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Drop the bullhorn and engage your community in conversation

By Eric Seiberling

The days of using a bullhorn to broadcast your message are over. People are tired of constant interruptions and highly skeptical of marketing messages. Instead of bombarding your social media followers with marketing messages, follow Christ’s example of engaging others in conversation and fostering relationships.

MEANINGFUL WAYS TO ENGAGE YOUR COMMUNITY

Listen. Listening allows you to step into someone else’s shoes. It requires setting aside preconceived notions, ideas and values to connect with others. Read what others are saying about your church, your community and key areas of interest for your church. Try to make this a DAILY activity to make sure you don’t fall behind or miss something that is time sensitive. Read Stop talking and start listening to your community to learn about all the different tools you can use to search the Web to find what people are saying.

Be personable. The church is not a building. Let your congregation’s personality shine through each post and Tweet. Go beyond the logo to demonstrate that your church is made up of real, relatable people. Talk about the interests of your audience.

If you establish a “church” account, show who hosts it and the “Twitter handles.” Talk to people about their lives. Talk about your own life (within reason). People want to know who is behind the logo and see that they are real people to whom they can relate.

Ask meaningful questions. Questions create an opening for meaningful dialogue. Jesus provided a blueprint for engaging others. When he met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26), the invalid at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15) and the rich man asking about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19-28), Jesus did not start by telling them to believe in him. Instead, he asked questions:

  • Of the Samaritan woman, “Will you give me a drink?”
  • To the invalid at the pool of Bethesda, "Do you want to get well again?"
  • Of the rich man, “Why do you ask me about what is good?”

Asking the woman at the well for a drink was an opening to talk. Jesus could have started by telling her to repent from a life of sin. Instead, he engaged in a meaningful dialogue that changed an entire village. The same is true when we engage in thoughtful discussion online. A question like, “What does Christmas mean to you?” or “What was the best Christmas present you ever received?” on Facebook during the Christmas season can be the start of a meaningful dialogue. Open-ended questions are a great way to engage people.

Respond appropriately. Engage with those who want to have a meaningful discussion, but remember social dialogue is not about “correcting” others’ thought patterns. It is an effort to discover common ground and meaningful connections. Tone can be difficult to discern online, so it’s important to be mindful, be gentle and avoid inflammatory language or sarcasm.

Invite people. Respond to interesting and engaging posts by creating content on your website and linking to it in the discussion feed. Summarize your thoughts and then link to your article or video on your church website. For example, if a discussion ensues about how Christmas is so busy, create a short video or blog post about how to put the season back into focus and link it to your church website or sermon series.

Create a daily habit. Relationships take time. Commit to a time every day for you and your staff to skim through the different websites in which your community engages. Wish people a happy birthday on Facebook. Respond to a blog post on your community news website. Post a picture on Instagram. Pin something on Pinterest. Look for opportunities to connect and get to know those in your community.

Cultivate an active social network. We create community when we respect one another, are present in the conversation and help others. When you contribute to an online network in a meaningful way, you (and your church) can cultivate friends in the same way you do in the real world. Over time, those relationships strengthen, and you can share more deeply on ideas of grace, faith and love.

The age of the bullhorn is over

To create a relationship, you must make relevant, meaningful connections with your audience. It's worth the time and effort it takes to understand the people in your community and be a part of the conversation.