Easily find and engage local communities via social media
Even if you're doing everything possible to promote your church and make it easy for new visitors to find you, it may not be enough. So, find them.
Find your community on Facebook
More than likely, people living close to your church have organized community groups on Facebook, Meetup.com, forum boards, websites and Twitter. Why not start building relationships there?
Search for groups that feature your township or neighborhood name. Groups could include neighborhood associations, watch groups, philanthropic groups, action groups, business groups and more. Don't reinvent the wheel. These groups are already organized and conversing.
Promote these groups to your congregation
List community groups in all communications channels. Encourage your congregants to participate in groups in which they are interested. The community and the church body will get to know each other. You will begin to understand community interests.
Old Hickory United Methodist Church in Tennessee had a worshipping congregation of 60 to 70 people for years. A couple of years ago, the new pastor, who has a natural inclination to get involved in the local community, started sharing information about bus routes, local code laws, community events and more on the three Facebook groups for the area. Over the past two years, the worshipping congregation has grown to more than 90 weekly. The church is also beginning new ministries to benefit the community.
Strategy for social media outreach
Going online with no direction or strategy can be a daunting task. Traditional media reach audiences by "pushing" information. Often, our churches act in the same manner. We "push" our information onto the Web and hope people will find it interesting. However, even traditional media today poll to determine what is important to their audiences and provide information that meets their interests. The church, and you as an individual representative of the church, should seek to provide information that interests others.
1. Investigate online community groups and conversations. Learn which groups are the most active.
Look for Facebook groups and Facebook pages with community names or ZIP codes
- Search for local community websites and follow appropriate links.
- Find forum websites to see how active they are.
- Check for local Twitter accounts and conversations. Use tools like NearByTweets. Just plug in your ZIP code and some community needs and then note people's interests.
- Try good keyword searches such as [local community] meet-up, things to do in [local community], children's activities in [local community], affinity group gathering in [local community] and neighborhood watch group for [local community].
If you see no group hub around a community interest, start something that addresses it. For example, if people ask about things for families to do with their children in the area, start a "Best Family Things to Do with Kids in Neighborhood" group.
2. Don't pitch! Resist the urge to tell people about happenings at the church. Get to know the other people beforehand. Share:
- Local government issues that affect your community directly (Share local government newsletters.)
- News about neighbors (deaths, achievements and so forth)
- Crime reports
- Community events (sports sign-ups, parades and special days)
- Ideas that benefit the community ("We have been thinking about starting a [meet-up idea] group at our church. Do you think that would benefit the community?")
- Quality photos of the neighborhood (especially historic)
- Fun stories about someone known to the community
- Meet-ups for lunch or dinner ("I am going to [said restaurant] for lunch. Does anyone want to join me?")
- Ideas of things to do around the community ("I was walking around the park greenway and noticed the creek needed cleaning. Does anyone want to join me on Saturday to clean up?") Wait for responses and comment back ("Meet outside [church name] on Saturday at 8 a.m. Wear old clothes and prepare to get dirty.")
- Honest business reviews on the local business listings on Google Maps and other community review sites such as Yelp and Urbanspoon
- Positive experiences from handyperson services
- Constructive critiques instead of negative complaints
3. Be prepared for people to communicate with you. The hope is people will connect the hospitality you show on the Web directly with the church's hospitality.
Soon, you will develop a solid social standing in the community. Then you can start to promote church activities and ministries and invite others with more engaging results. Be present and show you care.