Building Community Online

Bryan Haley

We talk a lot about tools and concepts for communication. But a central part of the role of a communications leader is actually not proclaiming a message or event—it’s about community.

Show Notes

Summary

We talk a lot about tools and concepts for communication. But a central part of the role of a communications leader is actually about community. In this episode, we begin a discussion that will take place over the next several episodes about how you can build community in your church online.

Transcript

Jeanette:

We talk a lot about tools and concepts for communication, but a central part of the role of a communications' leader is actually not proclaiming a message or event, it's about community. Today and in the next several episodes, we're discussing how you can build community in your church, especially in an online context.

Bryan:

Hey, church communicator, welcome to the Church Juice Podcast. I'm Bryan Haley, the producer of Church Juice, and I'm joined with my awesome co-host Jeanette Yates. We are here energizing church communications.

Jeanette:

That is correct, Brian. We are. And so we talked-

Bryan:

I feel like it's been a while.

Jeanette:

I know, we probably will do a little bit of catching up through the course of this episode speaking of building community in a digital space, right?

Bryan:

Right.

Jeanette:

Since we're talking about community, one of the things that we're going to dive into today is this idea that building community is not new. It's been something that even from the beginning we know, we have heard, that it is not good for man or woman to be alone. As churches, we gather as a community of believers, a concept that is discussed over 100 times in the Bible.

Bryan:

Isn't that crazy to think about?

Jeanette:

I know. Well, I was looking it up today to be like, "How do we talk about this in the context of like our biblical call?" You know, it's not just a task to do because we're church leaders. This is something that we're called to do as Christians is gather together and become a community of believers and then go and do things. But what that looks like changes from time to time. And so today we're going to be talking about community building, what it looks like today, and what the role of the church communicator is in building that community. So what is our role in all that? And so let's talk about it.

Bryan:

I think that's good. And I think one thing that I talk about in my own like church context, and even in communications a little bit is how kind of like you were talking about the Bible talks about community. We were created to be in community from the very beginning of creation. God saw that Adam was alone and that wasn't a good thing. He needed community. So I think it's really good for us just to spend a few episodes or a few minutes even talking about what community looks like today, because we have obviously the whole COVID pandemic and all of that, but also, even outside of the pandemic itself, community online is something that the church has been wrestling with for several years since Facebook kind of took over and all of that. So what does community even look like? But let's start at the beginning and let me ask you this question, when we talk about building community, what does that look like? What does that mean? What do we mean when we say that?

Jeanette:

Well, I think this is really hard and I think we could spend a whole season on the definition of building community, especially as you were saying in an online context. But if we go all the way back to just what it means in general to build a community, I'm thinking about what it's not. A community is not just a bunch of people following you. So even if we take online out of the context and I'm just a really popular person and people just follow me around, that's not a community, that's fans. That's not a community, but what a community is, is a collaborative coming together of like-minded people.

Jeanette:

We're talking about a community of believers right now perhaps, or maybe we can kind of get into other types of communities, but lets kind of stick with this right now, but a community of believers coming together, collaborating, and then in my opinion, and what I see happening in communities that are really strong is they then are encouraging one another, they're building one another up, and then they're spurring one another on to do the things that God is calling them to do. So, like I said, in the context of church, that's kind of what I see as building community. What do you think?

Bryan:

Yeah, I mean, I think I see this a lot of places, but when we talk about community just kind of in a general sense, it's being in a relationship with one another, it's knowing each other, being known. So I think when we talk about building community, what we're trying to do is foster the opportunity for people to build relationships with one another. So when we talk about building community online, we're talking about, "Okay, we're creating this space to be purposeful, to create those conversations or allow those relationships to even kind of take place or build on that." So that's really what I see when we are talking about building community is creating those spaces purposefully so that people can have relationship with one another.

Jeanette:

Well, and I think too, we're talking about this online, and if you're not doing that, then what you're creating is just a bunch of followers that may know a lot about you and what's going on with you, meaning your church, but you don't know a lot about them. And I think that a true community building, especially online or in person, involves that back and forth where you know each other. It's a relationship like you say.

Bryan:

Yeah and I think one of the things that I know we're going to talk about in a future episode is what Facebook community looks like. How do you build community on Facebook? Because obviously, a lot of churches are on Facebook. That is the main platform that people are using for social media. So what does that look like? And it's important for us and for a lot of our listeners to realize that your Facebook page is not community. No matter what you do, it's not building community. It's a one-way communication. People may comment on your posts, but that's not community. So when we talk about community, it is using groups or it is creating these other opportunities where again, we're just being purposeful and creating that space for conversations to happen.

Jeanette:

Agree, agree. Do we want to move on because like I said, I could keep talking about this the whole time? Well, I just think about you said when you jumped in here, you were talking about we were made for community.

Bryan:

Yeah.

Jeanette:

And whether we like it or not, the reason Facebook and other social media platforms are so popular is because people are going there and finding community. That's why they're drawn to that is because they're looking for like-minded people to encourage and support them, to lift them up to, to do all these things and your church is a place, is a group of people that could be doing that for them and doing that online. And so I think we can like it or not like it, or personally we may not like Facebook or not want to be on Instagram or whatever, but we know that's where people are going and they're looking for connection, they're looking for community, and so why not show up there and give them a safe place to be in community.

Bryan:

Yeah and you see this too in even the language that, since we're talking about Facebook, even in the language that Facebook has used and has changed over the years. So your Facebook page used to have fans. That's not the case anymore, it's followers or it's likes, and the way that they have developed groups and put such an emphasis on groups. Nona Jones talks about this quite a bit. The opportunity there for people to have relationship, whether it's your high school classmates or it's your neighborhood. We just moved into a new neighborhood and our development has its own Facebook group where we just can talk about things in the neighborhood. Your church can develop that for the church's neighborhood or whatever's happening. Facebook sees that people desire community. And so the church should be stepping into that space and I think that is an area where we need to recognize and to grow into and hopefully over the next several episodes, we can dive into this a little bit more and help churches see the value in that, but also how to do that.

Jeanette:

Yeah, I was going to say some practical... we can paint a broad picture and this idyllic scene, but then like, "Okay, how do we make this work? How do we implement this?" So yeah, we'll be talking about that too.

Bryan:

So let me ask you this, how does community online differ than in person? Because we're talking a lot about building community online because I think our assumption, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, I think our assumption is that churches are pretty good at building community in person. That's kind of what the church is. But how do we step into this space? I was reading a study recently that church attendance already is 30% lower than it was a year ago. In the pandemic, we're dropping attendance, so it's not even a pre versus post. But realizing that people are not coming act like I think a lot of churches expected. So how do we step into that? How is that community different in person than online?

Jeanette:

Well, of course in real life, IRL, and online are different. I don't think anybody can say having online relationships is exactly the same as in person. And I also don't think anybody can say... I mean, some might prefer in person to online, but I don't think anybody can say that one is better than the other.

Bryan:

Okay.

Jeanette:

Really, and here's why I want to say that because we're talking about people are searching for community, people are searching for connection, but connection has become harder and harder in a lot of ways, not just because there's so many more ways people can connect now. It's like, well when you used to want to know the news of the town, you went to church because that's where everything happened. That was the same community that helped you build your house. It used to all be one thing. Your church used to be the central hub of your town. And now we have church, and then we have our social clubs, and we have our sports clubs, and we have all these different things. And so in person is not as easy as it used to be.

Jeanette:

And one of the things I've seen in strong online communities is sometimes it opens the door for more transparency. Now, we also know the opposite is true. We all see those things on Facebook and Instagram that's like, "You're only seeing the highlights of people's lives." That's true, but also in smaller groups of people online, there is a tendency to be more transparent. Why? Because I don't have to worry about running into these people at the store. I can be really honest about my feelings or my emotions. Now one could say maybe that's not always a good thing, but it can be a good thing and it can allow people to open up more and be more willing to listen or willing to ask a tough question that they might be too embarrassed about, things like that.

Jeanette:

So I think there's a give and take. Online community is different because it does allow a little bit of anonymity, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. I think the church communicators that are responsible in part for building these communities can work to focus on the good parts of that and not on the negative parts, which we're going to talk about some of that here in a second I think.

Bryan:

Yeah, I think what we see is that obviously social media gives everyone a voice or gives everyone a platform, so there are both positives and negatives. Obviously, we see the digital space becoming what a lot of people refer to as trolls. I think people just kind of see that because they have that anonymity they can say whatever they want. So how do we take knowing that there are trolls, that the screen kind of protects my voice or my identity, how do we take that and we use it for the glory of God essentially? Okay.

Jeanette:

Okay, so first of all I want to say there's a couple of different kinds of online community that we can create. Some of those are going to be safer than others. So we'll be talking about this in a later episode where we talk about the security level and the privacy level of let's say a Facebook group and how you add people to that group can allow you to do a little bit more vetting to make sure that everybody in this group really is who they say they are, is really coming for the purpose that the group is designed for and things like that, so that's one thing but we'll talk about that later.

Jeanette:

I want to talk about the idea of the page, right? So you have a Facebook page, people are making comments, and that's probably a lot of reasons why some people in churches don't want to worry about a Facebook group, because they're already experiencing these bad comments just on their page and they're like... that's a lot. So one of my church communication colleagues, Seth Muze, talks about trolls.

Bryan:

As I was writing the question, that's who I was thinking about too.

Jeanette:

Yes. He gives some practical advice about when our tendency is immediately to delete the comment or block it or hide it or something like that and some of you might be going, "Can you do that?" And maybe we need to give a quick tutorial. Maybe that's a little blog post.

Bryan:

Yeah.

Jeanette:

How to do those. Seth points out trolls are people too and everybody needs Jesus. So there's a little bit of, "Okay, well before we can decide whether to hide or block that comment or hide or block that person, let's try to see if we can figure out what's really going on and see if we can craft a response that shows compassion and doesn't feed the negativity, but actually opens the door for a deeper conversation. There's a ton of stuff that he's written, blog postings like that, and we could dive deeper into that. But I think that's one thing that, as someone who manages online communities, is in online communities, I know the tendency, I feel it myself, to run away from any kind of negative comment. But those negative comments can sometimes enable us to show grace, show compassion, and sometimes we show authority and we say, "We're not doing that here."

Bryan:

We also see this as a way to... Negative comments, oftentimes in my experience, people who are venting or making these negative comments, oftentimes they just want to be heard. They don't really care what you have to say in response, they just want to know that they're being heard. And so even in that, that's a way to build community. That is a way for us to allow people to be heard, give them the space.

Jeanette:

And how the church responds to that is going to be a witness to everyone else about who you are as a church, which is why it's very important to think about it, but it's also another way that you are letting people know who you are as a church and what you stand for and so I think it can be a good opportunity. Now I will also say, and this is kind of a complicated thing, not everything does deserve a response. So, there is a time to just hide the comment and move on. There is a time to respond. But you're right, the people that are making those negative comments, they're not talking to you, essentially they're just shouting into the void.

Bryan:

Yeah. Right.

Jeanette:

So they're not listening to what you have to say because they're just shouting at whoever, at whatever.

Bryan:

But there is a way to build community online and I think that's what we want to talk about over the next several episodes. So why don't you kind of give a highlight about some of those topics that we're going to talk about over the next couple months I guess.

Jeanette:

Yeah, it's going to take a while. So we're going to do some of the practical strategies of, okay we know we need a Facebook page, there's a lot of practical reasons you need a Facebook page, but then when do you need a group? Should your ministry have its own page? Should it have its own group? How many groups? All that kind of stuff. And the short answer is it depends and we're going to talk about how you make those decisions. So that's one thing, and then we're going to talk about setting up those groups to be the kind of spaces that you want them to be. So we're going to talk about moderation of groups, getting people to have conversations, how do you kind of help that along, things like that. So I think that's going to be a big part of what we talk about.

Jeanette:

I think we can also do some troubleshooting with some of the stuff we kind of just talked about, how to handle... Because let's say you do have a group of your small group leaders at your church and it's just the leaders that teach small groups and Sunday school classes at your church, right? It's a very small group of people, you know who they are, you all know them in person, but even those people that know each other in person and are friends with each other on Facebook, they still may disagree and something may get said or something, and how do you handle that knowing that these two people know each other in real life, they're leading at church, and all that kind of stuff? So we'll talk a little bit about that too. It's not just those anonymous people that sometimes say things that are jarring.

Bryan:

How do you disagree well?

Jeanette:

Yeah, how do you do that?

Bryan:

We've talked a lot about Facebook today, obviously and we are going to spend some time talking about Facebook, but that's not all that there is for online community. There are a lot of churches that are still meeting on Zoom in one capacity or another. So, that'll be something that we talk about. How do you build community on Zoom? Do we still need Zoom? If so, what does that look like? There are also other tools. What does it look like for building community on Instagram, which I guess is obviously an extension of Facebook, but it is very different. It's a very different tool. So how do you do that there because that reaches a different audience than Facebook often?

Bryan:

In addition to that, we'll talk about different tools for community building outside of Facebook. We have Facebook groups, we have Facebook messenger, but outside of that, what does building community in a digital space look like? So we can talk about texting and we can talk about different areas that people can build community online.

Jeanette:

And how all those work together...

Bryan:

Yeah, right.

Jeanette:

... which I think is important. They all work together. But I love that you also mentioned do we still need Zoom. Do we still need to be focusing on building a community online? Yes, you still need that all, but we'll talk about why it's a good thing to still have in your toolbox of community building.

Bryan:

Absolutely. You know, there's a lot that we can go into still, but there are a couple questions that you, as a listener, I want you to think about today as we wrap up this episode. The first one that came to mind is how can your church foster online community. Start thinking about that. What does that look like for your church? And over the next several episodes, we'll talk more about different tools, different ideas, but start thinking today about what building community online looks like. There's a concept that we have all heard about at this point and that is the hybrid church, or the figital church, so what does that look like in the future and how do we maintain community in both spaces? Start thinking about that as your church, but also we want to hear from you.

Bryan:

What questions do you have about building community online? You can join our Facebook group and ask your questions there, post your questions on threads when I ask questions and we'll incorporate those into our future episodes too. Yeah, so those are I think two questions that I want you as listeners to think about. What do you have to add to that Jeanette? Anything?

Jeanette:

I mean, that's a lot of homework Bryan.

Bryan:

That's true. That's true. We don't normally give homework, but I wanted something practical, something applicable. We've kind of just been talking in concept today, so for us to go back and think what should this look like in my church, in my context. All right. Well, we love being able to talk with church communicators from all across the globe and we believe that every church and every communicator's story is unique and is valuable. So this week we'll be continuing today's discussion on our Church Juices insider's Facebook group. You can join that group, as well as get today's show notes and a transcript by going to churchjuice.com/podcast.

Jeanette:

Church Juice's podcast is a listener supported product of Reframe Ministries, a family of programs designed to help you see your whole life reframed by God's gospel story. Church Juice is produced by Bryan Haley with post-production by audio engineer, Nate Morris in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information about Church Juice, visit churchjuice.com. For more information on Reframe Ministries and our family programs, visit reframeministries.org.