Face(book) the Facts… why your church should be on Facebook

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Neil MacQueen, Copyright 2009.
www.sundaysoftware.com
www.sundayresources.net/neil

Postscript:
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.

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12 Responses to Face(book) the Facts… why your church should be on Facebook

  1. Dianne Edson says:

    Neil, I agree with you that facebook is a great way to stay in touch with people from church. It has been especially helpful in relating to teenagers. As the CE director, I have don’t have the same access to them that the youth director has, but we can follow each other on facebook.

    My concern is that some of these teens post inappropriate comments and pictures on facebook. I try to good naturedly nudge them into the realization that what they put online can come back to haunt them. But most of them don’t seem to care (youth live in the moment?).

    Do you have any experience with this? If so, how do you handle it? I truly worry that some of their comments will hurt them in the future. In fact, one of our teens gets paid to build the powerpoint presentation for the weekend services. A couple weeks ago, he let loose with an expletive-filled comments on his status that offended even me (24 years on the Navy – it takes a lot to offend me.) If I were in charge of his employment here, I would have let him go immediately. I certainly will not recommend any additional responsibilities or increased salary, just based on what I observed in his rant.

    Maybe I’m being too sensitive, but I suspect I’m not. Our “good, Christian” teens make comments about how they’re going to party on Friday night; they disparage their teachers online; they post inappropriate pictures, etc. If I get too in their face, they will just “unfriend” me. Any ideas?

  2. Neil says:

    Hi Dianne,
    In answer to your concern: Facebook is NOT anonymous. The only people who can leave “comments” on your “wall” (the message area on anyone’s Facebook page) are those who have been “invited” to be your “friend.” Thus, if someone leaves an inappropriate comment, you and everyone will know who they are. Their comment can be deleted. And they can also be “UNfriended” (removed) from access to your wall.

    Neil

  3. Tina says:

    If you are the type of christian that wants to obstain from the appearances of evil, wouldn’t you be offended by the advertisements that Facebook displays. And wouldn’t you want to keep your children from having to see those ads? Facebook will eventually have to keep running ads to pay for the services it provides. These ads will become more and more immoral, and guess what we christian will do? tolerate it, because its free. We are supposed to guard our minds from wickedness. Waiting to see Facebook make changes for the better, you will be waiting a long time while filling you mind with immoral images. You can avoid this, cancel your facebook account and TALK TO PEOPLE FACE TO FACE.

  4. Neil says:

    Hi Tina, your fear would be well-grounded if Facebook had ‘those’ types of ads. Currently it doesn’t, and yet already there is a feature which allows you to report any ad you feel is misleading or offensive. Mostly, it’s completely ad free. So you seem to be shouting ‘fire’ where there is no fire. And I see that your church celinabaptistemple.org is on the web, so I don’t understand why you believe people should only network face to face.

    Facebook is smart. They know their service is used by kids and grandparents, people of faith, and across many different cultures.

  5. Excellent post regarding Facebook. Your church may also consider putting a Facebook “Fan Box” on the website. It’s easy. I did it for a site, and it literally took two minutes. It allows site visitors to join, see other fans, network, and gel up the community feel of your website and church congregation.

    Also, my two cents on the ad issue. There are, at times, FB ads which are a bit off-color or at least suggestive. To avoid this problem, I’ve installed add-ons to my Firefox browser that block all ads. Wonderful feature.

  6. Cass P says:

    I chose to create a “page” for our church which pretty much let’s me make posts and receive replies. What I don’t like is the lack of information I can permanently put on the profile. Also, I cannot comment on any posts as myself because I show up as the church.

    should I go back and set up a regular profile?

  7. Neil says:

    Hi Cass,
    You’re right, a Facebook “page” is not a replacement for a real website. But it DOES let other members connect with each other as ‘friends’ through your church page, as well as, get notifications. That’s the biggest advantage of creating a “group” in Facebook for your members, or creating a facebook page for your church.

    re: limits on info… Facebook continues to evolve and they have caught on to the desire for organizations to create groups and pages.

    re: “cannot post comments myself” … you need to log-out and log-back-in under your own name.

  8. Bonnie says:

    Great post and discussion, Neil. If I may offer some clarifications…

    A personal account (or user profile) is for individuals and individuals only. FB members FRIEND (or unfriend) other FB members. If FB discovers that a personal account is being solely used for an organization, FB will probably close the account, perhaps without notice.

    Example: There are currently 18 people on FB under the name “Travis Cottrell”, and one is the personal page of the musician. I am not one of his friends, so I can only see limited information.

    Facebook offers Business accounts for organizations that want to create a FB presence without establishing an individual account.

    FB Groups are UNOFFICIAL groups of people. It could be a fan club – literally a group of fans of a celebrity or organization. FB members JOIN a group. There is one group called “Travis Cottrell Fans”. They have more than 300 members who post announcements about his appearances. The administrator isn’t doing much posting.

    A group can be Open (anyone can join), Closed (admins must approve a request to join), or Secret (membership by invitation only and the group will not show up under a search).

    FB Pages are for an organization’s OFFICIAL Facebook presence. FB members become FANS of pages. There is one page named “Travis Cottrell”. He currently has more than 6,000 fans. Anyone can see the information here, but because I’m a fan, announcements posted by the page administrator appear on my wall.

    Anyone can become a fan of a page, but the administrator controls whether fans can post anything or everything, and of course can delete anything objectionable.

    From the FB Help Center: “Groups and Pages serve different purposes on Facebook. Groups are meant to foster group discussion around a particular topic area while Pages allow entities such as public figures and organizations to broadcast information to their fans. Only the authorized representative of the entity can run a Page”.

    You can have multiple pages – perhaps one for Students, another for your Women’s ministry, etc. and authorize a church member, for instance, to administer the page.

    I do not have experience with Business accounts, but according to FB help, these accounts have limited functionality. “An individual with a business account can view all the Pages and Social Ads that they have created, however they will not be able to view the profiles of users on the site or other content on the site that does not live on the Pages they administer. In addition, business accounts cannot be found in search and cannot send or receive friend requests”.

    Cass, it sounds like that may be what you want to set up so you can then log out and log back in as yourself. You are right – when you are logged in as the person designated as the administrator of a page, your posts to that page will show the photo and name of the page. In my case, that’s what I want. We have a large church, and many people do not know me. When I’m posting an announcement to the page, I want it seen as an official announcement.

    There has been a lot of confusion about this. I’m actually trying to straighten it out with our own church’s FB presence, which was set up as a group but should be a page. FB does not seem to be aggressively targeting groups that should be pages, but I have heard that they will take down any personal account that should have been business, or should really be a page.

    Hope this helps. Pay attention to FB announcements about changes. As they have seen how people were using FB, they have made changes. But as of 4/12/2010, these are the current rules.

    Sorry this is so long, but it sounds like there may be some confusion about this.

  9. Neil says:

    Thanks Bonnie, and don’t apologize for good info! As you note, FB is changing all the time, in large part due to the way people and organizations are using it. I like that about FB…they are responsive.

    It should be said that FB should not be a replacement for a good church website. Please see my article on building a really nice one that’s easy to manage and update. http://www.sundaysoftware.com/wordpress.htm

  10. Bonnie says:

    Great point, Neil. I have come across church members who are intimidated by Facebook. And recently talked to one who “doesn’t like what she sees” on Facebook. (Unfortunately, that means she may be missing some great photos of her granddaughter!)

    Facebook is being widely accepted. A few weeks ago I was standing in a store and overheard a man saying this on his cell phone: “I’m sorry to hear about what’s going on with your mother! Tell me about it.” Facebook allows us to become LESS isolated rather than more, as sociologists have predicted. Whatever that man saw on Facebook prompted a one-on-one conversation that probably would not have happened.

    Mark Zuckerberg intends for Facebook to become THE way many people interface with the web. It’s not there yet, and may not. But people have dismissed Zuckerberg’s dreams before, and his competitors have been caught by surprise.

    With regards to churches specifically, today I have an excellent argument for churches to use Facebook as an additional tool. Today is the 30th birthday for a young woman in our church. She moved from out of state a year ago. It’s not noon yet here, and she already has 32 birthday greetings. Not all the greetings are from church members, but without Facebook she may not have heard from any of those who are.

    Another member joined less than 2 months ago. She lives down my street, but I had never met her or her family. She’s not in my Bible study group. I’ve had a total of 2 conversations with her. But I know her birthday is 2 weeks away, and can connect with her on Facebook OR in person. That family was already on Facebook. After meeting them, I searched for them, connected with them, and they have accepted all of my friend recommendations.

    Facebook has given churches a tool that very few churches could have afforded to build on their own. And if they did, it would be insular, and not offer ANY outreach opportunities. What unchurched person would subscribe to a church’s newsletter or join a church’s social network?

  11. If I set up a FB account for my church, is there a charge. My husband is the Pastor. Please advise. Thank you Connie Wallace

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