Note: This article is excerpted from Social Media for Small-Group Ministry.
We crave connection. TheSocialSkinny.com notes that iPhones are sold at a faster rate than people are born. Their popularity stems from allowing people to connect with a single touch. The same site reported there are 175 million tweets a day, and 850 million Facebook users. With 66 percent of adults connected to some type of social media, it seems only reasonable to utilize these platforms to mobilize our small-group members.
As small-group leaders and coordinators, we desire to see people connect and build relationships. We need not compete with the world of wonder evolving from social media. Instead, we should jump in and take advantage of these already popular mediums.
Know Your Audience
As a small-group coordinator, I have embraced social media. And part of that switch came from understanding our people. While e-mail was effective years ago, now more of our people simply delete e-mails before even opening them. However, I've found that they're willing to spend 10 to 20 seconds reading a quick social media post. So, I keep my posts short, to the point, and engaging. I also try to use the different tools offered by Facebook and Twitter.
For instance, our small-group ministry decided to have a funny picture day. Through Facebook, I created an event and invited guests. They were prompted to respond about whether they would be attending. Immediately I was able to see who would be there and answer any questions people had about the event.
I have also posted information about mission opportunities for small groups to consider and encouraging thoughts or Scripture passages. Group members can "like" the posts, share them, and leave comments for others to see. This actually increases our reach to people outside our ministry as our group members' friends see their activities on Facebook.
When using social media, I try to keep the outsider in mind—those people who read about our small groups through their friends' posts and activities. Even if they're my secondary audience, they're still my audience. I realize that small groups may seem scary to people unfamiliar with them, so I try to present small groups in a way that appeals to the broken, the hurting, and the lonely. I want them to know that small groups are safe and authentic gatherings—even for them.
For instance, when I post pictures or comments, others have an opportunity to retweet or share the posts, which allows members and outsiders to see the latest happenings in life groups. I have been amazed by how many people not connected with our church have retweeted or shared our posts simply because they like what we're doing. Our posts create awareness and inspire curiosity, and I try to keep that in mind when posting.
I update information frequently so leaders, members, and others are informed. Toward that end, I created a Facebook page for our small-group ministry that showcases what groups are doing. I've used the cover picture in Facebook's Timeline to display upcoming events like game nights, dinner events, and mission projects. Frequent posts keep people aware of what's happening in our ministry and how they can get involved. It also reminds them to visit our page often to stay up-to-date. If you only post once a month, or if you post several times one week and not again for two months, people will be less apt to view your page frequently. So make a plan to update your page frequently.
Hold Yourself Accountable
It's important that I post carefully and wisely regardless of whether I post through my personal accounts or through the church's accounts. As James 3:9-10 reminds us, we cannot use our words, whether spoken or typed, to praise our Father yet bring discouragement to others. I want my posts to be uplifting and encouraging so that I praise my Father as well as encourage others. In doing so, I have earned the trust of others.
You'll be held accountable by the "real time" nature of social media. For instance, if I have posted something that is it incorrect, offensive, or taken wrong, people's responses let me know. I can quickly delete the tweet or post and make necessary corrections, but the better idea is to think through what you're posting before you post. Even if you quickly delete your post, chances are that someone saw it.
For the purpose of accountability, it's a good idea to have a friend view your posts regularly. Your friend can let you know how your posts are being received and how you might be able to post in a way that is more sensitive, encouraging, or helpful.
The End Result
Because I have been intentional about my social media use, I have seen success in mobilizing groups. I recently had someone contact me requesting devotionals and Bibles for a local prison ministry. I posted the need on Facebook and Twitter and told leaders to share the need at their next meetings. Our small groups rallied and collected all the needed Bibles and devotionals. It was incredible to see the quick response.
In another instance, we had a group who used Twitter to help it finish a service project. At our annual Be the Church day, one of our small groups was making picnic tables for the homeless in our downtown area. Unfortunately, they quickly realized they didn't have enough electric drills. Members and leaders of the group started tweeting about their need using the hashtag #drills. Within an hour, they had several drills delivered from friends and neighbors. The side effect of their tweeting was an increased awareness of what our church was doing that day.
We have an incredible opportunity to leverage social media for God's purposes. By posting about what our small groups are doing, rallying people around a cause, and sharing inspirational messages, we can truly impact the world for Christ. With that opportunity, though, comes responsibility. Don't forget to get to know your audience and post consistently and intentionally.
—Peri Gilbert is the Small-Group Coordinator at The Simple Church in Bossier City, Louisiana; copyright 2012 by Christianity Today.
- How well do you know your audience? How can you get to know your audience better to understand how you can better connect through social media?
- Make a plan to stay consistent with social media. When and how often will you post? What kinds of things will you post on a regular basis?
- The instantaneous nature of social media requires that you are very intentional about what you're posting, thinking it through ahead of time. Who in your life can help hold you accountable?