Connecting through TikTok

TikTok provides a promising new avenue for reaching seekers, particularly those between the ages of 25 and 44. Photo courtesy of Canva.
TikTok provides a promising new avenue for reaching seekers, particularly those between the ages of 25 and 44. Photo courtesy of Canva.

TikTok — more than just the sound of a clock — is one of the fastest-rising social media platforms.

TikTok took the world by storm in 2020, partly because of the COVID-19 shutdown, as people adjusted to staying home and finding new ways to connect with others. In the first quarter of 2020, the app was downloaded more than 315 million times, crossing 2 billion downloads. That's a world record for the most downloads in a single quarter.

With more than 1 billion people on the app — there are 8 billion people on Earth — most everyone you know is either on it or has heard of it. 

With the ever-changing landscape of ministering in a digital age, you may wonder if TikTok is appropriate for your church and congregation. 

Consider this: TikTok provides a promising new avenue for reaching seekers. In the summer of 2021, United Methodist Communications launched a series of TikTok video ads. This test proved so successful that the popular spots were reprised for the Advent campaign and garnered a combined exposure of nearly 2 million people. That's impressive.

Statistics show that 80% of TikTok users fall between the ages of 16 and 34 and 26% are between the ages of 25 and 44. Ryan Dunn, minister of online engagement for United Methodist Communications, sees this as an open door, saying: "We really started utilizing TikTok because it represented an audience that we had not previously reached."

"There are people there we might be able to start building a relationship with and use the platform as an invitation to faith and to engage with other faith communities," explains Dunn. "Using TikTok felt like a chance to reach people we were not reaching through other channels, a little bit of a younger demographic."

Patty DelliBovi, manager of marketing & advertising for UMC, echoes this thought process, saying, "TikTok reaches a diverse and younger audience. We wanted to expand our reach and spread our message to those who may not be on other social media channels." 

So, if you've decided TikTok is good for your ministry. What now? What's the strategy? Where do you start?

Here is some advice:

  1. "Don’t be over-concerned with production quality,” Dunn states. "It's OK for the video to look 'DIY.' It gives the content an authentic feel, and so many of the younger generation is looking for exactly that: authenticity. It's OK to kind of 'go off the cuff.' Don't be concerned with having three camera angles and reading from a teleprompter."

    "Use the TikTok tools," advises DelliBovi. "TikTok shows you what music is trending. If you can find a way to use the music that is trending, that helps you pop up on the feed. Using the tools, filters and all that TikTok provides also lets the app know you're using it and the platform rewards people who use the app. That's what the tools are there for."

  2. "Just keep trying," Dunn says with a laugh. "It's OK to swing and miss. Keep running it up the flagpole to see what works and doesn't." Will there be challenges in ministry work using TikTok? Of course. Dunn states: "It's challenging to create content that people are looking for and that the TikTok algorithm will share with people. A lot of TikTok is dependent on their algorithm, so it's ok to try different things."

    "Don't be afraid to try something new," says DelliBovi.

  3. Don’t be afraid to use humor. Dunn says, "Because TikTok welcomes people to be spontaneous and creative, it's OK to be a little light-hearted and to use humor. Don't be afraid to make fun of yourself a little bit."

    One example of this strategy is #BobbleWesley, a TikTok series the team has created using historical quotes with John Wesley in preposterous situations and locations. You can view these on TikTok here. And they've taken #BobbleWesley on the road.

    Team member Michelle Maldonado was recently traveling and said, "While I was in England, I was capturing some images of the John Wesley bobblehead at some of John Wesley's real-life locations and sending them back to my team so they could create TikTok content with them. We had a lot of fun doing this."

  4. Don’t try to do it all. "I think it's important to have a few people filming and creating content," suggests DelliBovi. "Not one person should be tasked with finding and curating content because it can be daunting. Use a few people to divide and conquer."

  5. Get out of the mundane. "Don't be afraid to show what goes on outside of Sunday mornings," Dunn said. "Show what goes on behind the scenes. And if you have a spur-of-the-moment creative thought, don't overthink it. Go for it!"

The United Methodist Church is a connectional denomination and, Dunn says, this is key to remembering your purpose and goals on TikTok.

"The overarching goal is to build connection and community, to share our faith and provide points of invitation," stated Dunn. 

"TikTok is one of the best ways to build community and to connect others with your local church and ministry,” noted DelliBovi. “It is a wonderful way to share what your local church does in the community and to showcase the authenticity of those in your church. This provides those who are curious about their faith to have a lens through video into what you're all about, much more than just a flyer or a poster. It's a really nice way to engage people who might be curious about faith and your church."

"Of course we want to see our numbers rise, because that means we are reaching more people," concluded Dunn. "We see the way to accomplish that is to continue to attempt to connect with our audience, and that's the biggest piece of advice I could give." 

*Aaron Crisler is a senior public relations specialist at United Methodist Communications.


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