Social media becoming an engaging proposition for churches
Aug 28, 2014
By CRISTIN WILSON

It was Jason Seger’s wife who started using Facebook first. It wasn’t long before the pastor of First Baptist of Highland City in Lakeland realized the ministry potential the social media platform offered. He learned by watching bigger churches, taking notice of what they were doing and following suit.

It’s working.  
 
While others may be busy posting selfies and rehashing the details of what they ate for lunch, Seger and others who preach the Gospel have found another use for Facebook and other social media sites.
 
It’s allowed them to share the Gospel.
 
“We’ve had a fairly decent outreach, as well. I’ve been getting private messages from people,” said Seger, who has a congregation of about 100 members.
 
It was a message in his inbox that showed him that Facebook could serve another purpose. One of his fellow Guardsmen who had no desire to go to church had been following Seger on the popular online sharing site and listening to his sermons. When he got behind one week, that Guardsman reached out to Seger because he wanted to hear his latest sermon. Again, more proof that social media was working. Seger saw firsthand that social media can be a way to reach out, but, more importantly, it’s a way to get the Gospel to those who have no desire to attend church.
 
Seminaries also recognize the role that social media is playing in many churches.
 
While many of the students that they work with have no problem navigating the technical aspects of social media, professors say students still need to know how to navigate it from a biblical perspective. Which is why Blake Newsom, Dean of Chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is planning to offer a workshop on the topic this fall.
 
But for many the challenge is resources. Judy Morris at Tallahassee’s Morningside Baptist Church, which has around 350 members, handles social media duties as the church secretary. She makes sure sermons are on the website and updates the church’s Facebook page. Morris admits that they stick to Facebook because that’s what she’s most comfortable with.
 
Meanwhile, at Miami’s Stanton Memorial, which has about the same number of members as Morningside, the church depends on volunteers to help out with social media. One church member puts the services on YouTube while another updates Facebook. So far, the church is using social media for announcements and events. But the church could be missing a valuable opportunity, said Jason Caston, author of The iChurch Method, who is also the digital platform specialist for mega-church The Potter’s House in Dallas.
 
Caston has worked with churches across the country over the past seven years, and he said churches were behind the curve when it came to social media. He’s confident they were not looking at it as an opportunity in part because they didn’t have the knowledge of how it worked. He said pastors were apprehensive to get involved because they viewed it as a phase, just something young people were doing.
 
But that has changed.
 
“I think in the last seven years the mindset has transitioned to, ‘this is something we definitely need to utilize,’ ” Caston said.
 
He said more churches are trying to figure out how to use social media with the resources they have.
 
He said churches that are doing it right are consistent. They are offering a steady flow of content, recognizing that it’s not a one-way conversation.
 
Liz Butler at First Baptist Orlando believes the church is on the right path when it comes to social media.
 
The church has had Facebook and Twitter accounts for about five years. Social media is a way for its 17,000 members to share the church’s content with their personal network of family and friends.
 
One strategy the church has used is asking members to respond to messages online using certain hashtags. Butler said the church’s tweets have trended in the past, meaning that more people are seeing the Gospel online.
 
According to a 2013 study by the Barna Group, more pastors have started logging on in the past two years. Barna’s study found that more than one in five American pastors said their churches use Twitter—up from 14 percent in 2011. Seven out of 10 churches reported that they use Facebook, compared to 57 percent in 2011.
 
It was in 2013 that Jeff Stoll, executive pastor of communications at First Baptist Jacksonville, said the church had over a 70 percent increase in its number of Facebook followers. Also pointing to the effectiveness of social media the church had close to 1,000 shares of a popular video, titled The Blood
 
But, Stoll will tell you, it wasn’t by accident. The church made a decision to delve into social media. In addition to Facebook, the church, which averages about 4,200 people in it worship services each week, is also on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google+.
 
Stoll said Instagram is a good way to connect with the church’s younger members.
 
“In today’s culture, every person receives his or her information differently, so I see social media as a new and permanent way of communicating and connecting individuals to the life of the church,” he said.
 
 Stoll admits that even though these social media channels are free to create the church wouldn’t be able to effectively manage them all if it didn’t have a social media director.
 
Michael Justice at Westside Baptist in Gainesville said for the past two years the church has really focused a great deal of effort on Facebook and Twitter. He said it’s a good way to get the word out about events to Westside’s 4,000-member congregation. Justice said the church probably won’t activate any other social media channels soon because of a lack of resources, but he’s happy with the success they’ve experienced so far.
 
“It’s our responsibility to share the Gospel through any tools we have,” he said.
 
The church also live-streams its services, and viewers have a chance to live chat. The church offers a number for those who’ve accepted Christ to call. He said the church is working on an online guest registration form to better keep track of new disciples.
 
“I know over the last year we’ve had four people accept Christ because of the live streaming. They’ve been baptized and are regular members,” Justice said.
 
Jason Mudd, CEO of Axia Public Relations, which has an office in Jacksonville, said while Facebook and Twitter are great for engaging, churches shouldn’t neglect Google+. It can help a church’s Search Engine Optimization. Meaning if churches are active on social media and using Google+, Google will reward them and rank them higher when their names are searched. That could mean more visitors.
 
But for many churches, including Seger’s, it comes down to resources. Yet, he knows social media is a 21st-century tool that’s necessary when it comes to sharing, or tweeting, the Good News, which is why they have no plans to stop what they’re doing. He knows it works.
“I’d love to see us doing more with it,” Seger said.

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