Recently, I wrote an article for my SundaySoftware.com subscribers about “New Tech and it’s implications for the Church.” (http://www.sundaysoftware.com/articles/newtech.htm) It included info about how to set-up and use Twitter, Live Chat, and Email Newsletters to improve church communications –for free. I promised a follow-up specifically about Facebook (www.facebook.com) and here it is. My thanks to the church pastors and staffers who offered their experiences. I have my own, as I’m on Facebook too. I know some people say Facebook is a “fad.” But they are wrong. We are in the middle of a social communications technology revolution. God gave us the desire to be in community with one another, and humans have always found ways to bless and renew the ties that bind.
What is Facebook?
Facebook.com is the world’s largest “social networking” website. It allows users to create an online profile, then invite “friends” who are also on Facebook -to come visit their profile and leave messages on your “wall” of messages. It’s a powerful new kind of message board. You control who your “friends” are, who can see your info, etc.
Churches are creating online Facebook profiles which church members who are on Facebook can visit and leave messages. Or a church can create a “Facebook Group” where regular messages and discussion posts can be viewed/made. When your members become “friends” of your church on Facebook, they can not only receive/see/respond to messages that you post on your church “wall”, they can also see the names of other members who have become friends, and contact them if they wish.
From the church’s point of view…. There are two important things to know about Facebook:
1) Facebook is not passive. It TELLS YOU when a “friend” has commented on your wall. And it ALERTS your friends when you post new messages on your wall. It alerts them/you not only through messages on Facebook, but via your email. In other words, it’s a fast and pro-active way to communicate with members.
2) Facebook is networking software. When a friend signs up to follow your church page, they can see your other friends who are also following your webpage, click on those friends’ names and initiate a “friends request” with that person …and start networking with each other! In church terminology: this is a connectional medium that promotes fellowship BETWEEN MEMBERS.
Some people update their wall with comments on a daily or weekly basis. And other people can leave responses to your updates. Furthermore, when you log onto your profile, you see what your friends are saying about themselves, and you can go visit their wall to see the messages others are leaving for them. Only those you have invited can view your wall. Facebook allows you to upload pictures and albums to your page, and you can send private messages to your friends on Facebook.
Facebook helps you find friends in several ways: 1) You can use Facebook’s search feature to find friends who also use Facebook. 2) Facebook looks at your profile information (High School, College, and where you live), and makes suggestions to you of people you might want to invite into your friends group. 3) Facebook looks at who your friends’ friends are, and suggests you become friends with them. So for example, if you invite your pastor to become your friend on Facebook, Facebook will tell you who your pastor’s friends are, and then you can invite them to be your friend too. This particular feature would allow church members to befriend each other quite quickly. And of course, you can turn down requests and be as private as you like.
Face(book) the Facts:
Fact #1 The Church is a Social Network, and Facebook is social networking technology. Like the phone, the printed newsletter, email and Sunday announcements, Facebook allows you to get the word out, share your lives, and stay in touch over distances.
Fact #2: As a church leader, it’s your mission to communicate and network effectively. Increasingly, church leaders must use MULTIPLE ways to stay in touch with their parishoners. And increasingly, you must go to where the members are. Facebook is one good way to do that for free, and the results are almost immediate.
Fact #3: Many of your church members are already using Facebook. And many more will be joining the service in the years ahead. It’s a phenomenon, not a fad. Originally designed for college kids to stay in touch, there are now more adults than kids using it, and more everyday. In fact, people are signing up and using Facebook faster than any other web application. As of Spring 2009 there are 200 million Facebooks users around the world, 60 million of them in the U.S. Two-thirds of all Facebook users are out of college and the 35+ age group is fastest growing group of users.
Fact #4: People are sharing much more than information on Facebook, -they are sharing their lives. For years we have encouraged members to share their lives with each other, to stay in-touch beyond Sunday morning. Facebook is a powerful and fun way to do that.
Many church leaders have already begun to use Facebook to connect with their members.
Jim, a pastor in Nashville emailed me this comment: “At our last staff meeting, I asked my staff how many were on Facebook. Every hand in the room went up, except mine and the janitor’s. Then the janitor chimed in, ‘I’m on MySpace instead of Facebook.’ (ed: MySpace is like Facebook) Boy did I feel old. That afternoon they showed me how to get a Facebook page. Now we share notes with each other almost everyday, and have invited church leaders to follow our conversations.”
Steve, a small church pastor in North Carolina, “facebooks” his daily life, including what he’s doing that day at the church. And his members and friends follow him. He includes photos of events the day they happen, and friends and members leave comments and encouragements. Steve is a musician as well and many of his members follow him to learn about local music events and new music.
Becky in Rochester works at a large church where over a 100 members follow each other’s lives on Facebook. “We don’t know where it’s going but it’s been a positive thing.”
Lisa in Canada wrote to say their Youth Group Facebook Page is “indispensable” to their group, as “kids don’t use email or check it, they are on Facebook.”
Here are the Facebook features that make it a powerful application for church leaders:
1. Once you create a profile page, you can add written “comments” to your profile page as often as you like. Many people update their daily. Some not so often. The Comments section of your profile is called your “wall.” You can also add photos. Facebook makes it O so simple.
You can create a personal profile, or you can create a profile just about your church. Then church members can be ‘invited’ to follow your church page -and will get an alert everytime you post a message on the church’s Facebook page. Many churches use this approach so that they aren’t following and reading the pastor’s personal facebook page.
2. Once on Facebook, you search for and “add friends” who are also on Facebook –granting them access to read your profile and your “wall” comments. Once they accept your “invitation” to become a friend on Facebook, they can leave comments on your “wall,” and you on theirs.
Whenever someone posts a comment on your “wall,” you get an email notification. (That’s nice because I have my email program open all the time and don’t keep Facebook open on my computer like some people do)
3. Now here’s the “kicker”… When you accept someone as your “friend” on Facebook (granting them access to your wall -and you to theirs), Facebook AUTOMATICALLY suggests NEW FRIENDS you might want to invite to follow your profile/comments page –selecting from your friend’s “friends list.” So if you have a friend who’s already connected to 10 other church members, Facebook will suggest them to you, and you can click “invite” to send them a request to be friends. ((This is what they mean by “viral” marketing. You don’t have to go out and do it, Facebook does it for you by looking through your friend’s friends list.)) This means that you can accumulate church members following your site VERY quickly.
My experience on Facebook…
Setting it up was quick and easy, …which is probably why Facebook has been growing fast among babyboomers.
It’s fun, but can get a little overwhelming at times. Some people leave comments all the time. And the more friends you have who you are “following” (seeing their every comment on your wall), the more you have to read, the more they can clog your wall with comments. Fortunately, you can turn off some comment features.
Facebook also has some features which you may want to deactivate, and which some of your friends OVERUSE. One of the things that makes Facebook popular is its “applications.” For example, I have this one pastor friend who’s young daughter is always sending her mom “facebook gifts” such as pictures of hugs, and “splashing her” …and these items not only appear on her wall, but on mine as well because she’s my “friend” and I am “following” her. So when I pull up MY wall, I’m always seeing those comments. Fortunately, you can DEACTIVATE friends comments and some features.
Eventually Facebook will have to give its users more controls over what things appear on your wall. But this is the nature of the beast right now… it’s designed to show you what’s going on in the lives of your friends, and to see what your friends are talking about. It’s definitely NOT a one-way church newsletter.
Oddly enough, I “facebook” with my own kids and friends who i see ALL the time! ….in addition to following old friends I’ve reconnected with. One of the interesting phenomenons about this technology is that people will post comments about their personal lives that they would otherwise maybe not mention in conversation. Several pastors I talked to said they have learned quite a bit about some of their members’ NEEDS because of this phenomenon. But you also read mundane stuff, which reminds you that your friends and family members are out there living their lives, –and willing to let you be part of it. It’s a privilege of sorts.
Facebook’s original intent was to let people separated by miles and years to stay in touch which each other. I’ve reconnected with some old friends, and that’s been very nice. This is a great feature for church members who move away and want to stay in touch with their “old” church friends.
Where is this all headed?
We in the church have entered an era where can communicate immediately without the cost of postage, secretarial time or use of a copier. This is a godsend to those who need to communicate important information on a regular basis.
We are in an era where MANY methods must be employed, and not a limited few, and many of these new technologies “REMIND” you of new content, or can have their content delivered to the device of your choice. Some people live by email, others by cellphone. Web-based applications such as Facebook and Twitter understand this, and their applications allow for people to receive updates via the method of their choosing. For example, if I sign up to read your Facebook postings, I can opt to get them by email. If my pastor is on Twitter and I have signed up to receive their “tweets” (messages) on my phone, others can sign up to receive those tweets via email. If I sign up at your church website to “follow” your website, the website can alert me with an email to new content at the site.
The technology of this new era improves on the past. It is quicker, can be more timely, and in most cases is free. It is also “two-way” in that email and Facebook allows for response and immediate feedback, and methods such as Facebook facilitate networking between members outside the building.
We are in a period of experimentation. Churches and church leaders are beginning to use Facebook with great intentions. And as the technology grows and changes, things will only get better for those who believe they have a message worth sharing, and for those who are seeking NEW ways to listen to the lives of those they are in community with.
Understandably, some people have concerns about connecting with other people on the web. And some social networking sites are not for Christians. But fortunately, Facebook seems to be taking the HIGH ROAD. It has numerous controls, and seems to understand that it cannot alienate the mass of people who want a safe place to connect with friends. People who can view your information and leave comments are not anonymous. They can only be “invited” to your content, and they can be uninvited. It will be interesting to watch how this and other networking technologies evolve. And Christians should speak up so that these services stay church-friendly.