With approximately seven-in-ten Americans now using at least one social media site (Pew Internet), faith leaders can’t afford to ignore the impacts of digital culture.
Here are five ways social media is changing the process of connecting with and joining congregations.
1. Visitors do extensive research online
People research congregations and their faith traditions extensively online.
In our digitally oriented culture, if you are going to buy or choose something, or make an important life decision, you do your homework.
You do a Google or other search. You watch videos, read reviews, and do everything you can to educate yourself so you can make a well-informed decision. People interested in a congregation default to a similar process.
2. Before visiting, people participate remotely
After their initial research, many people choose to follow the congregation for a time on social media.
Observing and participating remotely through Facebook, Twitter, audio podcasts, and other channels helps to determine if the congregation is a match for them.
Whether it takes weeks, months, or a year, at some point (hopefully) they will learn and experience enough to say, “YES! This is the congregation for me. I belong here.”
3. A higher degree of certainty is required to initiate an onsite visit
This calls us to use social media for more than an outreach. We need to use it to meet people where they are — online — and to proactively help them with their process.
If we want people to visit, they need access to information, have questions answered, and receive some affirmation that they are going to fit in.
Once someone is confident that the congregation is likely to be a great match, then they’ll visit.
4. High-stakes visits verify the match
After weeks, months, or a year of interacting with a congregation online, it is a big deal to visit onsite and see if people like them. Will they? Won’t they?
This isn’t a regular “let me check this place out” visit. This is the moment of transition from ONLINE participation to ONSITE participation with very high hopes and expectations.
This sort of visitor needs affirmation and to connect with others almost immediately.
5. Visitors need immediate affirmation and connection
How long do you think a visitor will hang around waiting to be affirmed and connect with the community before they give up and leave?
In my trainings, I tell congregational leaders to assume they need to offer this affirmation during the first visit. Because if you don’t, it may very well be the only visit.
Now everyone’s different and you may have more time, but not much more. It is essential to affirm visitors quickly and offer clear next steps for connecting with your community.
There are many ways we can use social media and online communications to offer this affirmation and start the connecting process before the visit. We can start the process online.
These changes create a wide range of challenges and opportunities for congregations.
One of the first things we can do to respond to this cultural shift is to bring more of our core educational content online instead of waiting to educate people after they visit onsite.
Read more in my post Don’t let ANXIETY and UNCERTAINTY keep people from visiting your congregation.
Interested in using social media more effectively to grow your congregation? Enroll in new my online course Church Social Media and Membership Growth. This is based on my day-long Unitarian Universalist training of the same name.