Many of us use our church websites, our social media (like Facebook) pages, and our email newsletters as little more than bulletin boards on which we metaphorically tack up wordy informational announcements. Sometimes we dress up our bulletin boards with nice graphics, or link to an article, but we tend to think of these media as one-way communication tools. They’re not. Or at least if we only think of them that way, we are missing their vast potential for expanding our mission.
While the content for our churches’ web and emails will still need to be somewhat information-based (what is the date of that fundraiser?), we need to shift our thinking more toward facilitating conversations and building connections between our readers/users. This is a shift away from a monologue by leaders and toward a shared dialogue by both leaders and members.
This shift has some demographic weight to it: younger readers/users will expect this kind of interaction and view not providing a way to access it as outmoded. [Just an aside: Pastors, this paradigm shift has HUGE implications for preaching, which will need to find some way to become more interactive or conversational— although not necessarily in the worship service itself. Monologue is on its way out!]
One way to start moving in this direction is simply to invite dialogue and model it. If this is a foreign concept for your organization you may have to coach a few folks to grasp the vision. It’s easiest to start this on a social network like a Facebook page, and most people have already “gotten” the conversational ethos there, although you may still have to encourage them to post conversationally on an organization page, even when they do this all the time with friends and family. State explicitly that you are hoping for discussion. Toss out a question for response. Ask for an opinion. Gather ideas for a program or study. Remember to reply to all or most posts (especially at first), even if it’s just to say “thanks for posting”.
You can also invite people to (briefly?) tell stories or experiences. Posting pictures is also a powerful way to invite conversation. Invite members to post photos from events (with permissions, of course!). Most website hosts now have some sort of blog capability built in, which can be used by pastors or other staff. Or, perhaps the staff blog needs to be on a blog site separate from the church website.
Again, the real power for churches in a blog or news feed is in the interaction of the comments. Think about a blog as less of a monologue-like journal, and more of a guided conversation: here’s the topic and what I think; now what do you think? Even your email newsletters can be a part of fostering conversation, although mostly you’ll have to invite conversations there, and point them toward your website or FB page. (I guess you could invite people to email you back with responses, but that would limit the conversation to one-on-one, and the real aim is a broader conversation.)
Churches, of course, are not exclusively online communities. They have real live, face-to-face interaction too. Getting conversations going on your website or social media pages will never be a substitute for that, but online interaction can deepen and widen the potential for member connections and strengthen the organization. I’ve sometimes been surprised at how introverts will jump into an online conversation when they are far less likely to do that in person, and then having “met” someone through that conversation, they have an easier time connecting in person.
So in the spirit of fostering a dialogue…. how are you using your media to create conversations? How has it worked for you? Or, if you’re not doing that yet, what kinds of ideas come to mind for getting more interaction going online with your members?