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Why Every Church Leader Should Be on Facebook

I want to be a little bold and suggest that this post is one you should share with every church leader you know because I firmly believe that this conversation is important to the relational success of their ministry. If you agree, please pass it on.

We all know about Facebook.  The question is – are church leaders using it strategically and effectively to grow their ministries relationally?

The Window

I believe that every pastor, elder, and ministry leader should be on Facebook.  Not just for the sake of following the crowd.  Not to be one of the millions posting the happenings of their daily lives, but to…

Watch, listen, and act on what they see and hear to build more authentic relationships within their congregations.

Never before has such a valuable and simple tool been available where you can stay connected to the day-to-day lives of the people you are ministering to in your church.  With Facebook, you as a church leader have a special window into the real lives of those who are under your ministry care. You get a daily glimpse into how they are (or are not) living out, growing, and applying their faith practically.  Through Facebook you will learn stuff about your people that you would otherwise never know while at the same time learning things you wish you never knew :-) .

In a few minutes a day, you can scroll through the recent news items of your “friends” that will allow you to find out where they are at, what they are struggling with, what they are celebrating, and how life is unfolding for them in real-time.  For some reason, people will post little snippets of their real-life-living in the comfort of Facebook in ways they would never share with you at the back of the church.

More Than Knowing: Actions That Speak

Knowing is one thing, acting is the strategic response.  You need take the knowledge you now have and relationally connect with and care for people.

1) Comment

Take a minute and write meaningful comments here and there in response to what people post.  You do not need to make a comment on everything, but common sense (and God’s leading) will tell you when you can write a quick note of personal encouragement, appreciation, or insight that will show individuals that you really do care.   At the same time, others in your church will watch how you are interacting with and caring for the congregation online.  It will often motivate them into action as well.

2) Authenticity

When you notice someone having a particularly tough day, you can go one step further, pick up the phone, and call them.  I have done this.  Call the person; let them know you read about their struggle on Facebook and offer help, encouragement, or counsel voice-to-voice.   This personalization hits an immediate relational home-run.  Taking it one step further and praying with them on the phone is ministry gold.

3) Happy Birthday

This week was my birthday.  I received over 50 “Happy Birthday” greetings on my wall, just because Facebook reminded my friends that it was my day.  Those quick little greetings made me feel special.  People noticed and took 20 seconds of their time for me.  One person went a step further.  He did not leave a note on my wall, but he picked up the phone and called me.  He personalized the interaction and with five minutes of his day encouraged me far more that the 50 others combined.  Someone else wrote me a birthday e-mail.  This too, came from their listening on Facebook combined with a more personalized action – a greater impact was made.  Everyone’s effort was appreciated but the two who went the extra step stood out and were set apart.  As a caring leader, it is good to be set apart from the crowd.

4) Teaching

Sometimes your newfound glimpse into the personal lives of congregation members can present personalized teaching or mentoring opportunities.  You now can lovingly coach people on ways to live more like Jesus calls them to live.  Applying faith principles is about growth.  If you see an opportunity to help someone grow, it is a privilege and part of what we are called to do – helping people move toward spiritual maturity.

Invest In Relational Expansion

Facebook is a strategic tool you can leverage to build relationships beyond your face-to-face contact on Sunday.  I am not asking any leader to invest a ton of time here – leaders are all really busy.  What I am suggesting is that Church is all about community.  You may or may not be a fan of online community (it is not as authentic as many make it out to be) but at this point, Facebook is a widely adopted sub-section of community in today’s media saturated world.  Upwards of 60-70% of your congregation is on Facebook every week.  By investing a few minutes a day, by responding appropriately and strategically, you can expand the boarders of your relational ministry care.

As a church leader, I have done these things and they work.  Grow your church community with more meaningful, authentic, and personalized relationships.  People need you to care.  Facebook is one tool that can help you build the deeper Christ-centered community you desire.

Questions for Comment

  • What are your thoughts on using Facebook as a strategic relationship-building tool?
  • Do you have any additional suggestions on how a ministry leader can use Facebook to relationally connect with people in their church?
  • Do you agree or disagree…should every church leader be on Facebook?

David Tonen helps churches communicate with greater excellence and he writes church marketing articles on his blog Navigate Your Marketing.

David is a summer contributor >> See all summer 2010 contributor bios

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  1. Bryan Wiens (Reply) on June 10th, 2010

    Good thoughts.

    I’m a big fan of the idea that we should use things like Facebook to give us opportunities to invest in people’s lives, like hearing that someone is sick and sending them an email or giving them a call. Taking the online connectivity and going the extra step.

    You’re right that it provides us insight into the lives of the people around us that we otherwise would have missed.

  2. David Tonen (Reply) on June 10th, 2010

    Thanks Bryan – ministry is all about investing. Using a tool like Facebook is a wise relational investment because it provides high-value actionable opportunity with minimal time expenditure.

  3. Rob Laidlaw (Reply) on June 10th, 2010

    I’m not an avid user of Facebook, but I agree with David that it can reveal insights into people’s lives that are hard to find elsewhere. I think there can be a danger of spending too much time probing into other people’s lives apart from true relationship and it can create a false sense of connectedness. But a 30sec a day glimpse into the activity of your community can broaden your awareness and help you respond in whatever way is appropriate.

    So personally, I don’t use Facebook hardly at all for relating or expressing, but as a leader I try to take a glimpse every day or two just to stay in touch and be aware. It’s proven beneficial many times, some in life saving ways.

  4. David, thanks for the post. Great, practical advice for church leaders. One thing that I think pastoral leaders need to consider is the “dialogue” vs. “monologue” approach to using Facebook (or even Twitter for that matter). While it’s great that some church leaders are finally getting on FB and Twitter, I don’t like seeing those that simply provide a “monologue” and only provide a ONE-WAY conversation. The pastor or ministry leader who only posts updates but never responds to comments or tweets. They never RT anyone else on Twitter so in essence, its all about THEM and not the relationship.

    Ministers need to look at FB and Twitter and think about how they act in the foyer at church. If they are greeting people without a single “Hey, how ya doing?” but instead launching directly into a funny quote, inspirational thought or a sermon promo – how awkward would that be. Think of someone asked “Hey Pastor, what did you think about the BP oil spill? or “Who do like, Lakers or Celtics?” and the response is “Hey, here’s a scripture for the day.” While we love scriptures, he/she didn’t answer the question – its if they pretended the person didn’t exist and wasn’t wanting to start a conversation. Almost sounds robotic.

    So, that’s my 2 cents. I’m so encouraged when I see pastoral leaders engaging with others on FB and Twitter – and there are those out there doing it (so I don’t sound so negative in my comments). Love the ministry angle that FB offers and keeps someone from having to ask “So, how ya doing” the next time they see ‘em at church. If they are engaged with people on FB, then they already know the answer. And ministry belong early in the week than just a Sunday morning response.

    Thanks David for the forum.

  5. David Tonen (Reply) on June 10th, 2010

    @ Rob – Thanks for sharing your personal experience and validating that using Facebook as a tool does not have to be a huge time sink. That said, it does indeed require discipline (as do most online activities) to not get sucked into too much of the non-essential detail.

    @ Donny – appreciate the analogy. Socially, no church leader would be so self-absorbed in person, so being more “personal” and being a good listener (and responder) in social media channels are indeed required, polite, and essential skills!

  6. Brandon Cox (Reply) on June 10th, 2010

    Spot on, David. I agree totally with using Facebook as a relationship-building tool, especially for church leaders. It’s a two-way channel, which is the goal of social media to begin with.

  7. David Tonen (Reply) on June 10th, 2010

    @Brandon – thanks for your feedback and your pastoral/social media experience and perspective.

  8. Steven Fogg (Reply) on June 11th, 2010

    Very interesting post David.

    I’ve often seen church leaders use Facebook and Twitter as a one way communications tool. They broadcast but never interact. Donny expressed it well with the monlogue vs Dialogue concept.

    Facebook is a great way for a church leader to get across their passion and heart. It is a great way to bring others with you and potentially step them into being a part of that passion and heart through service.

    Should every leader be on Facebook? No. Unless you are really prepared to relate and interact with others it is probably a really good idea to stay off it.

  9. David Tonen (Reply) on June 11th, 2010

    @Steven – Oh, I like that!

    I will still say that every church leader “should” be on Facebook, but you correctly point out the necessity of commitment. If you are going to use any tool or methodology, commitment is required. That goes for integrating any technology, social media, or program. If the leader is not going to consistently utilize and engage at some meaningful level, then the impact and effectiveness will be diminished or rendered useless. Thanks for reminding us of that!

  10. Eric Hall (Reply) on June 11th, 2010

    David – Great thoughts. I’m a web developer and as such regularly use social media tools. I’m going to pass this along to me friend and senior pastor.

    However, I worry that facebook or any social media tool becomes a replacement for a real relationship.

    Nothing compares to the power of real, face-to-face interactions. The “friends” we have on facebook aren’t a substitute for a real talk, a real coffee together, a real conversation.

    While I appreciate your thoughts, I get concerned about comments like this one:

    “Using a tool like Facebook is a wise relational investment because it provides high-value actionable opportunity with minimal time expenditure.”

    — minimal time expenditure???? That’s what we’re concerned about now? How to maintain a relationship, how to care, how to love with minimal time expenditure.

    I understand that they are tons of time pressures on ministry staff (I was one for many years), but I get concerned about trying to maintain relationships with minimal time expenditure….

    I remember hearing a story from Tim Sanders who was employed in the 90′s by Yahoo as Chief Solutions Officer. While I don’t remember the details, the gist of the story was how Tim made a rule the co-workers weren’t allowed to e-mail each other during the work day. They had to get up and walk down the hall and talk face to face.

    Obviously, e-mail had to be allowed for follow-up, documents, etc. But, I think the concept is incredible. At a huge high-tech company, personal face-to-face interactions were just that important.

  11. David Tonen (Reply) on June 11th, 2010

    Thanks Eric. I hear your concerns – especially regarding my comment:

    “Using a tool like Facebook is a wise relational investment because it provides high-value actionable opportunity with minimal time expenditure.”

    By that, I mean minimal time spent daily “checking-in” and listening to the chatter on Facebook. Since church is community, and community is all about relationships, there is no way to build community with minimal time expenditure – I agree! Sorry if that was miscommunicated on my part. I really see Facebook as an effective extension tool that will help facilitate the face-to-face relationship building process. Relationships can only be genuinely built in meaningful ways through in-person interaction.

    Within a congregation, the leaders are stretched to develop meaningful relationships with all members but using a tool like Facebook enables keeping in touch with the goings-on of many people in one centralized platform. You can listen, learn, and then react when appropriate by personalizing the follow-through with a in-person activity (coffee, lunch, phone etc.).

    I hope that makes sense. Thanks for expanding the conversation.

  12. Stacy (Reply) on June 12th, 2010

    One thing I would like to add is a caution… I recently experienced a great misunderstanding with my Senior Pastor because he read into my intentions of posting some challenging articles in the areas of homosexuality and abortion. He questioned my theology and depth of Christian walk as a result. It was really hurtful, but we worked it out and reconciled.

    Here’s the lesson for me here: Don’t post anything unless you give it some context.

    And what I wished had happened is if he had questions or concerns about my character, that he would have come and talked to me much sooner.

    Don’t assume that what people post tells the whole story. Don’t be quick to judge. Don’t forsake the relationship…

  13. David Tonen (Reply) on June 13th, 2010

    Thank Stacy for this excellent reminder. I think all electronic communication is open for misunderstanding because we lose the body language and intonation when we get text without voice or without action. There is no substitute for relational in-person development.

  14. Eric Hall (Reply) on June 13th, 2010

    David -

    Thanks for the follow up to my comment. You are absolutely spot on – We really can use tools like facebook to alert us, remind us, start us, etc.

    Some times I fear we use tools like facebook, however, to replace. This is certainly not what you are getting at. But, I fear that sometimes other well meaning people may think that the 500 friends they have on facebook really are their friends.

    But, real friendship take a lot more than posting to a wall or accepting someone’s friend request.

    Thanks for your write-up. Your article continues to make me think!

    I’m becoming a regular reader just by this and other great posts. Thanks again.

  15. Michael Holmes (Reply) on June 14th, 2010

    Great article David!

    I will say this: though it would be great if “every pastor, elder, and ministry leader” were on Facebook realistically it may not happen. With many ministries leaders there is a HUGE technological divide and little incentive to mend that divide. I really believe Twitter would be a better fit for elders and ministry leaders.

    I think it’d be a HUGE step in being perceived as more relevant and with the times…but the new technological tools are a greater fit for the up and coming leader…for the Joshuas not the Moses’.

    That’s my stance ;)

  16. David Tonen (Reply) on June 18th, 2010

    @Eric – Thanks for the dialogue. Great to have you as a part of this growing community,

    @Michael – Certainly, though my hope is that every leader might utilize Facebook as a tool for relationship extension, I agree that it absolutely will not happen. It sure would be nice if every leader would be open to at least trying it. I think if those who don’t would just give it a fair trial that they would be more convinced of its functionality. The trouble is that it is human nature to make decisions and judgements without actually basing one’s opinion on real experience.

    The same is true of Twitter. People look at it from the outside as a waste of time and pass judgement while remaining naive due to lack of actual hands-on experience.

  17. Lance (Reply) on October 25th, 2010

    While I agree social networking sites can be useful, there is a danger. I got in trouble by trying to make friends with a member of a church I used to serve. She didn’t like it, made a complaint, and I had to have a few words with the Bishop. He didn’t like some of the pictures I put on my page, or some issues I had commented on.

    And, a pastor I met at a seminar told some horror stories. A lot of pastors have gotten in trouble. One pastor she had to investigate had gotten into a heated discussion with a church member on facebook, he used some very, very inappropriate and unprofessional language, and a serious complaint was made. (The shocking thing is, when the investigator confronted him- showed him how inappropriate his comment was, he was not aplogetic at all.)

    So, just an note- pastors beware- Be very careful.

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