It's 2014 and when we want to know what's going on around the world where do we look first? Our #Social media accounts of course! Unless you live deep in the woods or in the middle of the ocean where a hot spot is unable to reach your phone or tablet, you check social media feeds at least 50 times per day. Some folks, like myself, never actually pry their eyes and ears away from the net long enough to miss anything that happens in the world today.
When news happens, no matter how miniscule it may be, I want to know about it before the rest of the world hears about it on the 10 o'clock news or reads about it in the print edition of the local newspaper the next day. Facebook, the number 1 social media website today, has more than 1.2 billion active daily users worldwide. That's a beastly number of people when you think about it. In the United States alone, 75% of all adults who have access to the internet use social media daily. With nearly 320 million people living in America there are only roughly 60 million with no internet at all. This means that of the 320 million with internet access, more than 240 million people are actively using websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, the top four social media sites today.
Why do People Use Social Media?
There are many reasons that people today use social media. Amongst them are things like reconnecting with old friends, finding a business service that is reliable, finding news and entertainment and finding things to do for local fun on the weekends.
Social media sites keep people close and help build relationships with new friends around the world. There has never before been a time in history that a person sitting in Des Moines, Idaho could click a button and suddenly be "friends" with someone sitting in Tokyo, Japan or Dublin, Ireland. Until that it is, social media made it possible to find people with the same interests or ideas and put them together instantly.
So we know that sites like Facebook can bring new friends into our lives and build relationships that we otherwise would never be able to have. Social media users worldwide are also more socially engaged in politics and social justice situations now than ever before in history.
Can you imagine how the Vietnam War protests would have intensified throughout America even more than they did had we had Twitter back then? Or how amazing selfies for Facebook would have been for American Astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969 when he walked on the moon for the first time?
Social media plays an important role in the daily lives of millions across America every single day. Social networking can help land a new job, find a date, announce the birth of a new baby, show off your children's new silly pictures and let the world know how you feel about anything from the menu for dinner to religious rights and social justice issues that can affect each one of us today.
Where have the People Gone?
With all of the great things that we can find on social media sites, where is the church and should they have an active social media presence for members of their community? Absolutely! Years ago church pews were packed on Sunday mornings in almost every church in any given city in the United States, yet today you can walk into thousands of churches throughout the United States and see half or more of the seats untaken. Where have the people gone? Many churches today are essentially "dead" inside when it comes to membership and attendance.
While many will say that people have just lost their interest in God, I personally don't want to think that. I believe that there are millions of people in the world that would attend church if they just knew something about the church prior to actually going. Do I think that's the way to go about church attendance? Of course not, but even I have sat at home watching a sermon via my computer on Sunday morning rather than just walk into a church that I know nothing about.
Call it social anxiety or nerves or whatever you may want to call it but the bottom line is this: People want to go where they will feel welcome. They want to go where they feel that others won't shun them for their clothing, piercings, tattoos or year of their car.
Church is not, or should not, be a social club to go and just feel comfortable, yet when people feel comfortable they tend to stick around and continue to attend services. Attending church is about showing our faith in God and walking in the steps that He has provided for us to hear His message and to see how He loved us so much that He sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to die a painful death on the Cross for our sins so that we can all, every single one of us, spend eternity in Heaven by His side when we leave this earth.
While this is the reason to attend church, you still see empty churches on Sunday mornings. Several years ago I was invited by a client to attend a church in my local community. The church was a beautiful church and was enormously large inside. I went inside a little early so I could find the Sunday School classes for my children and then find a good seat for myself. I fully expected that a large crowd would walk in and fill the pews before the service began.
As the music started a few members came in and sat down. I waited to see more people. The music ended and the pastor began to preach and two more people walked in. As I sat in the back of the church I counted the people and was amazed to see less than 20 people in the service. As I said, this was a very large, beautiful church and one would think that many would be in attendance yet they were not.
I listened to the sermon and to the pastor's mundane tone of voice as he read from the Bible and it suddenly hit me that no one was in attendance because the pastor was preaching as if he himself were bored to death. Then I thought to myself that perhaps he did not normally preach so quiet. Maybe he was distressed that in a church that had the capacity to comfortably hold more than 1000 people, only 21 were in attendance.
How Social Media can help the Church Reach the People
I believe that many churches today face that very problem. Low attendance. People are finding other things to do on Sunday morning rather than waking up early to attend a church service. They check their Facebook newsfeed and see something that is going on Sunday morning and they decide to take their family there instead of church.
Families look for things to do with their kids. Every Friday evening a church may have a youth night where kids can come and worship God and have fun activities to participate in, but if no one knows about this outside of their own small church community how are they supposed to build their attendance up?
While word of mouth used to be the best way to build attendance in church, word of mouth has now been taken to entirely new levels. A social media presence is an important factor in today's age of technology with building church attendance and membership.
While many churches have Facebook accounts, they often fail to use them appropriately. Usually, the "friends" or "likes" they have via Facebook are people already in attendance at church. Churches have to actively maintain their accounts and use them wisely to reach the "unchurched" in the community around them.
In 2011 a friend invited me to his church and I have to admit that it took me literally three years to show up after I said I would be there on Sunday. Several weeks ago I checked Facebook to see if the church had a Facebook page and thankfully they surely did. It was a Friday evening and I was going to look at their page to see if they had Sunday service times listed.
As I started scrolling down through their posts I noticed they were having a free concert that same evening and there would be some well-known musicians in the Christian music industry playing. One of them was actually a favorite of mine. I rushed to get my children and myself ready and off we went to attend the concert. We have attended church since that day and we love the church. Not because of the free concert or the fun activities for kids, but for the message from God's word that we hear each time we walk in the door.
Had the church not had an active and well maintained Facebook page, we never would have attended the first time. Many people do this. They scroll through Facebook to find a church and if the church is not actively engaging the public on Facebook they most likely will not be noticed. This is something that many churches need to realize.
How to build an Audience
Simply creating a Facebook page will not help new members find your church. You have to actively engage the community on your page. Keep it updated and the news feed fresh.
I have seen hundreds of church Facebook pages that have many posts that are more than a six months old, or they just have reposts from news links or pictures they have downloaded from the internet and posted. This is nice but it just won't get people in the door at church. You have to reach out daily to reach people.
Make posts about the various activities that are going on weekly at church. If you have a youth or teen ministry, post about it. If you have a community outreach mission, let the community know about it. Post your service times and mention things about the current sermon. You may have a website already and have these things posted on the site, but for the millions of people in America utilizing social media feeds on their mobile phones or tablets they are not going to go to your website unless you post about it via Facebook.
It's just a fact that people are drawn to business, people and places that they see on Facebook. When your church reaches out via social media and it is done the right way it will effectively bring people through the doors and into God's word each week. That is what it's all about. Bringing the word of God to the people and really reaching out to them in a way that will help build their relationship with Him.
Jesus walked through cities and towns to let people know about God. He preached to the masses and he led people to new lives walking on the path to God. Years ago, church leaders and mission groups used to walk through their towns sharing information on God and personally inviting people in their communities to church on Sunday.
While some still do this, you seldom ever see it. In the town that I live in there are churches everywhere yet in the years I have been here I have not once had a pastor or church member knock on my door to tell me about their church and invite me to attend. I have 3 churches within walking distance of my house yet not one of them has a Facebook page to let me know anything about their church. I notice that on Sunday mornings they have scarce attendance as the parking lots are quite empty.
It's ALL About God!!
So now that you know how a social media presence can actively affect the attendance in your church there is something even more important that you need to hear. It's ALL about God!
Reaching out through social media websites such as Facebook can help you get the people through the door of the church, but once they are there you have to make sure that they hear God's message in a way that will keep them there. Sermons need to be preached directly from the Bible and not twisted by your personal opinions.
I believe that many people have attended a church at some point where the pastor has based his sermon from a Bible passage yet by the time he is preaching, he has taken that passage and twisted it around so many times that it becomes a work of fiction instead of the truth that God has given to us to live our lives by. That however, is something that I'll discuss at a later date….
Today is all about social media so get online today and get your Facebook page up and running. Reach out to the community around you and they will come. Once they are there, it is your job to teach them about God and His amazing love. #Religion