5 Ways Social Media is Changing How People Join Congregations
by Peter Bowden
This post was first published on Peter Bowden’s Leading Congregations blog, and has been expanded to include recommended resources for Unitarian Universalists.
With approximately seven-in-ten Americans now using at least one social media site (Pew Internet), Unitarian Universalist congregations can’t afford to ignore the impacts of digital culture.
Here are five ways social media is changing how digitally oriented people are trying to connect with and join your congregation.
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.”
Video Embed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLuf3jb8WVo
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 play it safe and 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. If we meet people where they are — online!
If we are to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by social media, Unitarian Universalists need to track the trends, learn new approaches, and experiment!
To help, Carey McDonald and I have compiled a list of related resources. My recommendation is that you use the links below to 1) subscribe to the Outreach Revolution series, 2) join one of the UU Facebook lab learning communities, and 3) explore the related blog posts and presentations.
Outreach Revolution Series!
I am a huge fan of the UUA Outreach Team’s new email series Outreach Revolution! It was launched to provide leaders like you with tips, resources, shareable social media graphics, and more! Want to get the latest from the UUA Outreach Team? Subscribe to the Outreach Revolution Series!
Join the UU Growth Lab on Facebook
Connect with other Unitarian Universalists interested in Unitarian Universalist growth, outreach, and topics from this blog. Coordinated by Peter Bowden with regular UUA Outreach Team participation.
Join the UU Social Media Lab on Facebook
A fabulous learning community for Unitarian Universalists working with their congregation’s social media channels.
Related Growing Unitarian Universalism blog posts
Outreach: Do they need us, or we them?
More Like a Marathon than a Sprint
Don’t Panic! The 4×4 Outreach Plan
How to Find Your New Best Friends – Outreach Entry Points
What if membership was a spectrum?
UUA General Assembly Presentations
Reaching “Nones,” Activists, and Spiritual Seekers (2014)
How Congregations Can Deepen Engagement Online (2014)
Creating Content That’s Seen, Liked, and Shared (2015)
UU Promotional Toolkit (Spring 2017)
Unitarian Universalists are doing wonderful, life-changing ministry in their congregations and faith communities. But is the good word getting out? The UUA Outreach team is developing a promotional toolkit to help us take Unitarian Universalist PR to the next level. Subscribe to Outreach Revolution! to be notified when it is published.
Peter Bowden is a Unitarian Universalist speaker, consultant, and coach. He helps religious professionals and congregations harness the power of social media and adapt their ministry to our changing world. For more on his work with Unitarian Universalists visit UU PLANET Ministry and Media. This post was adapted from his new online course Church Social Media and Membership Growth.