While about half of Protestant churches have Facebook pages, many essentially use it as a bulletin board, missing out on the potential to nurture relationships with congregants and its community.
"It's OK for a church to use Facebook like a web site," says social media consultant Natalie Aho. "That may be all a church feels it needs. But understand that if you're not using it as it was intended, you might not get the results you want. If you want to tap into its power, you need to use it socially. It's all about building community."
Social media specialists suggest several ways a congregation can get the most out of Facebook:
• Examine other pages. See what other churches are doing and experiment. Don't reinvent the wheel.
• Keep it current. Post updates regularly—at least several times a week —so fans have a reason to return often. A stagnant site quickly loses its appeal.
• Open it up. Set the page's parameters to allow as many people as possible to post. Moderate comments frequently, if you have concerns about unrestricted content. But Facebook isn't about controlled release of official information. It's about encouraging engagement with your church's mission.
• Be a first responder. The Economist recently reported that almost 90 percent of posts on businesses' Facebook pages went unanswered. Acknowledge comments, answer questions, clarify confusion and express thanks for compliments.
• Focus on the congregation. "I don't see Facebook at a place to connect initially with visitors and nonmembers," said Aho. "That's the role of the web page. They'll go to your Facebook page, but they'll evaluate you on the basis of the shared community that they find there."
• Share the wealth. Encourage members to post photos and comments that reflect God's impact on their lives. Some congregations are better at this than others. "If they're not good at sharing in person, they're probably not going to be good at it on Facebook," Aho said.
• Delegate responsibility. Staff ministers may not be the best administrators of a Facebook page. "In fact, I'd encourage them not to be," said Aho. Find a church member who's proficient at posting and understands the community-building aspect. For some members, the role may satisfy an unfulfilled desire to increase their church involvement.
• Start a discussion. It might be last week's sermon or a story in today's newspaper. Facebook conversations aren't limited by time or geography, and everyone can participate.