the Church of the Larger Fellowship as a way of demonstrating UU values and principles. Inspirational quotes with eye-catching graphics are another way to reach non-UUs. She also suggests that congregations post short video segments from sermons and stewardship testimonials as a way of sharing congregational values.
Walden finds that most Facebook visitors don’t watch complete sermons, “but they will watch shorter segments from those sermons.”
Some congregations use closed Facebook groups for the sharing of Joys and Sorrows, taking it out of Sunday morning worship where there might not be time for it or where it could be problematic. Other congregations use closed groups for continuing small group ministry conversations. Facebook can also be useful for extended discussions about sermons.
Make sure your congregation has control of its Facebook page and that it’s monitored regularly so that offensive comments can be deleted. At some congregations the most popular Facebook gathering places are pages that were started by individual members. Remember that the congregation will not have control of these if bad behavior erupts.
Walden recommends a team of two to three people, including a staff member, to monitor and keep a Facebook page updated. Also, don’t be afraid to delete comments you consider offensive, inappropriate, or even just irrelevant. “You have every right to delete comments. We all believe in the First Amendment, but it’s okay to draw boundaries.”
Politics should be off limits as well as personal attacks. Many of the same rules that apply to congregational websites apply to Facebook pages: Don’t post photos of kids without permission. Don’t share personal health issues or congregational controversies. It’s a public page, and the whole world can see it.
Eight months ago the Facebook page of the UU Church of Bloomington, Ind., was like those of many other congregations. Today it has a new look. It still has the usual information about church events, but it also has a stream of inspirational quotes imposed upon attractive graphics. In addition, it has occasional items about national social justice issues, including support of marriage equality.
Bloomington’s Facebook also offers questions to ponder—questions that provide insights into Unitarian Universalist convictions. “What matters most to you?” “What are you longing for in your life?” “When do you feel most Unitarian Universalist?”
There’s a reason the congregation’s Facebook page has a new look. Last fall four Bloomington staff members and a lay person began taking an online course, “21st Century Ministry Through Social Media,” offered by the Church of the Larger Fellowship, on how to better use social media.
“Last summer our page looked a lot different,” said church administrator Carol Marks, one of those taking the course. “Since then we’ve learned how to manipulate photos and find non-copyrighted material. We started posting quotations in December. Then we moved into doing quotes and graphics about the worship theme of the month. And then we realized we could use this same skill to promote things happening here at church.”
The result is a Facebook site that is alive with color and interest beyond simply what happens in the coming week at church.
A team from the UU Congregation of Duluth, Minn., also took part in the CLF course. A seeker who visited Duluth’s Facebook page recently would have found an item welcoming people who had had damaging experiences with religion. Other items have promoted congregational events in attractive, compelling ways. Still others demonstrated support for LGBTQ rights, environmental protection, and opposition to sex trafficking. It wouldn’t have taken visitors long to decide if this congregation might be worth a closer look.
The Rev. Meg Riley, one of the instructors of the social media course, and senior minister of CLF, said, “Congregations have an amazing opportunity right now with social media. We are not the kind of people to ever evangelize by going door-to-door, but social media gives us ways to reach out and tell the world who we are. Whatever your church’s mission, whether it’s antiracism or permaculture, people can see who you are. And you can also promote your great music program.”
Twelve congregations have teams participating in the CLF social media course, which closes in May. It may be offered again, said Riley. She noted that it can be challenging for congregational leaders to learn how to use social media on their own. “We try to break it down for people. People in the class all share ideas and we learn together.” She also suggested that people check out the UU Social Media Collaborative on Facebook, another place where communications ideas are shared.
General Assembly is yet another place to learn about social media. Walden will present a workshop on engaging people online using social media at GA 2014 in June in Providence, R.I. Information from that workshop will be available after GA as well.
Is Facebook actually effective in bringing seekers into a congregation? The jury’s still out, but Marks, at Bloomington, knows this: “On Sundays we have somewhere around 90 people who live-stream our worship service through links on Facebook, our website, and our newsletter. We post the order of service on Facebook and around 40 people read it. That tells us the community that exists on Facebook is lively and real. And it involves many people who never show up at our physical location. They may live just down the road or across the country. And they like to access church in this way.”