Pastor Phillip Myles is a big fish in a little pond. He is the senior pastor of Mt. New Hope Baptist Church in Colquitt, Tennessee with a population of 1,100. His membership totals 500 members. Having pastored the church for over 40 years, Pastor Myles
doesn’t’ see any reason to make any changes.His church is a prominent fixture in this town. However, membership continues to decline, and church attendance was at an all-time low. Some senior leaders blame the decline on poor self-motivation of members while others blame popular online church ministries,sitting at home comfortably. Pastor Myles states definitely that all this internet stuff was a fad. He isn’t going to change anything. Two years later, Mt. New Hope Baptist Church closes its doors. Pastor Myles wonders what could he have done differently.
How do leaders leverage the power of social media in their congregations? In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus Christ provides a great mission to today’s churches: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” The Great Commission has never been easy to carry-out in any way. Globalization and technology have changed the landscape of society. Yet, building relationships and connecting with individuals are more crucial than ever. Small churches that understand how to tap into social media and digital platforms will be able to become more effective. In this discussion, we will be examine today’s small churches as they exist in a digital economy. Individuals will also learn 12 actionable steps for better engagement on social media and other digital platforms.
Today’s small churches face insurmountable challenges in a hectic society. Some pastors and church leaders are resistant to any chance of change while others do not have the knowledge or experience to embrace new technological ideas. Taking on more risks and failing can set back any organization. With small churches, the unintended consequences can spiral out of control. Unlike bigger institutions, small churches have limited financial and human capital (i.e., people) resources to meet their daily needs. However, churches, in general, are struggling. The Barna Group, a private, non-partisan organization, has been researching cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors since 1984. They note that Americans are attending church less while more people are practicing their faith outside of traditional institutions like churches.
Younger generations, like Millennials, are skeptic and cynical toward institutions. In fact, the number of unchurched youth continue to rise. According to the Barna Group, most people (73%) in the United States identify themselves as Christian. Corporate worship is essential for most church members. Surprisingly, the largest group of American churchgoers (46%) attends services in congregations of 100 or fewer members; more than one-third (37%) attend a medium church of over 100, but less than 500 members. With that said, small churches provide a good medium for building immediate relationships.
What is social media? We live in a world where everyone is connected. We network with each other at work, at home, and at play. Networking is about building relationships. In the digital platform, these relationships can be expanded electronically in the form of social networks. Below are some online statistics to consider about social media:
- There are 3.03 billion active social media users (total worldwide population is 7.6 billion).
- 81% of all small and medium businesses use the social platform.
- 96% of Americans with internet access have made an online purchase in their life, 80% in the past month alone.
- On average, people have 5.54 social media accounts.
- The average daily time spent on social media is 116 minutes a day.
As you can tell, U.S. citizens have already made social media an important part of their lives. This reality will not change soon. In general, social media falls under the category of digital marketing. Digital marketing encompasses all marketing efforts that utilize the internet or digital devices; it includes websites, blogs, emails, online advertising, social media, and other electronic services. In the business world, businesses employ digital marketing to become more profitable chiefly through selling products/services, advertising, or gaining business leads. Then, social media involves sharing and discussing information about individuals using social platforms like Facebook and YouTube.com. Most small churches need to think strategically about how to apply social media to their ministries and not a shot-gun approach.
This planning requires thinking about future digital trends like artificial intelligence. For example, by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their purchases without interacting with a person. Knowing relevant trends can better position an organization. Generally, most churches will take advantage of social media for the following purposes: (a) Communicating to existing church members, (b) Reaching out to prospective members, and (c) Sharing information to others (i.e., Great Commission). Like small businesses that have limited resources, today’s small churches can adopt digital tactics to expand their Great Commission. Below are some immediate steps to consider:
- Have an online presence to reach the target audience.
- Identify a point of contact (POC) for social media.
- Provide training in social media for POC.
- Establish goals for the church as it relates to social media.
- Identify your target audience and gather feedback on them.
- Perform a digital/social media audit (i.e., evaluation) of your church.
- Develop a written strategy for your church.
- Define desired outcomes for tracking (i.e., visitors to website, views).
- Select social media platforms that fit within your goals.
- Create appealing website content.
- Track and monitor results.
- Get help for outside experts, if needed.
Today’s organizations are facing tremendous changes in society. Today’s small churches are no exceptions. With limited resources and knowledge about emerging technologies, figuring out how to best apply social media platforms is not an easy endeavor. Church leaders who are willing to embrace the advantages of social media are in a better position to carry out the Great Commission in the fullest sense. As you can see, I demonstrated how today’s small churches can leverage social media and digital platforms to become more effective. In reality, the effort may require more out-of-the-box thinking and additional energy to implement. However, the rewards are worth the time of the small church. Let’s pray that it is not too late.
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© 2018 by D.D. Green