When Facebook first launched, "Pages" were only available to individuals. Facebook "Groups" were the only option for ministries wanting to organize their community online. Then, in 2007, Facebook opened up Pages to organizations. The conventional wisdom shifted toward ditching Groups. Even as late as October 2016, Facebook Groups were declared a "dying practice" in church communications.
But in the summer of 2017, Facebook announced a new mission statement: "Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together." Facebook sees Groups playing a major role in accomplishing this mission, and so they have introduced a number of changes and tools for Groups that make them an attractive option for churches once again. In fact, Facebook even featured a church as part of their relaunch of Groups!
Incorporating Facebook Groups into your online strategy
Communication is most effective when it is targeted, yet our Facebook Pages are often a jumble of some messages aimed at potential visitors and others that are only relevant to current members. By incorporating Groups into your Facebook strategy, you can separate these two message streams and improve their focus.
In short, Pages should be outward-facing while Groups can be inward-facing. Potential visitors will most likely engage with your Page first, and so you should keep it filled with content that is interesting and relevant to visitors. A post with a photo of smiling families or a quote from Scripture or a sermon is much more likely to encourage someone to visit than an announcement about the upcoming trustees' meeting.
Groups, on the other hand, offer a dedicated, semi-private space for you and your congregation to support one another and keep up with everything that is going on — including the important work of the trustees. A general church group is a great space to post announcements, share prayer requests, organize volunteers or engage in discipleship — including extending the sermon beyond the weekend.
While you will want to keep your number of Groups manageable for the person or team who will be moderating them, they are also a great option for ministries or committees within the church, small groups or even staying connected with college students away at school.
Important Facebook Group settings
If you are new to setting up a Facebook Group, there are some great tutorials walking you through every step. As you create your group or update an existing group, here are some key settings to note.
Link your Group to your Page
One of the most important new features for Groups is the ability to link your Group to your Page. Linked Groups are visible on your Page, making them easier to find. This link also allows anyone with the authority to manage your Page to fill the same role within the Group. They can help manage posts and membership, and they have the option to post and comment as your church's Page instead of from their personal profile. Linking management of the Group to your Page, as opposed to only individuals, makes shifting responsibilities smoother and quicker when volunteers or staff change.
There are three privacy levels for Groups:
- Public Groups are open for anyone to search, see and join, which makes them harder to manage.
- Closed Groups show up in search results, publicly display the Group's description and membership but not content. They are listed on your Page's group tab if they are linked. Individuals can request entry or be invited to the Group, however, they must be approved in order to join.
- Secret Groups are only visible to current and former members of the Group. To join a secret Group, individuals must be invited and approved.
The closed setting makes sense for most Groups, as it offers a measure of control and privacy while still being visible and inviting to new members. This privacy setting can be changed at any time.
There are two key settings related to adding members to your Group. First, you can set who has the authority to approve new members: any current members or only admins and moderators. By limiting approval to admins and moderators, you can ensure that those joining the Group are the people for whom the Group is intended.
Second, you have the option to include a set of questions to be answered by those who request entry or who were invited to join by a current member. You can use this mini-survey to gather data or seek feedback about your church and its ministry.
Similar to the membership approval process, you must decide whether new posts within the Group require approval or not. Which option you choose might be influenced by the size of the Group, the purpose of the Group and your level of trust or experience with the members of the Group. This setting can be changed at any time, so if open posting is getting out of control or you find the approval process to be unnecessary, you can always switch.
No matter which setting you choose, you will likely eventually encounter a time when a post or comment must be rejected or removed. Having a written set of guidelines for Group posts, comments and content will help facilitate this process. Consider including these guidelines in your Group description so they are visible to all current and potential members.
Keeping your Group active and effective
The key to a successful Facebook Group is to keep it active. As with your Facebook Page, activity and engagement within the Group will determine how often it shows up in members' news feeds and notifications.
Early on, this may mean that the burden of creating momentum falls on the Group admins or moderators. Stay active within your Group by posting regularly, interacting with posts from members, and positively reinforcing the types of interactions that you want to see in the Group.
And while Groups are an appropriate place to share church announcements, you want to ensure that you are regularly posting content that encourages engagement like Q&As, polls, Facebook Live sessions and recurring themes or features.
Another strategy is to treat the launch or relaunch of your Group as a big event. Build excitement around the purpose and benefits of the Group for your congregation. Choose a Sunday to be the "launch date" and invite people to take out their smartphones and request entry into the Group during the announcements. Make sure you have the first couple of weeks worth of posts planned so that you capitalize on the early momentum. You can also recruit a "launch team" who commit to posting and interacting regularly with the Group early on to set an example and encourage others to participate.
Moving forward, include the URL for the Group in your bulletin or newsletter, occasionally post instructions for joining the Group on your Facebook Page and include a personal invitation to join the Group in new member classes or similar events.