Becoming Part of the Digital Conversation: A Survey of Social Media Use by Converge Churches

By Peggy Kendall
Bethel University professor of Communication Studies

Whether you love them or hate them, social media have become an essential part of how we communicate with one another. It is no surprise, then, that churches are struggling to become part of the digital conversation. A recent survey of 59 Converge churches found that social media have become an accepted way to market church programs, share information, and invite people to church.

According to the survey done in late 2012, over 87% of surveyed churches have a church Facebook page and 63% of senior pastors regularly use a personal Facebook page. It was also found that other social media are not quite as popular. Only 40% of the churches used Twitter (most finding it to be ineffective), 53% maintain a regular blog and 15% reported using a social media platform designed especially for the church (such as The Table Project or The City).

While Facebook can serve a number of purposes, churches seem to use it primarily as a way to promote upcoming events—with varying degrees of success. Some churches found that “all generations in our church tend to benefit from Facebook” at the same time others report that “traffic is not as high as we would like.” Whatever the perceived effectiveness, Facebook is rarely used as a primary source of information since few churches have everyone, or even a majority of attendees, connected through this particular social networking site. This was especially true in rural settings where only half of the churches reported using any Facebook at all.

It was found that churches use Facebook in lots of different ways. For example, some churches discover that Facebook is a good way for former attendees to stay in touch. Other churches find that photos of past events can help new people get a better idea of what happens in their church. Daily verses are often used to emphasize or promote a sermon series. Easy-to share invitations or videos are designed to encourage church Facebook users to invite friends to upcoming events. While most churches reported posting to Facebook about once a week, 17% post up to once per day. There was one common negative theme that emerged among churches who regularly post to a church Facebook page, and that was time. It takes time and energy to maintain an effective Facebook page. If there wasn’t one champion, or person committed to making social networking work, the page often fell into disuse.

While a formal church Facebook page has become an important marketing tool in Converge churches, the senior pastor page has also seemed to become an important tool of ministry. Although some pastors are quite reluctant to share personal things on Facebook and choose, instead, to use the medium as another avenue for marketing, other pastors see the unique possibilities of using Facebook to help maintain relationships or introduce new people to the community aspect of church. According to one attendee, our senior pastor “is able to share not only sermon topics, scripture verses and visions for our church, but he is able to be a ‘regular’ guy by sharing his heart about his wife, his children, sporting events, and travels.”

A final survey result points toward the use of blogs. Even though the Pew Internet Center has found that blog readership has significantly decreased over the past 5 years, over half of Converge churches regularly use blogs, with most posting at least once a week. While churches made up of a large majority of young families tend to find blogs to be ineffective, those churches with older congregations are much more satisfied with their blog.

Overall, these survey findings suggest that churches are adopting social media at a rate similar to most businesses. In many ways, Converge churches are using social media in a way that mimics a business-marketing model. While it is certainly important to become part of the digital conversation and use these social channels to promote events, there are a number of individuals in Converge churches who are experimenting with how they can use social media as tools of relational ministry. Because these technologies are rooted in relationships, dialogue, and community, the real power of the media has yet to be tapped by most churches. As a result, the major finding from this survey points to the future potential of social media. As churches struggle to find a fit between ministry, marketing and social media, it is quite possible that they will develop a greater aptitude and willingness to use social media tools to listen and engage with their congregations in a way that is both meaningful and effective.

    Point - Fall 2017

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