About a year ago we set up Facebook pages for two churches that we are involved with. Their profiles are totally different, one being in a large village in the Lichfield Diocese, the other a tiny church in the middle of nowhere in the Derbyshire Diocese.
The large village church were not interested about using this tool, as only one or two members of the PCC actually use Facebook themselves, but the small church was enthusiastic. After explaining that web sites have their place but rely on people visiting that site and that with Facebook the information is going out to the people it was agreed to set up the accounts. The church is the original social network - it connects people, encourages them to participate and reaches out to others. In both cases we needed to enhance our identity and community.
On both sites we aim to advertise the services each week, any special event that is taking place, put up photographs of the building and activities taking place, and also prayers are posted. We try to add ‘stuff’ two or three times a week and find the ‘schedule post’ button very helpful. It is also very useful to have more than one administrator on each site. Each can have a special job to do i.e. photographs, event coordinator, services. In this way it takes very little time to maintain.
Facebook is instant (or almost instant) communication and gives opportunity for feedback and with links to other businesses and organisations within the area it reaches out to new groups. We posted photographs of our Christmas Tree Festival and within two hours of posting these the post had reached 487 people! Some of those reached had made comments. Some had been to the festival but others had not. We even had someone in Birmingham asking when and what time our Carol service was this year as they had visited on previous years.
People who use Facebook are normally of the younger age group (under 55 yrs), but we are trying to educate those who do not like Facebook that it can be accessed via the www.facebook.com page without having to have their own account. With a little encouragement we are now having older members reading what is on the site.
The small church has some holiday cottages very close by. People staying there often visit the church and attend services when they stay there. They are all part of our Facebook family and although they may live many miles away they keep in touch, often booking to stay when there is a particular event happening. We had a small family staying there over Christmas who attended the Christmas Day morning service.
We cannot say that Facebook has boosted our regular Sunday congregation numbers yet but it has shown the ‘outside world’ that us Christians are normal, approachable people who take an interest in others and respect their views, appreciating their feedback. Many who do not attend church do in fact comment and like the prayers we post. They know a bit more about what the Church is about and hopefully they will soon feel able to cross the threshold for one of the acts of worship.
Since setting up these pages we have encouraged other churches in our benefice to do the same and two other parishes have now set up Facebook. We do realise that Facebook is not the be-all and end-all but it is an extra tool for outreach and mission.
Reader - licensed in both dioceses.