Being successful online is not easy, says Biola University's director of innovation, Dave Bourgeois. When it comes to churches, having at least a minimal digital strategy has become crucial in expanding Christian outreach even locally within their own communities.
It is for this reason that The Christian Post has come up with its first Top 5 Churches That Use Social Media Best list. With the help of DJ Chuang, founder of the resource ministry, Social Media Church, CP has picked five churches based on their successful use of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms to build relationships with not only their own church members, but with active Internet users within the U.S. and internationally.
"Digital technologies are changing and evolving constantly," writes Bourgeois, who is author of the recently released book, Ministry in the Digital Age - Strategies and best practices for a post-website world. "Websites that were once useful and efficient are now outdated (remember MySpace?). Even the logos and colors we use must keep up with the latest styles; what previously looked cutting edge may now convey the message that your ministry doesn't 'get it' anymore."
In the introduction of his book, he adds, "If it is true, as Shane Hipps says, that Christianity is fundamentally a communication event, then it is imperative that Christians understand how to use the Internet well."
Mars Hill Church, based in Seattle and led by Pastor Mark Driscoll made CP's list. Communications Director Justin Dean said that collectively, Mars Hill's social media channels are gaining about 6,000 new followers per week.
"Most of that is gained through people sharing our content with their friends, which puts us in front of new people who then follow us," Dean told CP. "They say content is king and we focus on creating good, valuable content that people will share."
He adds, "We pay a lot of attention to how people engage and interact with our posts. One example is that we recently started posting more images because we noticed that people will share an image 300 to 400 percent more than a post that is just text."
When looking at a church's Internet presence, included in Chuang's analysis are audience engagement, investment of resources, and the amount of social media participation by the church leaders.
In no particular order, the Top 5 Churches That Use Social Media Best:
Mars Hill Seattle (marshill.com) – Beyond the sometimes polarizingly, yet magnetic personality of teaching pastor Mark Driscoll (@pastormark), the church has a very sizeable audience engagement on not just Facebook and Twitter, but also podcasting, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube, said Chuang. The private church-based social network The City (http://www.onthecity.org) traces its origins to Mars Hill.
LifeChurch.tv based in Edmond, Okla. – The church is recognized as one of the most innovative churches in the country. LifeChurch.tv was one of the first churches with an "Internet campus" (they call theirs Church Online). Senior Pastor Craig Groeschel (@craiggroeschel) and Innovation Leader Bobby Gruenewald (@bobbygwald) have harnessed the talents of some of the most successful techies around. The church is one of the very few that invests staff and resources to build tech tools for use by other churches, including the Bible app YouVersion, and Church Online platform, churchmetrics.com. LifeChurch.tv gives most, if not all, its resources away for free via http://open.lifechurch.tv.
Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tenn. (crosspoint.tv) – Most of its church leaders are actively engaged online via blogging and social media, including lead pastor Pete Wilson (@pwilson), Jenny Catron, Kyle Reed, Stephen Brewster, Brent Hodge, and more – exemplifying how to make an impact through personal touch while being a large church, said Chuang.
Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas (gatewaypeople.com) – Gateway's recent purchase of the Table Project (a Christian social network platform) http://tableproject.org is a hint of their strategy to more deeply integrate social media with spiritual life. Chuang adds, "Of course, they have strong engagement on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Community Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas (communitybible.com) – Nils Smith serves as the Social Media Pastor (first one with that title I knew of) and recently launched a new version of their Internet Campus that has 30-minute messages delivered just for their Internet Campus – with a great web address http://onlinechurch.com.