Most of the world seems to be on Facebook. I’ll be somewhere really remote, drawing people following a church service, and as I hand the finished product to the (ahem) victim, will say, “Now, this is your new Facebook picture.”
No one has ever said, “I’m not on Facebook” or especially “What’s that?” Usually they say, “Good idea” or “You’ve got it!”
Now, I recognize that being a Southern Baptist preacher, most of my FB friends are like-minded with me about the Lord and church and the Bible–you know, spiritual things. It’s the nature of these things. So, on a Saturday night or Sunday morning, the “posts” from many of my buddies all seem to say similar things….
–“Join us for church at Shiloh this morning at 9:30 am. You’ll receive a blessing.”
–“Today I’m preaching on Hezekiah’s tunnel. We’ll see if we can find the light at the end of that thing.”
–“My little granddaughter is singing today at Cornerstone. You won’t get good stuff like this on American Idol.”
–“Have you ever wondered what happened to the Jebusites? Be at Riverside Church this morning and find out.”
These are great folks, they want to reach people, and I wish them well. However, they desperately need to sharpen their posts if they would increase the effectiveness of these invitations to church.
Most of the invitations are boring or trite or too general or uninspiring.
I don’t have the last word on this subject, but here are five suggestions that come to mind….
One: Tell us which church you’re talking about and how to get there.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read posts like this: “Today, First Baptist Church will feature a visiting choir from (wherever). They have won all kinds of awards and we are so excited to have them. Come early for a good seat.”
Arrgghh!! What church, friend? And where is it?
One of my pastor friends would say, “Come out and be with us tomorrow at First Baptist Church of Houston.” A time or two, I messaged him privately to remind him that hundreds of people reading this do not know he’s talking about Houston, Georgia, and that there are a few other cities by that name. (I don’t even know if there is a Houston, Georgia. Just making a point.)
Sometimes they will say, “Located on Route 6 at the intersection of (whatever).” Again, not enough information! What town, people?
Two: Tell us why this sermon is of interest, not just “what it’s about.”
Now, pastors are notorious about this. We will study all week on a lesson and preach it to ourselves a few times and pray over it intensely. But we fail to do one more thing, the single thing that could move it from average to world-class sermon: We fail to figure out why any outsider would want to make the effort to come and hear it.
That’s not hard to do, incidentally. It just requires a little more effort. You stopped your preparation too soon, preacher.
Pastors generally preach for the crowds that sit before them week after week. And that’s understandable. In an audience of 100 in a typical church, 90 attend regularly and the other 10 are first-timers. The 10 will not be voting on your pay increase, will not be determining whether you keep your job, and will not be sitting on committees to help plan your projects. So, unless reaching “the other ten” is a matter of urgency to you, you fail to consider them in your preparation and prayer. Therefore, they get overlooked in the actual preaching. But on Facebook, when you are inviting them to church, you can’t think of any particular reason why they would come to hear the sermon. That’s why what you write is so mind-numbingly boring.
Sorry for that. But it’s the truth.
I suggest you take lessons from Andy Stanley on this. Read his newest book “Deep and Wide” to see how he preaches to the outsiders and newcomers. He has a lot to teach the typical pastor. (Don’t get me started on my ministry-colleagues who respond that you don’t like Andy Stanley for one reason or the other. Come on, man. Whether or not you like him is beside the point. You cannot deny that he has reached a lot of people for the Lord whom you and I were missing altogether. Andy deserves a listen!)
Three: If you expect people to respond to the sermon snippet you give on Facebook, you would do well to let us hear from you throughout the week on other matters.
The great thing about Facebook (and perhaps other social media) is that you can build a relationship of sorts with hundreds of contacts through regular statements on various issues. In time, people will feel they know you and when you announce you are preaching in Sundown, Nebraska, those in that area will make an effort to hear you.
To do that, you need to do several things–
–post regularly, every day or so, and even several times a day if you have something interesting or clever or relevant. If you heard a great joke, tell us! (Can you hear me begging? I love a great joke.)
–post varied items. It could be something you read that fascinated or angered or moved you. If it’s side-splittingly funny, you will be quoted and requoted all over the place. Be original or helpful or insightful or funny and soon you’ll be getting requests to “befriend” every day.
–keep it positive and encouraging. People who get on Facebook in order to slam the present administration in Washington, criticize other denominations, or run down liberals, will soon find themselves speaking to their inlaws and no one else. No one wants to read your constant rants, even if they agree with you. It’s too depressing.
Tell us what you are for, what you believe with all your heart, and what happened this week that you will never forget. Tell us what made you laugh today and what made you cry.
Let us know you as a whole human being, pastor. Then, perhaps we will want to come hear you preach, or accept the invitation to visit your church.
Four: After church is over, if you wish to give a report on Facebook, try saying something specific.
I read them all the time. Pastors will say “God really moved at Mount Pisgah this morning.” Or, “What a great day we had at Grace Church!” Or, maybe “You should have been at Pleasant Ridge today. It just keeps getting better and better.”
One that I see a lot goes: “The Spirit moved this morning at our church.” What, I wonder, does the writer mean by that? And how does the outsider–the non-spiritual person–read it? It could be saying something as simple as “Boy, we really enjoyed ourselves today,” or “The attendance was up and the pews were filled,” or “We had 13 people come to Jesus and 12 were baptized.” Or it might mean “Sister Crankshaft was absent today so I didn’t have to listen to her constant belly-aching about the hymn choice, the clothes I’m wearing, or the noise the teens were making in the balcony.”
It is not necessary, pastor, to give a summary of the morning church service, or of your sermon. (No one does, but I’m just saying that this is not what we’re calling for.) What would be great, however, would be to tell us something funny that happened in church today, something unexpected, some insight you received in the middle of the sermon, or something memorable that was said. If you were doing the children’s sermon and a five-year-old said something that brought the house down, we want to hear about it.
Do not tell us that the service was wonderful; tell us why it was so.
Five: These days, the technology is such that you can post a brief video of a sermon snippet or a sliver of a choir special. It’s the next best thing to being there.
One minute is enough. People who go to Facebook are used to tiny samples of everything. Now, on Youtube, you can post hour-long sermons and full-length oratorios. (Last week, I listened to four of a friend’s half-hour sermons at his request. He posted them on Youtube and the last time I checked, around a dozen people had viewed them. The point is, you can post almost anything on these internet vehicles these days.
It’s a wonderful world.
So, pastor, if you are trying to pull in outsiders and the unchurched–and who isn’t?–consider finding the techno-savvy members of your flock and get them to help you post little snippets of songs or sermons or whatever that would represent your church well and connect with viewers.
Remember this ironclad rule, pastor: if it’s boring to your wife and children, it will be to the public at large. The fact that it’s of interest to you is useless. We pastors are a strange lot. We will come across a historical insight about the ancient Jerichoans or remnants of the Hittite civilization and find it fascinating and consider building a full sermon around it. Arrgghh! Don’t do it.(That sort of thing is best saved for sessions with other pastors or small groups where informality is the rule and the clock not an issue.)
Post on Facebook only something you and your test group–your wife and kids–found delightful or moving. Skip the other stuff.
There are a dozen other great insights on how to use Facebook to promote your church and draw in outsiders, but I don’t know what they are. If you do, please tell us in the comments section below. All input is welcome. Just remember to keep it positive and practical.