10 Ways to Help Your Members and Church Reach Out Through Facebook and Online Social Networking

My Doctor of Ministry work is in missional outreach. And a significant part of this paper is on the use of social networking to reach people for Christ, both the old fashioned, "real world" networking and online social networking. I want to address the latter in this post, though both are intertwined. 

 

There are several elements to effectively using Facebook (or Facebook type sites) to seek the lost online.

  1. Encourage members to join the site so that they may be in “proximity” to the millions of other Facebook users, just as Christians are encouraged offline to go to places that the unchurched frequent. Of course, with the phenomenal growth of Facebook, a tremendous percentage of Christians are already a part of this site and have hundreds of “Facebook friends.”
     
  2. Encourage members to proactively “Facebook friend” their current circle of nonchurched family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to allow for sharing and messaging with them.
    This strategy must be combined with real world social networking and missional lifestyles, as friending total strangers with whom one has little or no connection, while possible, goes against the culture of Facebook. Facebook can, however, strengthen a weak real world tie with an unchurched friend, co-worker, acquaintance, or neighbor.

  3. Encourage members to truly be a friend to these unchurched “Facebook friends” by taking an active interest in their lives—which in Facebook involves commenting on their friends’ walls, pictures, videos, and posts. Don't always try to make Facebook friends come to members. Be missional--go to their pages!

  4. Form an online Facebook group for those that are part of a seeker small group study such as the Story of Redemption.
    Here, the unchurched can more fully experience the witness of the Christian community; At High Pointe, each time a TheStory of Redemption small group study begins, a The Story of Redemption Facebook group is formed to help the small group members form stronger bonds (both online and offline). These groups have helped members get to know each other’s names, faces, and interests, as well as keep up with one another throughout the week. One of the best developments in these groups has been the posting of daily joys, struggles, and prayer requests, to which the groups have responded with celebration, empathy, and prayer, respectively.

  5. Encourage members to demonstrate true Christian character and community in their interactions with one another on Facebook.
    In the words of Stanley Hauerwas, the church is a “story formed community,” or a “community of character.” As the church lives out its life for the world to see, it demonstrates what it means to be shaped by the biblical narrative rather than the social, economic, or political narratives of the world. Thus, to truly be “evangelistic,” online interactions must do much more than advertise church events. Churches and individuals must interact in such a way that they demonstrate that which makes the church distinctive—the love and faith of the Christian community and the “confession of [Jesus’] lordship in baptism, worship, discipline, and obedience.” This is the type of “content” that needs to be shared online.

  6. Encourage members to share Scriptures and Christian videos and pictures on Facebook . There are several great Iphone apps that allow one to share Scriptures easily, as well as various websites (I will post a list of these later). God's word is powerful, and posting Scriptures online can start spiritual conversations online. Facebook, however, allows Christians to go beyond just words. By placing Christian pictures and videos online, the Christian message can be experienced, appealing to today’s right-brained, image driven culture. Leonard Sweet rightly invites the Church to visually present the gospel, explaining that “we are a print-saturated, word-based church in the midst of visual technologies that are creating a whole new visual culture.” The emotion that is evoked by these images is powerful, and can be even more effective than reason in reaching postmoderns, who are skeptical of logic and arguments as a means to truth. The Church needs to recover the power of images, symbols, and stories—virtually eliminated in modern presentations of the gospel—to effectively communicate the gospel today. In particular, testimonials of how people have come to faith in Jesus Christ are effective in sharing the gospel.

    Two of our new converts, Lindsey Flenniken and Cyndi Moncada, recently passed their one year spiritual "birthday." A year ago, they were baptized into Christ.  Lindsey Flennikenposted toCyndi Moncada Lindsey posted this on her Facebook page: "One year ago today we were baptized into Christ together! I know it was no coincidence that we both made that decision & got to share that amazing experience! Thank you for being my best friend & helping me become a better person :) love you, all 6 of you!" This message went out all over her network of friends, and Lindsey has been able to influence her old friends in Odessa who have seen her life transformtion. Lindsey and Cyndi post all kinds of wonderful, glowing comments about their church, small group, new Christian walk, etc. They are incredible Internet evangelists.

  7. Create a Church Facebook page. This is simple to do, and you only need 25 "likes" to create your own Facebook "vanity" url. (Like www.facebook.com/MissionalOutreachNetwork) I will post more on this later. When you do this, members can "tag" the church's Facebook page in their comments, allowing them to direct others towards the church's Facebook page and website.

  8. Have members "check in" on Facebook at the start of worship. This allows their online Facebook friends to see where they are worshiping and check out the Facebook link to the church's website. They may decide that they want to check this church out too. 
     
  9. Have members "check in," so to speak, when they attend a small group, go to a ministry event, etc. The church is the church at more than just worship. Encourage members to post a short note when they are going to one of these other gatherings or after they go.
     
  10. Encourage members to post thoughts about worship/sermon each Sunday. A few will do this automatically if moved enough, so obviously you want the worship and message to be inspiring. But most members will need a reminder to do this. So put out a reminder message on your personal Facebook page if you are a minister and the church's Facebook page encouraging members to do this. One of our members wrote this on her Facebook page on Sunday:

    Great sermon today at church! "Love one another"
    A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35
    Questions James asked of us that I challenge you to answer..
    1. How can we love one another?
    2. Who do you need to stop hating?
    3. Who do you need to forgive?
    4. Who do you need to love?

    After Kelly posted this, I realized it would be good for me to post something like this that members could share each Sunday (for those that are not notetakers.

 

What do you think of these ideas? What additional ideas do you have of how to use Facebook and online social networking to reach out? Which of the above is the most and least missional?



See the following sources:
Campbell, Heidi. Exploring Religious Community Online: We Are One in the Network. New York: P. Lang, 2005, 39-40.

 

Stone, Bryan P. Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2007, 194-95. One of the twelve strategies Brian McLaren gives for reaching postmoderns is to talk about faith. He says that faith was an “embarrassment” in the modern world, but it is a “way of life” for postmoderns. Brian D. McLaren, The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 175.

 

Kinnaman’s research of non-Christian young adults shows that they view Christians to be hypocritical, judgmental, and anti-homosexual, which at the least poses a major public relations problem for the Church. Kinnaman and Lyons. Kinnaman, David, and Gabe Lyons. Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity--and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007, 136-162.

 

Leonard I. Sweet, Post-Modern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21st Century World (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2000), 91-95. Shane Hipps explains how the shift to a print based culture through the printing press contributed highly to modernism, leading to individualism, the myth of objectivity, and linear, rational thinking. See Hipps, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture, 53-61.

 

Heath White states that “emotion and the vehicles that produce it, like pictures, films, stories, plays, and poems, are not necessarily any less reliable, and are possibly more powerful, than logic and its vehicles.” See White, 82. Robert Webber contends that the “primary way of communicating faith is through a combination of oral, visual, and print forms of participatory immersed communication.” See Webber, The Younger Evangelicals, 65. Neil Livingstone’s work is devoted to showing the presence and power of gospel images in the Scriptures. Neil Livingstone, Picturing the Gospel: Tapping the Power of the Bible's Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007).

 


It should be noted that the use of the term “friend” on Facebook is quite generous. In the real world, anyone claiming to have three hundred, seven hundred, or thousands of friends (as is often found on Facebook) would obviously have a definition of friendship that is different from the norm. Sociologists have theorized that people can have some type of relationship with up to perhaps one hundred fifty people (called Dunbar’s number). Matthew Fraser and Soumitra Dutta, Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work, and World (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008), 48.

 

Being “friended” by total strangers is much more likely on MySpace than on Facebook; however, this random friending has been one of several factors that has led many young people to migrate from MySpace to Facebook as their social network of choice. S. Craig Watkins, The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social-Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2009), 62, 75-101.

 

The potential for these connections to reach people should not be underestimated. For instance, contrary to popular thought, most jobs are not obtained by direct connections, but by friends of friends (also referred to as “weak ties” or one’s “extended network”). Furthermore, 83 percent of online users trust the online recommendations of friends and acquaintances, and more than half trust the recommendations of strangers. Li, Charlene, and Josh Bernoff. Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2008, 102. It should also be noted that younger generations do not view these extended relationships as “shallow” or “inauthentic.” Fraser, Matthew, and Soumitra Dutta. Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work, and World. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008, 56.

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Comment by James Nored on November 7, 2011 at 3:28pm
Here is a link to a different but somewhat related article, Connecting with the Digital Generation in Worship.
Comment by James Nored on November 7, 2011 at 2:35pm
I posted this message last night: "Does anyone have any unchurched family or friends who might be interested in going through the Story of Redemption? This is an 8 week small group Bible study that tells the overall story of the Bible. The Story of Redemption is specifically written for those who are seeking God, and it assumes no prior Bible knowledge or church background. Please let me know!"

I received several replies of people that were interested. Most were people confirming that I already knew about. But I received one message from someone in McKinney that I had friended saying that she and a friend were interested. I'm not sure where I first came into online contact with her. I added them all to a Facebook group already to get them excited, learn more about the study, coordinate schedules, and get them to know one another a bit.
Comment by James Nored on November 7, 2011 at 2:31pm
One thing to remember about Facebook--it is primarily mean to be social, not a broadcast medium. This means interacting with people! Interaction is usually far more effective than broadcasting.

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