Facebook does this to help people engage. Your church should too.

The most robust people-connecting organization in the world is Facebook. This online tool is doing more to develop community and relationships than anything else in human history.

Stop and consider how well it connects people:

  • Facebook’s population is almost 4 times greater than the USA’s. The population of the United States is nearing 319 million — Facebook boasts over 1.59 billion users. [ref]
  • 66.1% of Facebook users engage with it daily. Engagement is key to developing community and Facebook has unlocked how to bring people together. [ref]
  • Degrees of separation between every Facebook user in the world: 3.57. 6 degrees of separation? Not anymore! This number has been shrinking over time as Facebook brings the world closer together. [ref]

As church leaders, we need to learn from every corner about how people connect in our culture. In a very real sense, the local church was a prevailing social network in the past. It was the place where people went to meet others, get the news of what was going on and socialize. Connection has always been at the core of what the church “does.”

carey_nieuwhof_podcastChurch leadership guru Carey Nieuwhof talks about how engagement — not attendance — will drive church growth in the future. Prevailing churches need to focus on how they get people plugged into the mission and life of the church, instead of getting people to be an audience at a “show.” Facebook is literally an engagement machine. We need to study it closely to understand what they are doing to connect people.

If you want your church to grow, stop trying to attract people and start trying to engage people. – @cnieuwhof

READ THIS: 5 Reasons Engagement Will Drive Almost All Future Church Growth

Here are some engagement lessons from Facebook that your church should look at integrating into your strategy in the coming year.

1) Help groups be groups.

Facebook is really a network of smaller social networks. One of the “stickiest” features is the hundreds of thousands of sub-groups on a wide variety of topics. Each of the self-governed groups has their own culture and style but they all serve to draw people together.

The genius of this strategy is that at our core people love to gather in groups. We know from scripture that we’re designed to be relational beings … we’re always reaching to make a connection with other humans. Facebook leverages that instinct.

How is your church enabling groups to connect with one another?

Whether your approach to small groups is a closed system with lots of control or a more open system that allows groups to self-form and replicate … every church needs to support smaller groups of people gathering together. 

LISTEN: Layne Schranz on the “Free Market” Approach to Small Groups

3 Questions to Ask About Your Systems & How They’re Helping Groups

4 Facebook Groups You Won’t Believe Exist

2) Birthdays are a big deal.

There are times when Facebook seems to be mostly a birthday-reminder service. Clearly, the team there has figured out that this is a core element of getting people connected to their service. It’s a way to mark the passing of another year and celebrate the uniqueness of individuals.

Why does Facebook invest so many resources into getting people to wish one another a happy birthday? On the surface, people love it when others remember their birthday. However, the Wall Street Journal recently pointed to a different reason Facebook might want to convert you into a part-time birthday greeting writer. Although a GlobalWebIndex survey found that 65% of Facebook’s users visit the site daily, their results also indicated that fewer users actually post content these days. Instead, a portion of daily visitors are “lurking” and reading their friends’ news feeds, but not contributing anything of their own.

Did you catch that? Facebook noticed that engagement is going down and so it’s looking for ways to decrease the lurking and increase the connection factor. Birthday greetings are a low-friction way for people to engage with the social network. It’s not (just) about the person receiving the birthday greetings, it’s about getting people to engage by sending the birthday greetings. What if we leveraged birthdays as an engagement point for our churches?

4 Ways to Leverage Birthdays as an Engagement Tool for Your Church

3) Connect photos with contact data.

What is Facebook at its core? It’s a collection of images of people’s faces connected with contact information. It is a “book of faces.” This is a powerful tool to help you get to know people in your social network.

Once your church gets beyond a few hundred people, it’s impossible to know everyone. Stop trying. Unless you have cultivated a superhuman ability to remember faces and names, it’s not worth it. In fact, the military did a fascinating study finding that only 2% of the population have a “super-recognizing” ability. This reality pushes back against the notion that knowing people’s names and faces is the starting point of pastoral care. It’s hard to demonstrate care to people if you don’t know them to start with!

An underused feature of most church databases is the ability to associate photos with people’s profiles. Your team could benefit from this powerful feature. Church Community Builder (unSeminary’s preferred Church Management System) makes it particularly easy to update people’s photos. Regardless of which system you use, you need to encourage the updating of this vital information. It will help you recognize more people.

4 Times When Having People’s Photos in Your Church Database Is Helpful

  • Phone Calls // When you phone people from the church, it’s a best practice to have a photo in front of you to associate their face with the voice you are hearing. This will help you to make the connection in the future.
  • Pre-Weekend Planning // As you are getting ready for the weekend, take a look through your volunteer “roster” and see the people who are serving.
  • Small Group Launches // When forming groups at your church, introduce the members by sharing their photos.
  • Team Prayer Experiences // As your staff team gathers to pray for people from church, pull up the photos of the people you’re praying for.

Facebook is an engagement machine. What are you noticing?

Facebook is all about getting people connected and engaged. They’ve figured out how to digitize relationships with hundreds of millions of people. What are you noticing about Facebook that we could possibly learn from in local church leadership? I’d love to hear from you!


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.