By Chris Martin
New guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that we cease all gatherings of 10 or more people for about eight weeks (with some exceptions) in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
As hard as it is to come to terms with this, it’s likely that the CDC’s recommendations means many local churches will not meet through and past the Easter season.
Streaming a sermon over Facebook Live for a week or two is a fine temporary substitute for in-person Bible teaching. But how can churches use technology to support the community provided by the local church gathering while we are prevented from meeting?
Here are three ways churches can use Facebook Groups to foster community among church members as we are asked not to meet (and also even when we start to meet again):
1. Communicate critical messages to church members with a higher reach rate.
Without getting into the weeds too much on the inner workings of the Facebook algorithm, it is important to know that your church’s Facebook page has a limited amount of “reach.”
So when you post an announcement about your church to your Facebook page, it isn’t reaching everyone who likes your Facebook page. In fact, it is likely reaching less than 10% of the people who like your Facebook page.
This is why other forms of communication, like email, are important, especially when it comes to critical, urgent messages like the cancellation of a church service.
However, Facebook Groups have a much higher average reach than a Facebook page does. The metrics vary, but while a Facebook page likely delivers your content to 5-8% of the people who follow it, Facebook Groups deliver your content to 60-80% (and often more) of the people who are in the group.
A Facebook Group for your church is best used for church members, as you don’t want everyone in your community who may be interested in your church to have access to all of the critical information you may want to post in that group.
Use your Facebook page to reach your broader community. Use a Facebook Group to communicate to your church family.
2. Go live within the group to lead Bible studies or other church meetings.
Now that it looks like our churches may be asked to cease meeting for more than just a couple of weeks, churches may want to move more aspects of the local church ministry to the online space.
Believe it or not, the Sunday morning church service is the easiest part of the weekly church experience to move to the internet. Moving counseling sessions, Bible studies, and other more person-to-person ministries can be a lot more difficult.
One way churches could use Facebook Groups is to have a Facebook Group for each small group.
In the short term, the Sunday School class Facebook Group can be used to actually conduct the Bible study. In the long term, the Sunday School class Facebook Group can be used as a means of communication for the group throughout the week.
Just like thousands of churches went live on Facebook this past weekend, Bible study teachers can go live on Facebook within a Facebook Group and lead Bible study virtually among the members of the group.
Of course, this isn’t preferred to gathering in-person, but it’s better than not having group Bible study at all.
3. Foster conversations and care for each other amidst isolation and loneliness.
Many church members will be quite lonely during this time of isolation and social distancing, especially those older members who are best off staying home in general.
A church Facebook Group can provide a more concentrated community of local church members to communicate and love each other while we remain apart from one another.
Church members can communicate prayer requests in a group. Or perhaps they can ask for groceries to be delivered or other errands to be run as necessary.
Not meeting with our church families for a number of weeks will be difficult. But because it looks like we may be doing this for a while, it would be good for churches to figure out ways to move more aspects of their ministries online beyond the Sunday sermon.
Facebook Groups can help bridge the gap, and while social media community is a poor substitute for incarnational community, it’s better than no community at all.
CHRIS MARTIN (@ChrisMartin17) is the social media manager for Lifeway Christian Resources and the general editor of Lifeway Voices.