In the beginning days of the Church, it was not about specific buildings or the title on the sign out front. Churches were made out of dining rooms and were built around community. As those communities grew, it became more necessary for buildings dedicated to their work to be built. Over time, the Church became less about community, but technology has forced that to change. Where for many years the church was more of a one-way monologue from the pastor to the audience, churches today are finding that the message is now built around a conversation. That conversation happens in living rooms and foyers, but it also happens online. In fact, it ideally happens online a lot.
It’s easy to quickly dismiss online community as something less than real community, but for an entire generation that has grown through adolescence with mobile devices and online social networks, the line between online community and in-person community is nearly non-existent. We live in a time where best friends have never met and couples decide to get married before ever being in the same room.
That’s why churches need an online presence. That presence needs to go beyond a static webpage. Your church needs a way to communicate to it’s people AND they need a way to communicate back. Obviously, the larger your church is, the harder this is to manage, but that’s true of in-person community as well. Here are some quick tips to help you create and sustain online community.
Keep It Simple
Just because there are hundreds of social networks, doesn’t mean your church has to be on all of them. Pick a few, Facebook and Instagram for starters, and do a great job managing those. If you have the manpower to manage more, then do it, but don’t feel like you have to be everywhere.
Stay Away from Fads
Fads come and go and the rate at which that happens is incredibly fast. Trying to jump on the latest social network trend is like playing a game of Frogger. It’s impossible to keep up and you will end up getting squashed. Pay attention to point 1.
Have a Dedicated Person/Team
You need to have a specific person or team of people who are responsible for your online presence. Do not just let anybody handle this. First, this gives you a more succinct strategy. Secondly, it gives you more control. In smaller churches, someone may have this alongside other responsibilities. In larger churches, you may have a dedicated person for this. Or, you might choose to outsource this to an outside company.
Have a Homebase
No matter where you find yourself online, your website needs to be your homebase. Anymore, many outside sites can be connected to your church’s website. It will always be the place you have the most control, so focus on making it awesome before reaching out other places.
To do this well, you have to be intentional. People want to hear from their pastor more than just Sunday, so give them a voice in your online communities. Make sure you regularly check and reply to comments left for your church or staff. This is critical to having an effective online community.
While much has been written about this and more certainly will be, these five tips will help guide you. If you want to build community in your church, you cannot ignore online. Online community is community and community is online.