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Digital Evangelism: Using Social Media to Reach Beyond the Parish

By Alaina Knowles

As a college student – a marketing major – with social media experience, I have witnessed how the use of social media within congregations can be a great way for parishes to reach broader audiences than the regular Sunday attendees. Social media has become an increasingly important part of church life for Vermont parishes, and those who have embraced social media have benefited from platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even Instagram.

Churches that are looking to establish a social media presence should consider starting with a Facebook account. Facebook offers an effective means to promote events and publicize the positive feedback they may receive. Some congregants may prefer not to have a social media presence, and that’s okay. There are many other ways to share events within your church. However, for your members who do have social media accounts, it can be a very positive experience for them to feel involved and connected in an online community. Many Vermont congregations already have social media accounts, so becoming more active on Facebook or creating an Instagram or Twitter account can help spotlight events within and beyond your parish.

Take St. James in Essex Junction for example. St. James currently uses Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. To promote a baptism on Sunday, June 9, St. James created a Facebook event for the baptism, which stated the time, location, and person to be baptized. Participants were reminded of the event and where to meet before it began. Participants could also ask questions in the Facebook group if any presented themselves. During the baptism, Jennifer Knowles, a St. James member, took the picture displayed at the top of this page and uploaded it to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so that members who were unable to attend could have a glimpse of the baptism. In turn, members and other social media users could share the picture more widely. Something as simple as posting a picture can be a great way for the church community to come together and celebrate the baptism of one of their members.

Facebook can be a useful tool when congregations have specific events and need people to know all the details of those events. Instagram and Twitter, however, can be great for more informal information. For example, a picture of a baptism would be an ideal Instagram post because Instagram is for designed for pictures. By contrast, a short announcement about a baptism would work well for Twitter because Twitter is optimized for short announcements – limited to 280 characters per tweet. Most congregations could likely find a member who is knowledgeable about and comfortable using social media to start or maintain Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington is another example of how social media in churches can be very beneficial. Jennifer Summer, the Cathedral’s office administrator, wrote in the 2017 Vermont Episcopal communications guidebook Perspectives on Communication:

Social media can be a very helpful tool. At St. Paul’s we use our Facebook page as an easy way to reach online friends of the Cathedral. Facebook is a great, informal way to post photos of events here at the cathedral. We are also automatically able to include links to an audio file of the previous Sunday’s sermon or our weekly eNewsletter and other emailed announcements using Constant Contact, an online email management program. Facebook has become a way for us to engage with our online community and include photos, links to inspirational articles, recaps of events, and important cathedral updates all in one place.

If any congregations are looking to become more connected, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great ways to do so. A good place to start is to check out this resource which provides a step-by-step guide on getting started with social media for churches.

Alaina Knowles is a marketing major at Roger Williams University, a member of St. James in Essex Junction, and a communications intern for the diocese.

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