Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Best Practice in Church Social Media Use

This idea that the Church is old hat on technology is just so wrong. The Church has been at the forefront ever since the invention of the printing press.  And when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Door, he was just four feet off being a real pioneer and posting them on its Wall.

Of course, some would say what's wrong with just printing a very small notice sheet up on the church door so everyone can read it? That is, normally, on the inside door - the one inside the porch. The porch that's got another door, or a set of gates, or a kind of chicken-wire door to keep the birds out. So the notice sheet is very easily readable, and you can see what time Sunday's service is, on Sunday when the gate is unlocked for the service.

But in the interest of people thinking of making a Luther-like leap into the darkness, and going with the flow, here are my suggestions for the best ways to use Social Media for your church. And when I say "best ways", I mean "ways I have seen".


Normal practice is to create a church page, with a small picture of the church. Try to avoid including contact details of clergy or the church office, as this might run the risk of making their phone ring. Likewise, try to avoid including any news - especially if interesting events - as this might mean you have to try to get on with new people.
For obvious reasons, you shouldn't post pictures of children from the church. But if I were you I'd avoid posting pictures of anyone at all from the church. Their neighbours might discover they go to church, and they'd never live down the embarrassment. Especially if they're a clergy, and are keeping it quiet. So my advice is to have a few random photos of gravestones. They can't sue you, they can be quite picturesque, and though they're dated they never go out of date.

Or why not just post up all the urban myth scare stories and fake moral outrages that sweep across Facebook from time to time? It's more interesting than a "Wayside Pulpit" and more likely to get shared.

Another alternative is for your church to take on a Facebook persona all of its own, and run amok sending "friend" invites, inviting people to buy a chicken from them in Farmville, or advertising its own scheme for losing 2 lbs every week using a weird tip. You may not find anyone new turning up at church, but you'll have a ball and you may make a few quid.


Still a useful way of getting news out to a well-defined group of people who might already be bought into the church's vision. Prayer lists, community news, events advertising are all convenient. But when you're about to email "vicar@stmitholmroyds.org.uk" with a missive detailing Doris's haemorrhoidal situation, bear in mind that Outlook can auto-complete email addresses. So if you have a mail group in your address book such as "vicar and PCC", and you don't check too carefully, you may find Doris's condition gets more prayerful attention than she really wanted. 


See under "Pinterest"

Old-fashioned Website

More traditional than the social alternatives is the "Website". The ideal church website will contain:
  • A picture of the last vicar, grinning unnervingly, with the message "a warm welcome awaits you at St Mitholmroyd's".
  • Mystifying minutes from church meetings, leaving you wondering who Mrs Simmonite is, why she will not receive the chalice from Mr Dorchester, what a female sidesman might be called, and why Methodists like circuit training.
  • "Thought for the month" from the vicar-before-last, reflecting that the Millennium is a time to take stock of the way we treat the planet, as otherwise Norfolk will be underwater by 2008.
  • The notices from April 2003.
  • The use of the words "Perpendicular", "Gothic Revival" and misericords", with no clue as to what they mean.
  • A list of all the former ministers, with dates, and an excitingly rapid turnover around 1645.*
  • Some under-exposed photos of the Green Man on the ceiling of the Chapel of St Swithin.
  • An appeal for money for the "Big hole in the roof appeal"
  • A scanned-in image of a hand-drawn map of "how to find us", not showing the motorway that was built across Church Lane last year.
  • An animated .gif of a thermometer.
  • A Forward-in-Faith logo even though, after the vote during the last interregnum, the current vicar is called "Elsie".
  • No contact phone number, email address, feedback form, Facebook or Twitter link. Ideally, if you're in a small village, try to obscure even the county you're in.
An impassioned, inspiring page of immense relevance to the passing web-browser is always very useful content. This was probably written by some theological geek in response to the request in the notices one Sunday morning for "anything interesting for the Church Website". Or else it's the pastor's personal hobby-horse. Some example subjects might be:
  • "The Church of England did not become Protestant at the Reformation";
  • "Why Prelapsarianism is wrong"
  • "Explaining Athanasius in Klingon"
  • "It's King James or Hell"
  • "Marty's thoughts on the Gospel of Thomas"
  • "Why Baptists pre-date the Bible"
  • "Lace - the Lord's parting gift to his Church"
  • "2012 - the year the world ends"
Best of all, try to get one of each of these in. It gives the impression of balance.

If you are a rural Anglican church, in a multi-parish benefice, try not to mention the other villages with which you are yoked. Or, if you do, try to work in that ancient sheep-stealing grudge or local hatred that goes back to being on opposite sides in the Civil War.

Try not to get the news pages up to date - it will give the impression that somebody at the church is still alive. And do try to throw in the odd reference to "This new Internet thing".


Like the platform itself, the uses of church Twitter accounts are manifold and marvellous.


One old classic is the account with no followers, no following, and just one tweet, along the lines of
"Just starting out - I wonder how I use this thing?"
You find yourself wondering what happened next. Did the author then sit back and wait for the retweets to flood in, and then sign out, feeling that Twitter had let itself down? Did they realise they'd wondered long enough how to use the thing? Did they just become overwhelmed with the thought of the amount of work and creativity that lay ahead if they wanted to create a real Twitter presence?


Then there's the "vicarbot" approach. Using an API, you can generate inspiration thoughts every three hours along the lines of  "Sparrows are ten a penny. That's why you can use them to make a healthy, low-cost stew". Of course, if you don't have the programming ability to write a Twitter API, you can instead just tell the minister to tweet the sorts of things s/he says to people s/he meets in the street, all the time.

An alternative to the "vicarbot" is simply to tweet a Biblical passage every few hours. Because Christians no longer have time to read the Bible - they're all on Twitter - you will acquire quite a few followers in the end.

Faith Warrior

Or why not use the church account to become a "faith warrior"? Prowl the badlands of Twitterville, picking fights with Richard Dawkins, other less well-paid atheists, people who are openly Catholic, or anyone else. Make sure your bio says "Tweets may not reflect the views of St Agatha's."

Fluffy Imaginary Characters

Actually, this is the best Church use of Twitter I've encountered so far. Fluffy (or feathery) imaginary characters is what they invented Twitter for. Remember what the logo is, after all.


No idea. Sorry.

*This might actually be useful, in attracting hits from Local History Buffs. They're the sort of people that might well want to come to church, if only to check out the monuments.


  1. Always include a Google map on your website, ensuring that it partially obscures the sentence "This church has signed Resolutions A, B and C". Under NO circumstances explain the above sentence if you can't obscure it.

  2. I'm having no problem with keeping up with reading the Bible every day now that I have discovered "The Bible in Wordle Form" http://bigbible.tumblr.com/post/39471725379/genesis1
    It's most of the way through Genesis now.


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