Churches are picking up on a trend that is popular in the business world: Offer free wifi and make sure you’re on Facebook. According to a new study from LifeWay Research, 84 percent of churches have both.
Among those who use social media, 97 percent use it to inform people about coming events. The survey also found that 87 percent use it to interact with the congregation, while 86 percent use it to interact with outsiders. And 84 percent use social media to capture memories of church activities, while 68 percent use social media to help church members stay connected to each other.
The findings come on the heels of an announcement last week from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the social media site is once again changing its algorithm. This change could make those church websites less visible. Facebook recently starting showing users more posts from their friends and family in the News Feed, a move that means people will see fewer posts from publishers and brands…including churches.
Zuckerberg posted, “Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content—posts from businesses, brands and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”
According to Facebook, the move is designed to encourage people to interact more with the stuff that they actually do see. The thinking is that you’re probably more likely to comment and discuss a post shared from a family member than one shared by a business or church that you follow.
It’s conceivable that Facebook users are more likely to interact with a post from their church than a business, but houses of worship will likely be negatively affected by the change. Nathan Clark, Director of Digital Innovations at Northland Church in Orlando, Florida, told churchleaders.com that the change might not be all bad.
“The great commission call that Jesus gave us was a very personal call for us to move in the context of our existing relationships, sharing the love of Jesus and inviting people to follow Jesus with us. Facebook’s move will make it harder for Northland Church’s account to reach people. But, that’s because Facebook is making it easier for each of our congregants to reach people. Which, in the end, is the sort of evangelism Jesus called the church to anyways. So there’s a lot of opportunity from a discipleship and evangelism perspective and ultimately we’re more excited than concerned.”
The LifeWay survey also found that while the vast majority of churches are on Facebook, relatively few are using Twitter (16 percent) or Instagram (13 percent).
Clark says the Facebook algorithm change could force churches to expand their social media presence in other directions.
“It’s a good reminder not to put all our eggs in someone else’s basket. Facebook is like a rented facility with no set lease. So while we want to take advantage of any platform for the Gospel, our chief focus will always remain on God and the people we’ve been called to love and train and invite into community. And while a tool is effective to reach those people, that’s great. But if the tool no longer works, we can look for other ways to faithfully steward our congregation.”
Other findings from the Lifeway survey, overall, churches are open to the use of technology, and 68 percent provide Wifi for both guests and staff.
“Not long ago churches’ use of technology was often limited to a website that functioned like the Yellow Pages or a bulletin board,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Now they see technology as a way to interact with people. Wi-fi is just one more way to do that.”
Only 2 percent say they avoid new technology, while 14 percent say they are slow to adopt new technology, and 23 percent proactively look for new technology to use.
However, 61 percent are open to new technology but don’t go looking for it, the survey said. “That’s especially true when it comes to online giving. Despite the popularity of electronic bill-paying, only about 30 percent of all churches in the study allow online giving through their website.”