Tools for Building Community Online

Bryan Haley

Community develops as we physically gather. But how, in this hybrid world we now live in, do we start building community online?

Show Notes

Summary

As a communicator, your end goal is not awareness, it’s community. Our goal as communicators is to help people find, create, and have community. Community develops as we physically gather—in churches, coffee shops, or around a hobby, among other things. But how, in this new hybrid world we live in, do we start building community online? In this episode, we discuss five tools you can use to build real community in a digital space.

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Transcript

Jeanette:

As a communicator, what's your end goal? It's not awareness. It's actually community. Our goal as communicators is to help people find, create, and have community. When you think of communication this way, does it change your perspective of your role? What needs to change? What tools or methods need to be adjusted? Today, we're talking about five tools to help you build community.

Bryan:

Hey, church communicator. Welcome to the Church Juice podcast. As always, I'm Brian Haley, the producer of Church Juice. I'm joined with my co-host, Jeannette Yate. Today, we are here helping you energize your church communications.

Jeanette:

That's right. And the first step in learning to build a community is knowing where to start. We all know that in real life, community develops as we gather in churches, coffee shops, or maybe around a favorite hobby, among other things. but how and where do we start building community online? Today, we are going to talk about five tools you can use to build real community in a digital space.

Bryan:

Yeah. So as we dive into this, last week, we gave an overview, right? So today, we're talking about five specific tools. Why don't you list those tools that we're talking about?

Jeanette:

We're going to be talking about Facebook Groups, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, texting, and then the fifth one is Rooms and Zooms. And that's because Facebook has a thing-

Bryan:

I like it.

Jeanette:

... called Rooms that is like Zoom, but it's basically the same thing.

Bryan:

I also saw Google just added something like the same thing this week. So if you're using Google, then-

Jeanette:

There's other things we could have added.

Bryan:

True.

Jeanette:

I just was in a Twitter Space Bible study earlier this week.

Bryan:

I thought Twitter was dumping the Space thing.

Jeanette:

Fleets. They dumped Fleets. We're still trying to stay on top of things and try to help you get caught up. So it's a constantly-changing thing that we're all trying to navigate together. So welcome to the ride.

Bryan:

But one thing that is consistent is the need for community. And that's why we're spending so much time talking about community in the last episode today and a few episodes over the next couple weeks. So let's dive in. We mentioned Facebook groups, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, texting, and then that Rooms and Zooms. So the typical Zoom call that we've all been used to throughout the pandemic. Let's start with Facebook groups. So when we talk about a Facebook group, no matter the group that I'm talking to, there's always confusion between a page and a group.

Bryan:

So at the very start, let's just define what the group is. A Facebook group is different than a page. A page is where an organization or a person or whatever is basically broadcasting a message. People can follow you. They can like you. They can get your status updates. But a group is a place where people are invited in. They can join the community there. It is built for community and conversation. So that's what we're talking about, a Facebook group where people can collaborate and talk with each other, ask questions, those kinds of things. So when we talk about Facebook groups and building community in that space, what do you think is most important for a church that is just diving into this area?

Jeanette:

Well, first of all, I think Facebook groups are a really great way to get started with online community building because Facebook wants you to use groups, so they make it pretty easy to set up. You can attach it to your page so that if people went to your Facebook page, they would be able to see that you have a group associated with that. And there are so many different ways that you can use groups for your church depending on what your goal is specifically around a specific community. So just like in our campuses, we have some classes or groups that are more open, that are more... anybody can pop in anytime, your Wednesday night dinners, your just hanging out, you can have a group that's more open like that. Or you can have a group that is more private for prayer requests or deeper discussion. It just depends on what you want to do.

Jeanette:

And of course, you can have more than one group. But if you're just starting out and you're like, "Okay, I don't want to go from zero to 50," I think one of the easiest things to do to start out having a Facebook group to build community is just have a Facebook group just for your members. Now I know you're thinking, "Well, how does this help me get more people?" It doesn't necessarily help you attract newcomers to your church because this would be a private group that people would have to join. And of course, they don't have to be technically members, but people that come all the time. And one of the reasons I think it's such a great place to start is because you can go into that group and continue the conversation from things that are going on at church. "Pastor so-and-so said this today. What did you guys think about it? Let's talk about it some more."

Jeanette:

I mean, it's just a real easy way to just keep the conversation going, which especially whether we're talking about not being able to meet in person or just people just aren't attending as much as they used to, or they're watching online, or they're downloading the podcast, this is a great way to still keep that conversation going even when you're not able to meet somebody for coffee or do after Sunday lunch or something like that. So that's one just easy way, and it's safe because you're like, "I know everybody in this group."

Bryan:

Yeah. But I think that's a really good point to bring up too, because we see that church attendance has changed. The way that people are attending and taking part in church has changed. In some areas where it was post-pandemic for the summer or early fall, whatever that looks like, those attendance numbers had shifted. So people aren't all in one space anymore. So creating that space where people can really collaborate and talk. And again, we use this word a lot, but community where we're trying to build community in one space where people can join from wherever, I think that's really key as we head into this next season of whatever ministry looks like.

Jeanette:

I live in an area there are many churches. Churches do Facebook groups differently, but one, I am actually in a Facebook group of a church, and it's their internal Facebook group. Just a minute, because I know so many people that go there, and it's really great to watch how they are maintaining community and praying for each other. And I mean, it's just like in a catchall group that they talk about prayer, they talk about volunteer needs. There are so many more ways, which I think as we walk through the next several episodes, we're going to dive into really some exciting ideas for Facebook groups and some interesting outside-of-the-box things. But if you're just trying to get started, that's a great way to go.

Bryan:

I agree. So let's move on to the second one, because I know that we could spend the whole episode talking about groups. And we're going to in a future episode, but let's move on to the second tool, and that is Messenger, Facebook Messenger. So one way that we have used or are using Facebook Messenger for community is really just creating a Messenger, a group Messenger chat, essentially, like a group text message chain for small group leaders where we can ask each other questions because we're all going through the same study so we can talk through like, "Hey, this question happened. What do you guys think about this? "But that creates just a more private and more dedicated space for some of our leaders to communicate and to have community there too. Beyond that, what do you think community in Facebook Messenger should look like or could look like?

Jeanette:

Obviously I think that's a great idea. I actually have a few different Messenger groups that I'm in where nobody may talk in there for a few months and then something will happen and we'll be chatting for weeks. It's also how I communicate with some of my volunteer teams, do a lot of stuff on social for my job. And we have people that help us out with social media, and it's a great way to communicate to them information or reminders, or if there's a question about, "Do we approve this post or do we not?" It's some place you can talk about that. So that's certainly great.

Jeanette:

But another thing I want people to keep in mind about Messenger is, so Facebook has this thing in your settings of your church page where you can set up people to be able to message you, but then you can set up an automatic response, which is great, except for if you don't really have people who are monitoring that and keeping up with that. So you need to make sure that you have somebody responding to those messages. And Facebook actually keeps up with how quickly you respond and will actually give your page a rating on your response.

Bryan:

I feel like I used to see that more often. On the page, it would say typically responds and whatever. But I feel like I haven't seen that in a while. So how else are they-

Jeanette:

Well, they're shifting, and people are shifting, but you will still see sometimes a notification that says this page typically responds. And so you'll just want to pay attention to that. And then another thing I think is really important if you're the church communications director and you're in charge of the Facebook page and people are messaging you and you are talking to them, you need to decide, are you speaking as Hope Church? Or are you Jeanette from Hope Church. There's not a wrong answer there. You can do either one. But if you're using the voice of the church, you want it to be consistent.

Bryan:

And use terms like we or our rather than I [crosstalk 00:10:04]-

Jeanette:

That's right. We and our. Yes, please. Thank you, Brian. Preach. But if you're talking as yourself, be sure to sign your name. The thing's going to still show your page. Hope Church is responding back to you. But you just want to say, "Hey, this is Jeanette from Hope Church. Thank you so much for messaging." And just make sure that they do know it's a real person. What this has to do with building community?

Bryan:

I was just going to ask.

Jeanette:

You're letting them know that the church is made up of people, real people. I'm not a faceless administrator. I'm a person. So back to the Facebook groups, it's not the church is approving these posts or commenting, but it's the actual person. So I think Messenger can do that. And I think also, Messenger is a great thing to use for prayer, and I think it's a great way for pastors too, to connect sometimes with people who are more likely to connect with them online than in person. And when we talk about Messenger, we can talk about best practices for that.

Bryan:

I agree. So along those lines, let's skip over Instagram for a moment and go right into texting because Facebook Messenger and texting services, I think those are similar in the way that we use them. So obviously, you are a rep from Text In Church. So why don't you talk about how we can build community through texting and what that looks like?

Jeanette:

Yeah. So I'll talk in general terms about texting and share a few ways that I have seen personally that texting can build community. And so one of the most important things that texting allows you to do is allows you to engage in real conversations with your members, with your guests, with people that your church is encountering, and making sure that your texting strategy involves a back and forth communication, I think is really important.

Jeanette:

For example, my church uses texting in a variety of different ways. And of course we're using it for informational things, yes, but we also make sure that part of what we're doing with our texting is reaching out to people in whatever texting service you use. I love the ability to have the person I'm texting, their name, be in the text. So would say, "Hey Brian, how can I pray for you today?"

Jeanette:

So it's not a text that's like, "Hey everyone, we want to collect your prayer request." That's not very personal. But, "Hey Brian, how can I be praying for you and your family this week?" That's a more personal text. So I think you want the text to be personal. You want the text to engage in conversation. So, "How can I help you? What resources do you need to teach your small group this week?" And then of course, just like we talked about in Messenger, when somebody replies to you, you have to be available to continue that conversation.

Bryan:

Yeah. So one question that I get a lot is that texting can feel very intrusive. It's a very personal thing, right? You're contacting me on my personal cell phone. How do you speak to that when we're talking about building community, connecting with people? What barriers do you see there in texting specifically?

Jeanette:

Well, I do think it's important to get people's permission to text them.

Bryan:

Or to email them. Let's just talk about that for a second. You actually need people's permission before you start emailing them mass emails from the church or texting them mass text messages.

Jeanette:

We at Text In Church are advocates of that. We have easy ways for you to have people to do that, things like that. But I mean, that's very important. So that's one thing. So if somebody says, "I don't want to do that because it seems like it's intrusive," well, if the person has given you their cell phone number and given you permission to text them, then I think it's okay. So that's one thing. And then another thing is... Because this is what I hear, "Texts are spammy. I don't want to spam my congregation," or, "I don't want to spam our visitors. I don't want to spam."

Jeanette:

And what I always say is texts aren't spammy. The content of your text may be spammy. And that's where you have to work really hard on relevant content. So if you've gotten permission, what did you say to them for them to give you permission? Did you tell them that you were going to text them a devotional every single morning at 6:00 AM? Then it's okay to do that. If you told them you were going to text them what's for Wednesday night dinner, you better not text them at 6:00 AM. And one of the things I see with texting too that's really effective is parents love texting and youth love texting. One of the people that I work with texts his youth on a regular basis like, "Okay. Twix or Kit Kat?" Just because-

Bryan:

Yeah, just to get a response. Right.

Jeanette:

Some kid will text something weird and then he'll get in a conversation with that kid. It's just really fun. What can you do with that? You can give it to them the next time they come to church. Right?

Bryan:

Right.

Jeanette:

Remember, not every text has to be a Bible verse or information about what's going on at church.

Bryan:

I think that's good. Right.

Jeanette:

I mean, obviously the answer's Twix, but...

Bryan:

I would agree left Twix, though. Not right.

Jeanette:

Obviously.

Bryan:

Right. What I see is those questions that may not be church related, right, like, "What kind of candy bar?" actually do build community. It's building that relationship, that rapport over time too. So that's important.

Bryan:

All right. So let's jump into Instagram. I've struggled with this one, I'll be honest. I feel like Instagram is very much more like a Facebook Page. I mean, you can post questions or videos or whatever, but it's really just people commenting on it. So how do you see a good opportunity to build community through Instagram? Because it is oftentimes Instagram is a very different demographic than a Facebook group. So what does that look like?

Jeanette:

You are correct. It is not as easy to build community on Instagram as it is in a Facebook group. It's not as easy to comment back and forth, things like that. When we have the actual episode on this, we'll talk more about how the algorithm works and why it's important to do certain things. But a couple of things to know about Instagram is that it is a really great place to highlight your culture. It's very visual, obviously. Right? It's all about pictures. So having good pictures that share what it's like to be inside your church, not just inside the building, but what is it like to be a part of that community at your church, sharing behind the scenes not only of staff and worship and things like that, but telling the story of people that are serving in your church, tell the story of people that you serve as part of your outreach, as things like that, I think that is the best way to go.

Jeanette:

So in that case, you're not having that back and forth conversation necessarily, although you do want to do that in comments. I mean, you do want to do that, but you're not having so much of that as your open door that says, "This is who we are." And I think it does a couple things. For the people who are already there, they're seeing their fellow church community and getting to know them better. But then also, it opens up for the rest of the community to see more about who you are. When they do feel like they are ready to come to a church, they're going to say, "Okay, well, I know this church really well. I know these people. I know a lot of people that go there. I've seen them." And then of course, there's all those parts of Instagram video, IGTV, Reels. In stories, you can have conversations.

Bryan:

Yeah. And really what I was going to add in too is even if you do an Instagram Live or an IGTV Live, that's a little bit easier to interact with the people because as you're broadcasting whatever you're talking about, you can also see the comments, like Facebook Live. So you can interact that way too. But it's still very much a one-way-

Jeanette:

Right. And you can actually invite people in to your Live. Yeah. So if I were doing a Live and I could say, "You want to come in?" And you and I can have a conversation. So there are ways to do it. And I think it's an important thing not to just dismiss and be like, "Oh, well, I don't want to be over there because I don't feel comfortable with it."

Bryan:

Right. Last one, Rooms and Zooms. How do we build community through a Zoom call?

Jeanette:

So I added this one on when we were talking about what we wanted to do for this episode in this part of the season, because everybody used Zooms. Everybody. And then now that things are shifting and changing, people may say, "Okay, we don't need that anymore," but I really want to encourage people to continue to use online video groups, whether it's Zooms, Rooms. There's other platforms out there that are going to be doing this. I think it's really important. And not just because it allows people to not have to come to your campus, which I know might not be a draw [inaudible 00:19:30] to use it. But as you know, Brian, I'm very passionate about people who can't come to church, people who are at home because they're ill. My mom is now in a wheelchair and is still trying to get the hang of it, and it's going to be a while before she feels comfortable going anywhere.

Bryan:

Right. Absolutely. Well, and I just had a conversation yesterday with a lady in my church who she said she is so introverted that when she has the courage basically to show up to church in person, and she's done for the rest of the day. She just needs to go home and retreat and be by herself. So we were talking about this in the context of small groups and just how she can't do a small group. But a Zoom call, she can be at home. She can be in the comfort of her own space. That's a little bit more easy for her. I think these people that were in the margins, these hybrid approaches to calls and to meetings, can really help us build community and reach people and disciple people in a way that we never really thought about before. So I think that's huge.

Jeanette:

Well, and I think there are so many ways that Zooms can broaden your community too. I know because my job is on social media and most of my colleagues don't live in my state, if we want to do something social, it is a lot of time is like, "Okay, well, after we put the kids to bed, let's hop on a Google Hangout or a Zoom call and hang out." And that's something that I think has just shifted over the last few years as well.

Bryan:

Yeah. It's good. On the flip side, we also realize that people are tired of the Zoom call and the digital space a lot of times. So I think that's important for churches to monitor and just keep in mind as we evaluate what's in person, what's online, what's hybrid. How do we do that to build community? What does all that look like too?

Jeanette:

I wonder now that you say that, I'm thinking there's also been a rise in audio versus video. Twitter Spaces, which is basically group phone call-

Bryan:

Yeah. All of these software and services are taking from other programs. So they kind of stole the idea from Discord and all those other things. Yep.

Jeanette:

It's a lot easier. Like if this person, a friend of mine, wanted to do a Twitter Spaces Bible study, and if he had said, "I have to do a Zoom," I wouldn't have been able to do it, but this is terrible. I probably wasn't really doing Bible study if I was cooking at the same time. But I was able to put my earbuds in and do that and then have a conversation part of that and get a little bit of community with people that I know. So we might have to add that to the list, Brian, some audio formats.

Bryan:

Yeah. Because they all... Not just Twitter or Discord or Slack, all these different platforms are offering an audio-only now. So I think that's something to really [crosstalk 00:22:39].

Jeanette:

More like, "I'm tired of having to get half-dressed from the waist up. I just don't want to get dressed at all." No hair and makeup, all that stuff.

Bryan:

Absolutely. Any last words?

Jeanette:

I'm just so glad that we have an audio format. Maybe that'll mean people won't get sick and tired of us.

Bryan:

True. And we've talked a little bit about adding video too, so it'll be interesting to see kind what that dynamic looks like in the future.

Jeanette:

[crosstalk 00:23:07] out there. Yeah.

Bryan:

Yeah. So a couple things that I think churches can take from this. There are tons of tools out there. So know your audience well and know what tools you should be investing in. Think through what works best for your community, for your church, to really work at building relationships there. One way that we want to help you at Church Juice is through our church communication and marketing grant program that is live now. You can apply for it. If you go to churchjuice.com/grant, find all the information there, we would love to partner with your ministry in whatever creative ways you are trying to communicate or build community online.

Bryan:

We also love being able to talk with church communicators from all over the place. And we believe that every church and every communicator's story is unique and valuable. So we'll be continuing today's discussion in our Facebook group. You can join that group as well as get the show notes for today's episode by going to churchjuice.com/podcast.

Jeanette:

Church Juice's podcast is a listener-supported production 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 Brian 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 of programs, visit reframeministries.org.