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You definitely need a Facebook page for your congregation (and not a personal profile!), but a page does have its limitations. It is designed mainly for broadcast: you can share content out from your page, but people who like your page can’t share content or have conversations with other people who like your page. People coming to your page can interact with the page administrator(s) by leaving comments, but not really with each other.
(If you comment on a post on a friend’s timeline or in a group, Facebook will send you notifications of any new comments on that post, unless or until you turn off notifications. It used to send you notifications of new comments when you commented on a page’s post, but it has stopped doing that—unless someone directly replies to your comment or tags you in their comment, or unless the page admin comments, Facebook will not notify you of new comments. If you want to participate in the conversation, you have to remember to check back to that specific post. Which is a pain.)
If you want to have back-and-forth conversation, you want a group. (Or groups, plural! Depending on the size and needs of your congregation.)
You want a group so people in the congregation can post and discuss with each other. If you have a small congregation, you may just want a “fellowship” group, where all members can hang out. Or, you can have separate groups for specific ministries: food pantry, knitting group, prayer circle, youth, etc.
These groups can be just for hanging out and socializing (extending fellowship beyond the confines of the fellowship hall), sharing common interests (sharing funny knitting memes, posting prayer shawl patterns, alerting others of sales or coupons for yarn and other crafting materials), or they can be more of a practical, organizing kind of group (details of the next meeting, who is in charge of snacks, volunteer schedule, etc.)
Facebook groups can also be a great way to have small group Bible studies, especially for those who have unpredictable schedules or have trouble finding childcare. Not everyone can meet Tuesday morning at 10:00 for Bible study, but if you post a reflection on the Facebook group, people can stop by the group when they are able (which may be 10:30 at night after getting off work, 3:00 in the morning when they’re up with a teething baby, or 6:15 after the alarm goes off and they want to spend some time in Bible study and reflection before they start their day).
The nature of groups allows people to sit with an idea for a while, process the information, and come back to the conversation. Sometimes you don’t have something to say right at the moment, but the more you think about the topic the more your idea forms and you can go back and still have the conversation. Online groups also allow introverts to speak up and contribute to the conversation in ways they may not feel comfortable doing in person.
Of course, Facebook groups are not a replacement for in-person Bible studies or small group activities or prayer shawl knitting circles. You still want and need those face-to-face events and interactions. What I am suggesting here is in addition to those face-to-face events.
(And… who knows? You may even reach some people outside of your congregation, outside of your geographical region, who really like knitting and discover a passion for prayer shawls, which may lead them to start praying again, and maybe joining your Bible study groups even if they live in another continent.)
Things to think about when managing a Facebook group:
- Have 2-5 administrators* (depending on the size of the group)
- Do you want the group to be open, closed, or secret?
- Open: anyone can find the group, anyone can join, anyone can see posts and comments (even if they are not in the group)
- Closed: anyone can find the group, anyone can request to join, only members can see posts and comments
- Secret: people can only find the group if they have the direct link
- Who can join? Who can approve members?
- What is the purpose of the group? How closely do we want to stick to that purpose?
- What do you do with off-topic posts? (Delete, ask the poster to delete the post, ignore and let the group evolve as it wants?)
*Please note: a Page cannot create a group. In order to create a group (and participate in it), you must use a personal profile. Which, really, is what you want anyway… people don’t want to interact with your building, they want to talk to people. So decide who will be the moderators, and have those people (whether they are “official church staff” or not) create the group.
What if my people are not in Facebook?
First, do you know they’re not in Facebook? They may not be on there much, but still have an account. They could still receive notifications of group posts by email, even if they’re not checking Facebook regularly.
If they are not in Facebook, then find a platform where they are hanging out! There are some great group texting apps (which do not require a smartphone or the app itself for people to participate), or just use something like Google Groups to communicate via email (without huge Reply All threads).
Should I bother with a page at all if I have a group?
Yes. You still need a place to broadcast information, and a place to host and share events.
Also, pages can be viewed by people who do not have a Facebook account, and pages will show up in Google searches—groups will not. So, yes, you need a page so people can find your congregation!
Should I bother with a page if my people are not on Facebook?
YES. See the above answer, or read this post.