When it comes to Facebook I’m definitely an evangelist, but it wasn’t always that way. I was one of those pastors who was somewhat fearful of online social technology. I was an early adopter in some ways, but when it came to working with college students I was definitely a late adopter to MySpace (my students had been on for more than a year), and I was also a late adopter to Facebook (my students had been on it for over a year as well).

By the time I got the nerve up to put us on MySpace, my students had already left it and were living online on Facebook. I still remember the Wednesday night in the Spring of 2006 when one of my student leaders got up to make an announcement at the end of the night. He announced how he had created our Quest Bel Air Global Facebook page, and I was thinking to myself, “What does that all mean?”, while I could hear the cheers from the audience as if saying, “Finally!”

Ever since then I have been a big fan and it has revolutionized communication in our ministry. And yet, there is more we could be doing with it, I just haven’t had the time and figured out the best ways yet.

So I have some thoughts, but I would also like to hear from you, and see if we can find out some even more effective ways.

Facebook for Pastors
To date, this is one of the more definitive, and simple resources to use if you are in ministry and what to really utilize Facebook. Check out the Facebook for Pastors profile, and then download for free the e-book, Facebook for Pastors. It is a quick and worthwhile read, and you can put the ideas into immediate practice.

5 Movements Towards Online Social Networking
Last year I spoke at GodBlogCon 2007 in Las Vegas on the topic of Ministry to the MySpace-Facebook Generation. The ideas behind that talk will be published in the upcoming book, The New Media Frontier: Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting for Christ, where I have a chapter called Navigating the Evolving World of Youth Ministry in the Facebook-MySpace Generation. I can’t go into much detail here in this post, but I explore five aspects of social networking and why we should be utilizing tools like Facebook and MySpace. Below are just a few ideas that I ponder, with a question for each.

Online Journey

What is your online journey? How has it shaped your views of online social networks?

Identity Forming

When a student is in these communities for hours a day, how do we help shape and transform their identity, whether it is online, or in the personal time we get with them?

Leading Within

How does you or your church’s leadership style contradict/correlate with youth in a MySpace-Facebook world?

Intermingling Lives

Does the exposure of student’s lives intimidate, discourage or inspire you to want to engage with them online? Why or why not?

Transforming Communication

What can you do in your student’s social network to help transform their environment and communication? How can you communicate Christ to your students online?
Some Thoughts on Using Facebook Effectively in Your Ministry

  1. If You Aren’t On, You Are Missing Out: If you are involved in ministry, especially with anyone 35 and under, then you need to have your ministry on Facebook…otherwise you are missing out. This is where this demographic lives online. It’s one of the best places to interact and communicate with them. If you bury your head in the sand and keep with more traditional means, then I just think you are missing out on a huge opportunity.
  2. Provide Information for Your MInistry, But Not Too Much: Facebook is a great place to put information about your ministry. For example, your vision/mission statement; calendar; speaking schedule; prayer requests, etc, etc. It’s a one stop place to get all the information they need. But don’t put too much down. I have found, and am curious if you have as well, that you need to keep the information to a minimum. This is especially true with a calendar listing. Anything more than a month out is too far out and overload, unless you it’s a big retreat down the road. This is so true of college students. It’s hard to get them thinking more than a month out anyways, so keep the information focused.
  3. Communicate Regularly to Your Students, But Not Too Regularly: I send out a message to all of my students about once a week. Our worship service is on Wednesday night, so on Monday or Tuesday I usually send out a group email giving information for the upcoming week. This is a great tool, but don’t abuse it. There was a time when I would send 3-4 messages out a week until a student pointed out to me that people were dropping out of our group online and it was due to too many emails. So communicate, but do it sporadically and when necessary. Don’t abuse this privilege. You need to realize that each of your students probably has joined over 100 groups, and if they even get an email from 10 of those groups a week, that’s a lot. Your ministry isn’t the only group trying to communicate to them.
  4. Don’t Be The Only Administrator on the Site: If you want Facebook to be used effectively, then control can’t be in the hands of one person, or even a couple of people. The more students you can give administrative rights over to, the more dynamic your site will become. The more people you have as well, the more guidelines should be present. You want to get everyone on the same page, so 10 of you aren’t sending out 10 different messages to the group, but one message.
  5. Give Your Students Titles: This goes with administrator rights, but I also try and give my student leaders their appropriate titles online as well (in the right column). This way, when a student joins our group, or has a question (“I want to get involved in outreach, who should I talk to?”) then they can see on the right column who is in charge of outreach and can contact that person. This keeps the bottleneck of information from running primarily through the pastor or director.
  6. Be Creative With What Facebook Group Pages Can’t Do: Facebook is still working on a lot of things that will benefit all of us. But for now, group pages are somewhat limited. I can’t download third-party applications to the group page (ex. calendar), so be creative and provide your own in the text section . A lot of groups are also moving over to Fan pages as well since they can tend to be more dynamic.
  7. Interact With Your Students: I have found that forum discussions aren’t thriving that well on Facebook, depending on the group. But use other means to communicate. When you see a new photo, or birthday, or change in status, etc. on the news feed, message that student or write something on their wall so that they know you are thinking about them. It’s an opportunity for you to be meeting with them online, on their turf.
  8. Be Cautious What You Post: If you are the pastor or leader in the group, keep that in mind. As the leader of the group students are looking to you to set a good example, and I think it’s your responsibility as the leader to model good leadership. So you need to think about what you want students to see. I’m careful about sharing too much family information. It’s one thing to share a story about my family in person, but to post it for everyone to see…I’m cautious. As the leader, you are more than likely over 21 and able to drink alcohol. But maybe it’s not wise to post those photos of you drinking some beers with some buddies over the weekend. This may also depend upon what age group you work with. I know some who work with high school kids and absolutely don’t do this. And others who work with adults and do do this. This is just a few issues, but I know you can think of many. What your student’s post can provide good opportunities for discussion, but you as the leader can help provide a healthy environment online in your group.
  9. Upload a Variety of Content: To keep your group’s page from becoming static, make sure that you upload a variety of content. Besides providing basic information, you can upload interesting articles, videos, post photos from events, etc. This will keep students coming back to the page because they know the content is always changing and that it is valuable.
  10. Update Your Status Regularly: Most people already do this, and some of you have TwitterSync like I do, so the status is always changing. But I think this is a good way for students to get a little insight into who you are as a person, what you are up to, etc. Shows that you are human.

Obviously there is more that I could write on, but these are just a few ideas…and not very technical ones at that. And I mainly addressed group pages since we are talking about ministry. But remember to apply a lot of these to your individual profile page as well. So make sure you check out some of the resources I mentioned above. Bottomline: Just be creative, and empower your students to be a part of shaping the online experience in your Facebook group, etc.

What ideas do you have? What has been helpful for you?

Over the next few weeks I will post on the following:

Formulating an Online Strategy for College Ministry

DISCLAIMERS: 1)There are better technical people out there concerning the web. 2) Do as I suggest, not as I do. I’m trying to keep up myself, and our college website reflects almost nothing of what I talk about. That’s how fast things change. 3) There are a lot of college ministries out there, and there are a lot of online tools to use, but it doesn’t seem like many are thinking through how to best utilize the new media and Web 2.0 (and yikes, Web 3.0) in their groups. 4) Knowing that things change overnight in technology, I hope to somehow impart to you some of the things I have been learning and wrestling with in these areas. You don’t need to be an expert in this area, just know enough to think critically about the issue. 5) If you have feedback, suggestions, criticisms, please comment. This is by no means all encompassing.