Engaging people in congregational life using social media – climate justice example

How can you use social media to engage people in congregational life?  It isn’t by bombarding them with boring cut and pasted invitations to attend!

In this excerpt from my weekly live Q&A / office hours in our UU PLANET Community group, I share an example of using social media to engage people with a specific worship service and upcoming area of focus for the congregation. Because it is dangerously HOT, HOT, HOT in Boston I use a climate justice focused service and launch of a new climate justice ministry as an example.

Organizations I used in this example:

Note that YES, we do need to work on addressing the root causes of climate change, but I think a special focus for our congregations should be helping to re-connect humanity,  cultivating and articulating a vision for how we do “climate disruption” together, and working to address associated injustices.

 

Don’t let ANXIETY and UNCERTAINTY keep people from visiting your congregation

On a scale of 1 to 10, how stressful do you think it is to visit a congregation for the first time?  What if it is a congregation you have lots of unanswered questions about?

Oh, that’d be about a 17!

It is my heartfelt opinion that people won’t visit a congregation until they can get their stress,  anxiety and uncertainty down to a manageable 7 to 8.

The average congregation has a community of potential visitors actively researching them online trying to do this.  They are trying to find enough information so they can visit with confidence and certainty.

This is the digital age!  People expect to be able to find answers to anything and everything online.  The more important the decision, the more information and confidence in the decision they want to have.  And when there is a lack of relevant information, people become anxious and uncertain.  More on that in my recent post 5 Ways Social Media is Changing How People Join Congregations.

People who are anxious and uncertain are less likely to visit congregations.   

You can help them eliminate the anxiety and uncertainty by actively doing one thing — ANSWER ALL THEIR QUESTIONS.  And you can do it online.

One of the students in my online course Church Social Media and Membership Growth asked:

“How do you know when you’ve provided enough information for your online visitors?  I want to answer their questions so they’ll visit, but I have no idea if I’ve done this.” 

This is easy once you understand that social media is designed for two way interaction.  You use social media to interact with your community of online visitors to share answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and to ask if they have additional questions.

Doing so, and the relationships developed though this interaction, will help people move from following your congregation online to participating onsite.

Try working through the following process.

1.  Answer All Questions

On your website share the information you think people need to know in order to decide your congregation is a match for them. Share everything they need to know in order to decide they are going to join.

That’s the new expectation, answers to ALL THE QUESTIONS people have before they visit.

Ask clergy, staff, dedicated members, longer time friends who aren’t members yet, and newcomers what questions need to be answered.

I recommend placing a summary of the top questions in a Frequently Asked Questions page.  First time visitors and newcomers love FAQ pages!  They are also easy to experiment with and to add content to without doing major website revisions.

2.  Share Your FAQ Page

As you are working to ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS,  share via social media that you are working on this.  You can post to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels that you are working on this and include a link to your FAQ page.

For people who have questions, this gives them the cue to seek out answers.   And most important, use social media to ask your community of online visitors what’s missing.  That’s the next step.

3.  Ask What’s Missing

As you are sharing your FAQ page and expressing your attempt to continually ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS,  ask people what’s missing.  Ask if they have questions.  Ask people what they would add.

You can even include a simple form on your FAQ page inviting people to submit their remaining questions.  You can include an optional name and email field.

If someone submits a question and includes their name and email,  make sure to email them with the answer, or thank them and tell them you’ll have the answer for them shortly.   Also make sure to keep an eye out for questions via social media comments and replies.

Example:

“This is a special invitation for all of our online friends and newcomers!  We’re working on updating our visitor FAQ page.  We know people like to get oriented online before visiting for the first time. We want to make sure we’re answering all your questions and making it easy to connect with our community.  Can you take a look at our FAQ and let us know if you have additional questions?  What do you need to know or affirm in order to move from following online to joining us onsite?  You can submit your questions via the form on our FAQ page, comment here, or message me through our Facebook page.  Thanks for your help!  ~ First Name, role in congregation.” 

4. Invite to Newcomer Event

After a round of sharing your FAQ page and answering peoples questions,  invite online visitors to a specific event for newcomers. Make it clear that this is the perfect time for you to come if you’ve been waiting to visit.

Make it clear you’ll welcome them,  there will be snacks, coffee, key staff and leaders will orient them to the congregation,  additional questions will be answered, etc…

In your FAQ you might include a question “When is the best time to visit for the first time?” and say that you’re always welcome but your newcomer event on UPCOMING DATE (with link to details) is the ideal time and explain why.

Of course, you need to keep that event information and date updated, but your visitors will appreciate the clarity.  Here are answers to all the questions and this is the date I should visit for the first time.

5. Pay Attention at Newcomer Event

At your newcomer event, pay close attention to how comfortable people are and the questions they have.  Use your learning to ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS you can online.

As you you work through these steps multiple times — maybe quarterly — you should see more people coming to your newcomer events with greater comfort and confidence.

In fact, if you’re rocking this process,  people will be coming with a sense that they already know people.  You can use video, photos, and podcasts to clearly communicate who you are, what your congregation is like, and to connect with people before they ever step foot onsite. I share lots of strategies for doing this in my course Church Social Media and Membership Growth.

Over time these events will be increasingly focused on affirming what has already learned online and helping people quickly make connections and form friendships in the congregation.

That’s it!

Proactively answer all questions, share the answers, use social media to actively engage with and support your online visitors, and then invite them to join you.

I’m always looking for great examples of newcomer events and ways to help visitors build friendships.  What have you done that’s worked well?  Share your success story in a comment.

5 Ways Social Media is Changing How People Join Congregations

With approximately seven-in-ten Americans now using at least one social media site (Pew Internet), faith leaders can’t afford to ignore the impacts of digital culture.

Here are five ways social media is changing the process of connecting with and joining congregations.

 1. Visitors do extensive research online

People research congregations and their faith traditions extensively online.

In our digitally oriented culture, if you are going to buy or choose something, or make an important life decision,  you do your homework.

You do a Google or other search. You watch videos, read reviews, and do everything you can to educate yourself so you can make a well-informed decision. People interested in a congregation default to a similar process.

 2. Before visiting, people participate remotely

After their initial research, many people choose to follow the congregation for a time on social media.

Observing and participating remotely through Facebook, Twitter, audio podcasts, and other channels helps to determine if the congregation is a match for them.

Whether it takes weeks, months, or a year, at some point (hopefully) they will learn and experience enough to say, “YES! This is the congregation for me. I belong here.”

3. A higher degree of certainty is required to initiate an onsite visit

This calls us to use social media for more than an outreach.  We need to use it to meet people where they are — online — and to proactively help them with their process.

If we want people to visit,  they need access to information, have questions answered, and receive some affirmation that they are going to fit in.

Once someone is confident that the congregation is likely to be a great match,  then they’ll visit.

4.  High-stakes visits verify the match

After weeks, months, or a year of interacting with a congregation online, it is a big deal to visit onsite and see if people like them.  Will they?  Won’t they?

This isn’t a regular “let me check this place out” visit.  This is the moment of transition from ONLINE participation to ONSITE participation with very high hopes and expectations.

This sort of visitor needs affirmation and to connect with others almost immediately.

5. Visitors need immediate affirmation and connection

How long do you think a visitor will hang around waiting to be affirmed and connect with the community before they give up and leave?

In my trainings, I tell congregational leaders to assume they need to offer this affirmation during the first visit.   Because if you don’t, it may very well be the only visit.

Now everyone’s different and you may have more time, but not much more.  It is essential to affirm visitors quickly and offer clear next steps for connecting with your community.

There are many ways we can use social media and online communications to offer this affirmation and start the connecting process before the visit.  We can start the process online.

These changes create a wide range of challenges and opportunities for congregations.

One of the first things we can do to respond to this cultural shift is to bring more of our core educational content online instead of waiting to educate people after they visit onsite.

Read more in my post Don’t let ANXIETY and UNCERTAINTY keep people from visiting your congregation.


Interested in using social media more effectively to grow your congregation? Enroll in new my online course Church Social Media and Membership Growth.  This is based on my day-long Unitarian Universalist training of the same name. 

Join us for RE Without Walls: Technology, Theme-Based Ministry, and Full Week Faith!

Liberal Religious Educators Assoc Logo

October 22-25, 2015 * Morristown, NJ

Behold the awesome!  It is the LREDA Fall Conference with a focus that all Unitarian Universalist congregations and their religious leaders need to wrap their minds and ministry around:

  • Social Media and Technology
  • Theme Based Ministry
  • Full Week Faith

Yes, we’re talking Religious Education Without Walls and our keynotes, workshops and other programming will be covering critical building blocks for ministry, religious education, and faith development in today’s digitally connected world.

This event not to be missed.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m leading part of the programming.   It is because I care too much about you to let you be left behind,  struggling with 19th and 20th century ministry models. The horror! We have to move forward.

You know we have to change the way we transmit our faith and values as the world changes.  Yes?  Good!  So let’s all convene at the LREDA Fall Conference, and  learn, experiment, and move forward together.

I  will be offering the Friday keynote, two workshops and serving as the conference social media / digital ministry coach.

Trust me. This is one of the events where you’ll hear about it after the fact and wish you had been there.

If you want to go, you need to reserve your hotel room now as space for this event will go fast. Why? Because it is covering so much critical information our religious leaders know they need. The reserved LREDA rooms are going to go fast.  Oh, and Emma’s Revolution will be there too.

Here are critical links via LREDA.org:

If you don’t have the professional development budget for this,  tell your leadership that this is critical education and ask them to help you find the funding.  You’ll be glad you did, and so will they…   I don’t know what scholarships are available via LREDA or your region, but make sure to check. You might be able to get some support.

I hope to see you there!

In cooperation,
Peter

peterbowden2013

Event: UU Social Media and Membership Growth – May 16, Framingham, MA

UU Framingham MAFriends, if you want to rock your social media and grow your congregation come the Fall, join me on May 16th for a day-long training at our UU congregation in Framingham, MA.  We have a tiny window to infuse our teams with new ideas, intention and skills if they are going to be ready to implement come the new church year.   Now is the time — I know, we haven’t even been to the beach yet!  I say, come to the training and then THINK ABOUT IT on the beach. Oh yes, that’s the way…

It is time to register, we’re just two weeks out.  I know you like registering last minute but that tends to freak out the hospitality team of host congregations.  If you know you’re coming, register today. Okay?

Details and registration:

UU Social Media & Membership Growth  – May 16th in Framingham, MA

Peter BowdenI’ve said it before, but it is important to repeat…   Today we need to be intentionally integrating our social media, visitor greeting and other membership development efforts.  If we don’t,  we’re in trouble.

Thanks to technology the path to membership is moving increasingly online.   How many people visit your website before visiting?  Around 100%.  And now people are wanting to explore your social media and check you out digitally for a while to judge you before they visit. That’s right, they’re judging you based on what you’re online presence and identity.

Potential members are  increasingly making a decision about your congregation based on their digital experience, and then and only then, if that’s good, they’ll visit in person to confirm you are what you’ve said you are online.

Increasingly you need to be helping people pre-qualify themselves for membership online if you want them to visit and join in person.  I was just guest preaching on this and a newcomer (4th visit) reported keeping an eye on the congregation’s website for a YEAR, a whole year, before feeling like the match was good enough to try it in person.

And your existing members?  They are bombarded with information via multiple communication channels.  How do you get them to hear you and to not drift away?  We’ll discuss all of this in more in one very full, exciting and useful day…

Peter Bowden speaking at event

These trainings have gotten rave reviews and have been catalysts for congregational teams to take their social media to a whole new level, especially if your minister comes with you.  You can’t communicate well with the world if your minister isn’t communicating with your media ministry volunteers.  So, bring a team and get a 2015-2016 upgrade for your communications and membership growth strategy.

Details and registration:

UU Social Media & Membership Growth  – May 16th in Framingham, MA

What’s that you say?   Are these events being lives streamed?  No,  but I will be turning the content into text and video resources. Make sure you are subscribed to my Leading Congregations E-Newsletter to be updated as they become available.

In cooperation,
Peter

FALL 2014 UU Social Media and Membership Growth trainings

Friends, this Fall I’m leading two separate  day-long trainings on UU social media and membership growth.   I hope you’ll join us!

Peter BowdenHere’s the deal.  Today we need to be intentionally integrating our social media, visitor greeting and other membership development efforts.  If we don’t,  we’re in trouble.

Thanks to technology the path to membership is moving increasingly online.   How many people visit your website before visiting?  Around 100%.  And now people are wanting to explore your social media and check you out digitally for a while to judge you before they visit. That’s right, they’re judging you based on what you’re online presence and identity.

Potential members are  increasingly making a decision about your congregation based on their digital experience, and then and only then, if that’s good, they’ll visit in person to confirm you are what you’ve said you are online.  Increasingly you need to be helping people pre-qualify themselves for membership online if you want them to visit and join in person.  And your existing members?  They are bombarded with information via multiple communication channels.  How do you get them to hear you and to not drift away?  We’ll discuss all of this in more in one very full, exciting and useful day…

Think of  this training as a 2014-2015 upgrade for your communications and membership growth strategy.

Again, here the dates and registration links.  If you have questions, Email me.

What’s that you say?   Are these events being lives streamed?  No,  but I will be turning the content into text and video resources. Make sure you are subscribed to my Leading Congregations E-Newsletter to be updated as they become available.

In cooperation,
Peter

Registration & Event Details


COLORADO

Growing UU Membership Using Social Media and Visitor Integration Strategies

Day-long training with Peter Bowden
Saturday, October 4th, 2014
High Plains Church, UU (HPCUU)
1825 Dominion Way
Colorado Springs, CO 80918
Event Registration

RHODE ISLAND
UU Social Media & Membership Growth Intensive
Day-long training with Peter Bowden
First Unitarian Church of Providence, RI
November 8, 2014
Event Registration

Program Outline

The following program is close to final for these two events.  There may be some small changes in timing and titles, but the content is set.

8:30 Registration & Refreshments

9:00    Opening Worship & Welcome

9:15  Technology, Culture and the Challenge to Congregations
How is changing technology changing us?  We’ll look at the new technology norms for how people are connecting, learning and making decisions. Understanding these changes is critical to effective outreach, social media use, and membership development.

9:25 Social Media and the New Path to Membership
The path to becoming a member in a congregation has changed significantly in recent years.  Not in terms of what has to happen for people to connect with a congregation, but how, when and where these connections happen.  Today much of what happens in the course of “church shopping” happens online via congregational social media channels.

10:45 Break

11:00   Increasing Engagement, Understanding Social Media Today
For congregations to maximize engagement with newcomers, members and friends, we need to understand what communication platforms people are using, what they are using them for, and the new norms for institutional communication. We’ll identify the top social media platforms today, look at their use by demographic, and identify key ways congregations need to shift their approach in order to communicate effectively today.

11:30   Break Out Session
What have you tried? What works? What doesn’t? We’ll take some time to learn from each other, share successes and challenges. This will also prime our lunch time conversation.

12:00      Lunch
We’ll take a nice full hour lunch to allow for conversations to continue, connections to be made, and to let our brains cool down as needed!

1:00 Report Back
When we gather after lunch, we will take some time to hear some of our success stories and insights from our lunch conversations.

1:20   Social Media Storytelling, Relationship and Membership Growth
We’ll go deeper into the strategy of communicating with newcomers, members and friends via social media with the goal of building relationships, increasing participation in congregational life, and growing your membership. To be successful at this, we need to master the art and science of telling the many stories of congregational life in ways that are interesting, meaningful, and invite participation.

2:00 Best Practices for Keeping Members Engaged and Coming Back
If we’re successful in brining newcomers into our communities, soon we will have new members. Which raises the question, how do we keep members coming back in today’s world with so many competing demands for people’s attention and time.

2:20   Developing Social Media Plans, a Small Group Exercise
We’ll break into small groups and go through the process of developing a social media plan for one primary event or happening within the life of your congregation using strategies detailed earlier in the day. This may be for a large fundraiser, your monthly newcomer class, or a special holiday event.

2:45   Discussion on Small Group Exercise

3:00     Q & A Time

3:30   Closing

Testimonials

“Peter provided our team with an opportunity to learn together about social media giving us a common understanding of the benefits and costs of utilizing it. His enthusiasm for social media is infectious, making us feel not only that implementing it is possible and perhaps inevitable as our world continues to evolve.” — Sara Deshler, Church Administrator, Cedar Lane U U Church.

“Peter’s passion for social media communications and Unitarian Universalism is contagious. His vision for our future is something we need to learn and embrace.” – Don Southworth, UUMA Executive Director

Peter’s training on Social Media was clear, instructive, and interactive. He is dynamic, engaging and brings an enthusiasm to his sessions that is contagious. I recommend him highly.” — Mark Bernstein, Regional Growth Development Consultant, Central East Region of the UUA

UU Gotta Tweet at #UUAGA video Crash Course

Update:  If you’re watching this in 2016, remember this year’s GA is in Columbus, OH.

Friends, I told people using the UUA’s mobile General Assembly event app that I’d make a quick tutorial on how to get started on Twitter.  Here it is!

In this video I walk you through the process of setting up a Twitter account,  connecting with UUs on Twitter, and a few basics on hashtags.   This is not a comprehensive training, it is just intended to help you set up a Twitter account before General Assembly.  You can learn during GA and in the #UUsGetSocial workshop series.

I look forward to seeing you in Providence, RI next week and on Twitter.  Once you’ve created your account, make sure to follow me at @UUPLANET.  I will also be announcing new UU social media events for the Fall shortly, ranging from Colorado Springs, CO to Providence, RI.

In cooperation,
Peter

#UUsGetSocial workshop schedule and recording

UPDATE:  You may access resources and recordings here.

I’m excited to announce that the four-part #UUsGetSocial workshop series at the UUA’s General Assembly conference is going to be video taped. It will not be live streamed.

If you’re going to General Assembly, I hope you’ll join us. You may find the full program book online here. If you’re going to be at GA and have a smart phone or tablet, make sure to get the official UUA GA event app.

Workshop Schedule

204 #UUsGetSocial: How Congregations Can Deepen Engagement Online
Thursday 10:15 am EST
RICC Ballroom BC

260 #UUsGetSocial: Updating Your Web Presence: Tools and Tips
Thursday 4:00pm EST
RICC Ballroom BC

306 #UUsGetSocial: Reaching “Nones,” Activists, and Spiritual Seekers
Friday 10:15 am EST
RICC Ballroom BC

408 #UUsGetSocial: Digging Into Facebook, Twitter and Video-Making/Sharing
Saturday 10:15 am EST
RICC Ballroom BC

The Hashtag

If you are on Facebook or Twitter, you can search for the tag #UUAGA to pull up all associated tagged posts and Tweets.  Search for #UUsGetSocial, click these links to give it a try:

#UUsGetSocial on Facebook
#UUsGetSocial on Twitter

Connect at GA!

I’ll be at General Assembly all week, including during ministry days, so make sure to connect.   Besides helping to lead this series, I’m going to be talking with clergy colleagues about a new series of social media learning opportunities specifically for parish ministers on making your public ministry more public.  Yes, if you are a professional minister being paid to do public ministry,  I think it is critical that you have a strong online identity — YOU, not just your congregation.  Oh yes, I’m talking about using clergy personal branding as a catalyst for Unitarian Universalist growth.

Look for our Leading Congregations ad in the program book. It shares contact information for contacting  me and Amy at General Assembly, plus an invitation to subscribe to our newsletter.  I’ll be sharing new social media educational offerings and resources via the newsletter following GA.  Don’t miss out!  Some offerings are going to have limited participation, and I’m going to share invitations with subscribers of our newsletter first.

Hope to see you at GA!
Peter Bowden

UU Social Media Year in Review for 2013

Like - Social Media

Here are a some thoughts in response to Rev. Daniel Harper’s The year in review: UU social media in 2013. I’ll share more thoughts when I have time. Thanks for kicking off the review, Dan! ~ Peter

BLOGGING
We’ve discussed the issue of UU clergy vs. lay person blogging in the UU Growth Lab and most agreed that the ease of sharing ideas and engaging in discussion in topical UU groups has taken some of the energy away from public blogging. While it is great to have these forums, there was some worry expressed in having these conversations moved behind closed doors.

FACEBOOK OUTREACH & DESIGN
There’s been amazing UU outreach done over the last year via social media, especially on Facebook using combinations of striking visual images and quotes. The biggest contributors have been the page (featured in UU world this Fall) & , and Thomas Earthman’s I AM UU page.

TWITTER
There continues to be growth in the number of UUs and UU congregations on Twitter. The UUA’s twitter account now lists:

128 UU Ministers
50 UU Religious Educators
279 UU Congregations

I don’t have stats on the counts from previous years, though I’ve logged these numbers for future comparison.

Hashtags: Though they are now more mainstream, I don’t see many Unitarian Universalists using them well.  Some do, but not overall.  There’s huge potential to bring our congregations, clergy and other UUs on Twitter into larger conversations using hashtags.  Hard to say if it is lack of technical understanding, or simply lack of intention to reach out.

Gini’s Twitter Lesson: At the UUA’s 2013 General Assembly then moderator Gini Courter gave the full plenary a brief Twitter lesson.  It was great to see this attention brought to social media at GA.

VIDEO
The UU video site I curate, http://www.unitarianuniversalism.tv now has over 2450 UU videos. Alas, many are poorly filmed, and are designed for viewing by existing members chained to their pews. Unless someone is already a member or friend of the congregation, you have maybe 3 to 5 seconds to grab their attention. Many of the sermon videos posted online take 3 to 5 minutes, an eternity for a web video.

Also, many congregations are not titling their videos or tagging with keywords which reduces their value. Titles, descriptions and keyword tags will greatly increase the reach of the videos UUs are presently producing.

I’ve had many inquiries from congregations wanting to take their video to the next level (or to start filming) in 2014, which is encouraging. I still advocate for starting with an awesome podcast and periodic video messages designed for outreach (a message from your minister speaking directly to viewer online), and then getting into video of sermons.

PINTEREST
There are approximately 20 active UU congregations and UUA accounts on Pinterest. A search for “Unitarian Universalist” results in ~35 related boards. Numbers are approximate as some appear to not have been used since creating some time ago.

GOOGLE +
I’m getting circled more often by UU’s but I don’t know if people are really using Google+ more or are just being forced to create accounts to use Google services.  As for congregations, a search for Unitarian results in ~90 UU congregations (with profile photos) on Google+.  Searches for Unitarian Universalist yields fewer number, and Universalist fewer still so  “Unitarian” seems best for tracking the trend at this point.

What are your observations on 2013?
And your hopes and dreams for UU Social Media in 2014?

Share your comments on Dan’s post at
The year in review: UU social media in 2013.

Announcing Jan 4th, 2014 Social Media Intensive for Congregational Leaders

Like - Social Media

Friends, on January 4, 2014 I will be leading a social media intensive for congregational leaders.  This event is being held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, AZ.   If you are a minister, congregational staff or volunteer interacting with human beings in the United States with internet access and mobile technology,  this event is for you.   Registration is open nation-wide. Hope you can join us!   Full Details & Registration ~ Peter   

Social Media for Ministry, Outreach and  Membership Growth with Peter Bowden

January 4th, 2014  *  Tucson, AZ

Oh yeah!  Join us...

Social media is fundamentally changing how people form relationships, consume information and make important life decisions.  This has significant implications for congregations, from  how we share our news and announcements, to how we invite people into membership. For our congregations to thrive in the 21st Century, we must understand these changes and learn to use the communication tools of our time with purpose, skill and integrity.  Join us for this day-long social media intensive for congregational leaders!

Event Location
Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson
4831 East 22nd Street Tucson, AZ 85711

Event Sponsors
Special thanks to our sponsoring congregations and the Rev. Charles Gaines, my mentor,  for helping to make this event possible.

Testimonials

“Peter’s passion for social media communications and Unitarian Universalism is contagious. His vision for our future is something we need to learn and embrace.” – Don Southworth, UUMA Executive Director

“Peter provided our team with an opportunity to learn together about social media giving us a common understanding of the benefits and costs of utilizing it. His enthusiasm for social media is infectious, making us feel not only that implementing it is possible and perhaps inevitable as our world continues to evolve.” — Sara D., Church Administrator, Cedar Lane UU Church.

“Peter’s training on Social Media was clear, instructive, and interactive. He is dynamic, engaging and brings an enthusiasm to his sessions that is contagious. I recommend him highly.” — Mark Bernstein, Regional Growth Development Consultant, Central East Region of the UUA