Which is more important for churches – a website or social media?

social mediaI recently read an interview with Mark Clement of Big Picture Media done by Leadership Network in which he wrote:

Churches should view social media as being equally important as their websites and as any other core communication tools they may already be using.

Catch that?  “…equally important…”

Why?  Mark goes on to say…

Successful churches meet people where they are, and right now the “where” digitally/web-wise is, without question, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other related social media forums. If you want to be part of the conversation on any level, you have to be around the same table as those you’re trying to converse with.

(The full interview/article is here and worth the read, IMO)

In a recent webinar LifeChurch.tv online community pastor Tony Steward revealed that when LifeChurch.tv launches a new campus they create its Facebook page first, its mobile site second, and its website third.

LifeChurch.tv connects with people who tend to be younger, more tech-savy, and bigger users of mobile and social media, but still the change in priority is telling.

Do you think social media has become more important than a website for churches? Does the way your church communicates reflect that?

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

22 Responses to “Which is more important for churches – a website or social media?”

  1. galefromseattle Jun 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    This world is so different,all these tools can be used for the good and bad.Just use caution on how you represent yourself.

  2. I think I agree. I really like how you said that Lifechurch.tv creates the Facebook page and then the mobile and then the website. I think most churches in my area only have a website if that online, they start the building with the people and then maybe add a website. Love the idea of being opposite with social media and such coming first.

  3. A real key to building a church is relationships. A church is the body of Christ. As members of that body we need each other. So a health church environment requires us to be in relationship with God and with each other.

    So if you are trying to start or grow a church, be that in person or online, it is relationships with each other and God that will do it. I suppose that is why social media would be so important to many.

    Our church is way behind the times I suppose. We do have web site (hosted by Our Church) since last year. I have started a facebook page but not very many of our church members use either. I have found both media to be more useful in outreach than inreach. Has anyone had a different experience?

  4. I would say that people are the most important part of what the church does; otherwise, what would be the point? I think too often (local) churches focus on the tools and programs and forget the people. Then, after the crying, we wonder where we went wrong. We did all the "things" we were supposed to, so how could it fail?

    By all means, make use of the tools available to you, but tools are a means to an end, not the answer. This also means some local churches won't use Twitter, and some won't use Facebook, and — shock — some might not use any online tools at all! It has to be about following God's leading as to how to foster the relationships that you're really looking to create, anyway.

  5. I believe that your Church Site can exist without Social Media. However, communication is the gun in this wild west of the online world. How well you shoot will play a big role in how effective your church site is.

    My Church has a site, quite frankly I think that the use of social media in general to communicate and promote that site is bad. Facebook to some degree and twitter to a much less degree. And I only see negative growth on Google Analytics.
    The problem I believe is two fold:
    Not enough people on Social Networks to participate in sharing, discussion and promotion
    and Not enough people willing to lead the way by spending time on the networks to kickstart it.

    • >>I think that the use of social media in general to communicate and promote that site is bad.

      I think the ideal is for churches to use social media to engage with people and initiate conversation. I have only seen a handful of churches pull that off. I'm not so sure it's bad for a church to simply post links to announcements and upcoming events in Facebook and Twitter. Some people are on FB & Twitter a lot and may just want to get their info from the church through a channel they're already tuned into.

      I agree with you though that it takes a critical mass of people in a church using social media to make it work. Probably not a big group – maybe 5-10 people – but a group that will break the ice & start the interaction..

  6. I do want to clarify – in this article it's stated that our church is younger and more tech savy. That may seem like the case because of the initiates of our Digerati and Church Online teams – but it really isn't the case for our church more than any other. In fact in our measurements the largest demographic connecting with us online (Facebook, etc) is the 45+ to 55 crowd – and women.

    Just wanted to be clear that out strategy in how we did our new site was based off of value to users not because we want to create "shiny" tech & websites.

  7. I do want to clarify – in this article it's stated that our church is younger and more tech savy. That may seem like the case because of the initiates of our Digerati and Church Online teams – but it really isn't the case for our church more than any other. In fact in our measurements the largest demographic connecting with us online (Facebook, etc) is the 45+ to 55 crowd – and women.

    Just wanted to be clear that out strategy in how we did our new site was based off of value to users not because we want to create "shiny" tech & websites.

    • Hey Tony, thanks for clarifying. I'm surprised to hear your largest demographic is 45-55. Although, a lot of churches out there would still consider that to be young. ;)

      Regardless of age, though, I would still guess that the folks at LifeChurch.tv tend to be more tech-savy than average and more active in social media, which is why it makes makes sense for you guys to put such prominence in Facebook. You're able to add value to users in Facebook, because the people of LifeChurch are already there. That may not be the case for other churches, though.

      • I still want to push back on your guess Paul. We have significant technology initiatives at LifeChurch.tv but our community is still from central Oklahoma in the middle of the country. To be sure our staff and leadership around the Church Online teams and Digerati teams are very tech savvy, and the people that connect with our outward facing initiatives (like YouVersion.com) are that young/tech demographic.

        But the community of people who make up LifeChurch.tv as a church are everyday people. And it is everyday people that are in Facebook (500 million users+). Of course there will be different shifts in social media participation in each church community, but definitely much more than is currently being leveraged. Just because a church is older doesn't mean its people aren't using social media or technology.

        More than anything in launching strategy or leveraging opinion on what is effective needs to move from guesses to analysis. We are in this constant pursuit away from intuition because of how our personal preferences are too influential – and are focusing on data-driven decisions that is better able to focus on audience and community.

        • I appreciate the push-back, Tony. I'm glad to hear your decision to make Facebook prominent in your communication strategy was based on analysis of the people who attend LifeChurch.tv rather than speculation (which is all I have to go on).

          I'd like to follow up on that… According to the pew research center, in the Fall of '09 about 40% of Americans over the age of 30 used Facebook (http://bit.ly/9CxJ0u). That's surely gone up and then when you combine it with 18-30s, I'd put the number at about 50% of American adults using Facebook. According to another Pew report 37% of American adults access the Internet from their phones (http://bit.ly/bh768m).

          How do those figures compare with LifeChurch.tv's demographics?

          If they're similar, I'm interested to hear more about the thought process for emphasizing Facebook if half the people aren't using it and mobile if 2/3 aren't using it? Don't misunderstand, I'm not criticizing or questioning the decision. You and others at LifeChurch are thought-leaders in this area, and I'm genuinely interested to learn about your thought process.

  8. I believe Social Media and the Website serve two different purposes:

    Website – #1 role – to help visitors find out more about you from the comfort of their google search :)

    Social Media – #1 role – to help foster communication between the church and especially members AND THEIR extended networks… so as we talk up our church / ministries / joys / prayer concerns, we are WITNESSING to others who may be in our own town and even half way across the world.

    This is the message of why we started ChurchBuzz! :)
    Patrick Steil

    • True, but which is the better way for someone to get to know your church? From the static copy on your site or the community conversations on your social media channel? Besides, you can take the static elements that inform people about you and integrate them into your social environment.

      Websites are still very important for certain elements, but social media channels are where people chose to 1.) interact with others and organizations and 2.) research and consume new information. Social channels are also already where your community is at online – they aren't already at your website. (and in regards to things like Facebook pages – they are just as findable through Google Searches as a website.)

      No perfect answer, we are still constantly re-evaluating our strategies and what is working, but in my opinion, if I had to choose from a Social Channel, Mobile Site, or WWW. site I'd go with the Social Channel. If only two, Social Channel and Mobile – it is how people are interacting with information on statistically proven larger scales.

  9. I think you're on to something there, Patrick.

  10. I work with non-profits and faith-based organizations on integrated marketing and I believe that not every church/non-profit is cut out for social media and shouldn't feel the pressure to pursue. However, every church and non-profit should be social in their media.

    There are so many issues to consider before jumping into the social media pool. Startegy, resources, time, staff, demographics, etc. Every piece of social media we use must have a purpose. Don't just jump in to jump in. It is more harmful for a social media account to die from inactivity or misue than it is to not have one.

    I've worked with people to make their websites more connective by adding features to the website itself that build community. You have to be sure you have the people, time and resources to pursue social media. Your website can be very social and if that's all you can do for now, make sure it is connective, building community, interactive and people-oriented (not program-oriented). It's not as important to know the "what" as it is the "why."

  11. You guys have a good conversation going, I think you covered most of it as I'm not sure what to add. Though I do have to say that if you're already a Facebook user and having your church and info on FB instead of another site is a much easier way to find out what's going on. It's less than two clicks away, should be easily found in FB search, and sometimes you find out what's happening on your home page. For a website though, you first have to figure out what the website is, and then it'll be at least one click to find out what is happening. FB is also good for a conversation and chatting with those from your group.

  12. Emmanuel T Naweji Jun 25, 2010 at 1:44 am

    Interesting conversation, but in the case where you would like to introduce the use of social networking like Facebook, what do you think should thud steps to take? I am dealing with an older congregation that would like to have younger people join the few that are currently members.

    • A lot of older people are using Facebook now to keep in touch with their kids and grandkids. I'd start by finding out who in your church is already using Facebook. Then after you set up your Facebook page, encourage them to become "fans" of the churches FB page and share & comment on things you post there. Also be sure to add a Facebook graphic that links to your churches Facebook page to a prominent place on your church's website, preferably someplace "above the fold" in the template, so people will see it on every page of your website without having to scroll down.

  13. All Christian Churches needs a good website in my opinion. No more yellow pages, the people are now all on line, looking for any and all types of information.

  14. Hey one more note on this discussion…

    Right now today… if you were going to search for a new church in a specific city (let's say you were moving)… I think the vast majority of users will go straight to Google (or their preferred search engine) to find you and not on Google… so in that case, you need / MUST have a website that you control so you can optimize and make sure it comes for searches for churches or other resources in your area…

    This is true today… but I think it won't be too long until Facebook will publish its own search engine and train its users to stay in Facebook to do their searches… then we have a whole different ball game to talk about… :)

    Patrick Steil

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