Okay, I'm ready to admit what I've felt for awhile now: If I didn't use Facebook for ministry, I'd probably quit.
That's how I began a recent weekly email.
While it's routine for me to receive a few replies to these emails of mine, the floodgates opened after this one.
In the emails received, some people admitted to deleting accounts or starting new ones with limited connections (only family and close friends, not church members). A few respondents mentioned using Facebook exclusively for ministry because it's "free" while lamenting the costs of time, attention, productivity and the need to spend money to see significant returns.
As church communicators, we often assume that we're supposed to love Facebook, or at least be grateful for all it has done for us. It turns out our secret struggles with the social platform aren't so rare. When someone breaks rank to complain a little, social media's echo chamber grows loud with a chorus of "You too?!"
Lately, I've found that fewer people are engaging with both my church and personal posts less often, and those who do engage tend to be the same people. Increasingly, the platform seems as overwhelming as MySpace was back when I jumped to Facebook all those years ago. Yet, I acknowledge Facebook's addictive hold on me as I return to it despite not enjoying it.
As the platform celebrates its 15th year, it just feels like the Facebook we knew and originally implemented for ministry is gone.
As someone who's spent years learning about and teaching Facebook, it makes me wonder if my time and yours is ultimately being wasted, especially since …
- Facebook Pages are essentially dead
- News feed posts are practically useless without paid boosting
- Paid advertising is getting more expensive for lower response rates
- Stories and Groups are on the rise (good!) but often require more time (bad!)
- Facebook may not be a net positive in the lives of individuals, groups or the world
- Privacy has always been a concern, and it's getting worse
- People are increasingly divisive and vicious in feeds, even without anonymity
In sum, the original strategy of creating and scheduling content that relies on organic reach spurred by engagement through the platform is no longer a sure path to success. So, how did we get here?
What happened to TV is happening to Facebook
Once upon a time, there were three networks. Then came cable. Next came DVRs, video on demand and streaming services. We now have virtually unlimited options for content distribution via the internet as bandwidth and speed increase.
Facebook isn't the only game in town. (Hello, messaging apps.) While Millennials and Gen Z are still on Facebook, they tend to use it as a look-up tool instead of a way to engage. While we must be where people are, increasingly we'll need to adjust expectations and strategy.
People are desperate for another option
Anyone remember Peach? It's yet another example of flash-then-fail social networks intent to usurp Facebook. Usually, there are predictable reasons why these networks fail, but it illustrates the public's ravenous hunger for alternatives.
Your path forward may be different from mine
Each church community is unique. If that means you and your church are engaging on Facebook in five years and seeing good results, great! This reflects the heart of our calling for outreach and evangelism: being where people are.
Church communications are decentralizing
The benefit of a monolithic social network like Facebook is that you had time to manage it. That's not reality for most people anymore. With that in mind, what do you do if you're simultaneously managing your church communications on Facebook, Instagram, through email and the church website — and a new must-have network/channel appears on the horizon? For time's sake, do you copy/paste the same content across all of them? (That's not a recommended strategy, by the way.)
How we do our jobs is changing
As we run out of time and space to create content for every channel, we'll need to rely more on our teams, volunteers and our congregations to aid us in sharing the message of Christ. This shift will require spending less time on content creation and more on training, equipping and encouraging.
Where do we go from here?
With Facebook Pages seeming to become more like the Yellow Pages of Facebook, the present/near future focus appears to be Facebook Stories and Groups.
While Stories and Groups require more time, they do present some promising opportunities:
- Reduces pressure as Stories can be less "professional" and more spontaneous, which means less reliance on expensive tech or trendy design
- Offers more one-to-one and one-to-few connections, which may result in deeper connections
- Requires reliance upon your community for content and engagement, which can lead to a stronger sense of ownership by members and lead to more effective word-of-mouth recommendations, interactions and invitations
- Creates space for more introverted volunteers who would rather moderate a Facebook Group than shake hands or knock on doors
As you continue deeper into 2019, take time to evaluate how you and/or your ministry use Facebook.
Ask: Do you still use it? Is it still effective and successful for you? Would you ditch it if you could? If you've ditched it, has that been a good decision? Or do you see signs of life and hope in the new form of Facebook that's emerging?
Again, every church is different. By evaluating the needs of those in your community, you can determine if Facebook (or other platforms) is the right communication medium for your ministry.
Dan Wunderlich is the Lead Pastor at Lakeside United Methodist Church in Sanford, Florida, who gets fired up about teaching leaders how to use communication and creativity to share the greatest story ever told. He's the host voice behind the MyCom Church Marketing Podcast. Find out more about Dan's work at DefiningGrace.com.