Conference clergy hear about effective use of social media in the church

March 10, 2015

After hearing Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri Area, UMC) speak on missional strategies, United Methodist clergy in attendance at the Tending Our Lives retreat in Alexandria, La. listened to a presentation from Todd Rossnagel on social media and how to use it effectively for the church.

Addressing the audience gathered at First United Methodist Church on March 10, Rossnagel said that social media can be “complex, overwhelming and, at times, scary.” But, he assured the crowd, it is “ripe with opportunity and worth the challenge.”

After a 15 year career in broadcast news, Rossnagel now manages a media services team for the state of Louisiana. As a church volunteer, he helped launch a successful social media plan for the contemporary worship service at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge.

The media professional--who is also a candidate for ministry in the Louisiana Conference--emphasized the growing importance of church use of social media, pointing out that three out of four Americans use social media (Forester, The Growth of Social Media 2008); visiting social sites is now the fourth most popular activity, ahead of checking personal email (Nielsen 2009); and two thirds of the global internet population visit social media networks (Nielsen 2009).

If Facebook were a country, it now surpasses the population of China, said Rossnagel. He also shared that Facebook claims that 1.39 billion people log in each month to scroll their news feeds, communicate with friends and look at photos.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the three main social media channels today, but the presenter emphasized that he believes Facebook is “still the single greatest and easiest channel for the great majority of us in Louisiana churches, to maintain and use.”

Rossnagel introduced the concept of the “10-4-1” rule to the audience which is helpful in creating a social media posting schedule. (See below for example) Broken down, weekly posts should include:

  • 10 posts of repackaged content - reposting an article from the Bishop, or an article from your favorite author.
  • 4 posts that are unique content - this means a blog entry, a musical set list, a video, a photo, a word quote, etc.
  • 1 direct sell – in other words, a message that essentially conveys “COME TO CHURCH SUNDAY MORNING.”

Trying to create greater impact through social media is “key,” said Rossnagel. He quoted Stephen Murray, an online social media expert who has worked with many churches, as saying the following about social media content:

“The need is to shift content focus from announcements to stories. Stop telling people what we’re doing—show them why it matters. The primary way the church knows how to communicate within the church is announcements—small group meetings, youth retreats, preschool volunteers, etc. Some say it rises to the level of noise pollution. While announcements are necessary, understand that the main people who care about announcements are the people making said announcements. However, everyone cares about stories. Stories don’t provide information as much as inspiration—they are more impactful and memorable.”

A few helpful hints about Facebook posts will increase viewership, said Rossnagel. First, post your messages between the hours of 6-9 a.m. or 6-9 p.m. to avoid the posting traffic. Secondly, to get in the news feed, “boosting” posts is a good idea. “Any amount of money you can throw at ‘boosting’ your post will help. A good rule of thumb is to boost at least three postings per week,” said Rossnagel.

He also emphasized that 78% of Facebook users are mobile. “Mobile is outpacing desktop use every hour. In fact, Google has recently predicted that desktop computer use will be outpaced by mobile use sooner rather than later. If your web site is not mobilized for a smartphone, you’re doing it wrong.”

When dealing with negative comments on the Internet, as representatives of the church, we should remember that “there is likely a lot of pain behind that anger.” Remember to treat everyone with love in response to negative comments, said Rossnagel.

Following John Wesley’s “Three General Rules,” in using social media, Louisiana United Methodists should “do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.” “Our character and faith is reflected in each post we make, so if we are not sure about something, don’t post it, the presenter cautioned.

In conclusion, Rossnagel encouraged the audience to follow three additional rules:

  • BE PRESENT AND RESPONSIVE- Treat Facebook communication like a real relationship.
  • SUPPORT CREATIVITY BY EXPOSING IT- So many times we talk about how important creativity is, but the current construct of the church puts limits on that.
  • DEFEND YOUR COMMUNITY- Remember, this is God’s space. Defend it as Jesus would. If you don’t defend it, no one else will and people will think negativity is okay.

Sample Facebook posting schedule for a local church

Sunday:
Quote bubble that recaps the day’s sermon

Monday:
AM: An interesting faith article/quote
PM: Content from United Methodist Church (umc.org)

Tuesday:
AM: Link to an interesting health article
AM/PM: Link to an interesting national news article
PM: Church announcement

Wednesday:
AM: An interesting faith article/quote
AM/PM: Behind the scenes photo
PM: Set list

Thursday:
AM: Blog entry or short video that promotes the sermon
PM: An interesting local news article

Friday:
AM: A funny web video
PM: Invitation to church/church event

Saturday:
AM: A book to read
PM: An interesting faith article/quote