The Catholic Social Media Guide to Digital Evangelism
In today’s world, your parish or diocese may be looking for new ways to reach people with the message of the Gospel. Digital evangelism and social media may be the tools that you are looking for to deliver this message.
While the message has always been the same – Jesus is Lord (cf. 1 Cor 12:3), we are called now to find new ways to bring the Gospel and the love of Jesus to our neighbors. As church attendance has seen a decline, particularly in younger generations, it is important to find communication methods to reach these individuals and deepen our relationship with them.
There are millions of adults in the U.S. using social media. According to HubSpot, 73% of adults in the U.S. check Facebook daily. There are huge opportunities in the realm of digital evangelism. There are Catholics, fallen-away Christians, and non-believers online waiting for you to reach them through your church’s social media channels.
The use of social media as a tool of evangelism is implied in a key document of the Second Vatican Council, the Decree on the Media of Social Communications, Inter Mirifica: “The Church recognizes that these media if properly utilized, can be of great service to mankind.” This document implicitly addresses social media and the Church and can be referenced for guidance as you develop your church social media strategy.
Digital evangelism can be a first step to delivering the message of the Gospel to more souls, bringing them closer to a personal relationship with Jesus, and drawing them directly to your parish. It can be an additional tool for pastors with multiple parishes or large dioceses trying to provide tools to resource-strapped parishes.
We developed Catholic Social Media to help parishes and dioceses with evangelism in the modern world. This tool can help you implement your church social media strategy, offering your church social media graphics and content ideas as you dive into social media evangelism.
What is Digital Evangelism?
Digital evangelism is NOT about a new message. Instead, digital evangelism is about using today’s tools to spread a message and convert souls. St. Paul used the Roman road system and his Roman citizenship in the “first evangelism.” Catholic parishes can use the Internet and social media in similar ways in this new, digital evangelism. While the message is the same, the tools of evangelism have evolved for the modern world and the way people are living today.
With a bit of background knowledge of social media and a solid plan, you can start reaching thousands of additional people in your neighborhood with the saving message of Jesus.
While your parish should regularly interact with people online, the ultimate goal is to have them engage with your parish’s in-person ministries. We are sacramental people – we need physical presence to fully embrace the Gospel. Digital evangelism is the first step to leading more people to embrace the Gospel and join your parish.
Why Digital Evangelism Matters
Social media can be the platform you need to engage people whom you haven’t reached before or who have not been in the pews recently. It can be the right modern way to connect more people with the Gospel. We understand that for some, the internet and social media can be overwhelming, but there are many tools, like Catholic Social Media, available to make digital evangelism easier for your parish.
While digital evangelism can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Catholic Social Media can help your parish break through the noise of the internet and reach the right audience. Your parishioners are on social media too. You can connect with them and their friends through this medium.
Social Media Can Be a Cost-Effective Digital Evangelism Tool
Having a church social media strategy can be a cost-effective communication tool for parishes with limited resources. Most churches do not have the budget to pay a full-time social media coordinator to create content for new posts every day, but Catholic Social Media is here to help.
With a strong social media strategy you will reach more people. Check out the statistics about social media use today:
- 82% of Americans ages 12 and older have a social media account. That’s 302 million souls online waiting to be engaged.
- For many users, social media is part of their daily routine. Seven in ten Facebook users – and around six in ten Instagram and Snapchat users – visit these sites at least once a day. When you compare that to the percentage of Catholics attending Mass weekly, you see the power of social media.
- Each year, your neighbors are spending more time online. The typical American spends almost five hours on the Internet each day. Half of that time is on social media. This activity dwarfs every other activity measured except sleep and work.
Is your parish doing enough to find people where they are? You may have never thought you would be a digital evangelist, but it is the most powerful way to engage souls with your important message. Remember, behind each profile photo, there is a person who needs to be welcomed into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
And it’s not just non-Catholics who need to hear the Gospel. Parishioners are counting on you too! Most Catholics today spend hours on the internet, and they need their local parish to be a bigger part of their lives. Catholics want you to inspire them and remind them of the beauty of their Catholic faith, even when they are away from the parish.
They want to belong to a parish that is alive and vibrant. Having a strong church social media presence will help show parishioners that your parish is animated and relevant in today’s world. Your parish’s content can be a positive message in the busy and overwhelming noise of online media. Social media evangelism can help build trust with parishioners as they see you evangelize, reach out, and engage.
What Platform Should You Choose For Digital Evangelism?
There are many social media options to choose from, but we recommend you begin your church’s social media journey on Facebook.
This platform allows you to “digitally knock” on your neighbors’ doors to spread the Word. Facebook is designed to easily reach target audiences that live close to your parish. Today, it is more important than ever before to have a multi-channel approach to parish communications.
Digital evangelism also makes it easy for more people to be involved. While there may not be many parishioners who are comfortable going door-to-door and sharing the Gospel with their neighbors, you have many who will engage on social media. They would be happy to click “like,” “comment,” or “share” your social media content. This type of engagement on social media can achieve similar, or even better, results than door-to-door evangelism.
One key differentiator that is often missed is that social media is an “open loop.” It allows you to connect with friends of your parishioners. Contrast this with “closed loop” communications, such as mailings, e-newsletters, and bulletins. These are key tools, but they only help you communicate with people who already consider themselves to be part of your flock.
By utilizing these open loop social media platforms, you’ll find that people who never thought of themselves as evangelists will be sharing the message of Jesus’ love with their friends, family, and neighbors. This increases the number of people in your neighborhood seeing your content – suddenly, you’re digitally evangelizing!
Other Ways Facebook Can Help Your Parish
You can also use Facebook to create events, post information on tithing, and invite individuals to volunteer activities. While this should be part of your strategy, make sure not to overwhelm your followers and their friends with invitations. It is much more important to be winsome online – to share the Good News generally, offer prayer prompts, share information about the saints, and so on. While these posts do not replace in-person fellowship, they can be wonderful tools to share the news about what your parish offers and give insights into your community’s unique spirituality.
You want to find the right mix of types of content. Catholic Social Media’s internal research shows that parishes should be striving for an 8:1 ratio of communications-to-requests on social media. Or more simply, your church should be sharing eight items of good news, including updates on programs in progress, for every single item requesting someone’s donation of time, money, or presence. The parishes that reach this 8:1 ratio of good, uplifting spiritual content to invitations reach more people than those that do not.
In the early days of church social media (approximately 2005 – 2010) thousands of churches would highlight their Christmas Mass times, Ash Wednesday, and Easter Masses on social media, but were silent the rest of the year. This pattern of long lapses in communication does not work; you need to be consistent with posting on social media. The parishes that communicate daily, posting far more good news than requests, draw more people to Christ.
How to Create a Church Facebook Page
Begin by setting up a Business Page on Facebook for your parish. A business page will provide more tools and options than a personal page. With a business page, you can schedule posts, see analytics for your page, boost posts, run paid ads, create events for church gatherings, and more. Meta Business Suite will also provide you with the powerful tools necessary to successfully execute on your digital evangelism strategy.
Then orient your church Facebook page toward digital evangelism and a strong church social media strategy:
1. List your church’s physical address: This will help Facebook’s neighborhood-based algorithm work for you. Whenever someone shares a piece of content from your church, Facebook compares the parish zip code, followers’ zip codes, and the zip codes of your follower’s friends before sorting the shared post into people’s newsfeeds. This will help reach more people in your area.
2. Use a profile picture and a cover photo that will help parishioners recognize your parish as a trusted source of information. Be sure to use a high-quality image set to Facebook specifications.
3. Turn on messages, so parishioners can reach you over the Facebook Messenger.
4. Include important information in the About Us section such as your website, phone number, and weekend Mass times to make it easier for people to engage with you.
5. Create an internal church social media schedule to ensure you are posting regularly and know what content you need each season.
Ways to Improve Your Digital Evangelism Strategy
To understand your audience better, look at how different generations think about social media. The majority of Generation Z, Millennials, and Generation X all consider social media to be “an essential part of their lives,” while 40% of Baby Boomers think the same way.
The way each generation uses social media is a little different. For example, members of Generation Z say the primary purpose of their social media use is to kill time, while older generations use it to connect with family and friends.
This is also seen in how different generations interact with parish content. For example, when you are engaged in digital evangelism, you’ll likely see the following:
- Generation Z will respond more frequently to quiz questions and polls
- Millennials are the only age group that favors social media for feedback
- Generation X likes to use social media to build trust with brands, companies, or in this case, your parish. It may take more time to reach this generation, so post consistently and respond to inquiries for more information.
- Baby Boomers are more likely to tag family and friends in comment on posts
To connect with people in an engaging way on social media, we must “become all things to all people, in order to save at least some” (1 Cor 9:22).
Learn the generational barriers to faith
One of the best religious research organizations in America is the Barna Group, which regularly conducts large, well-regarded polls about religious belief. In 2018, they conducted a poll about unbelief and the results were remarkably interesting:
They discovered that barriers to Christian belief vary by generation. For Baby Boomers, it’s the hypocrisy of believers that ranks the highest. For Gen Xers and Millennials, it’s the same. But when Gen Z is polled – the youngest adults alive today – the problem of evil is their #1 barrier to faith.
Knowing why people reject the faith is the first step to developing an effective response in the digital realm. This information can help you develop church social media posts that interest different generational cohorts. Look at your current church social media strategy and ask yourself, “How many of our posts and videos deal directly or indirectly with the problem of evil? How many of our posts take on the problem of Christian hypocrisy, or offer role models that are worth knowing about?”
Digital evangelism requires you to know what people are interested in learning from your church. Providing answers to their questions can help people overcome the barriers to faith and grow closer to Jesus and your church community. Your church social media presence can be a trusted source of spiritual information for people online.
Look at Google Trends to learn what’s on people’s hearts
Google Trends is an incredible resource as you create your digital evangelism strategy – an up-to-the-minute look at what people are typing into the most popular search engine in the world. Visit this resource monthly for a sense of what events, movies, songs, and celebrities are most popular in our culture. This can have an indirect impact on how you shape your digital evangelism strategy on your church social media pages. This information can help you discover church social media content that is relevant to your audience.
For example, this graph shows people Googling “mortal sin” the most around Easter and Halloween, with additional spikes after the new year (resolutions, anyone?) and Ash Wednesday. This knowledge can help your parish design and publish social media content that is relevant to people you want to reach online. Google Trends information can help you begin to build a content calendar for your church social media platforms. Google Trends can also help you anticipate your followers’ needs and provide content that they find useful and engaging. When you post things your followers find relevant, your followers are more likely to like, comment, and share, making you a more well-known source for faith-based content.
Once you understand who you’ll be communicating with, their online habits, and what is keeping them from committing more fully to Christ and his Church, you can start creating a winning digital evangelism strategy. Make social media the central core of your parish communications.
Audit your social media evangelism content
It is important to audit your parish’s current social media platforms by looking back through the last three months of your parish’s social media posts. When and how are you sharing the good news with your parishioners?
If you aren’t at that 8:1 ratio, how could you improve? What ministries or outreach programs should you be highlighting more often? How could you shine a spotlight on these important initiatives for the good of all? This is crucial to the success of your digital evangelism strategy.
Know your social media genres
Even when using a content and scheduling tool like Catholic Social Media, it is still important to know how social media platforms work. One of the greatest obstacles that a good digital evangelism strategy must overcome is the varied platforms you need to be on. And remember, if you don’t have time to use multiple platforms, we recommend beginning with Facebook. They are all a little different:
- Every social media platform is its own genre. Content must feel native to the platform it is posted on. Often the feel of a Facebook post will flop on Instagram and vice versa. This is because each platform is unique and has its conventions and rules of engagement.
- Your audience can spot the off-genre content. Anyone who spends time on Facebook knows the “feel” of it. Likewise for an avid Twitter follower. Something that’s been cross posted to a different platform with NO changes stands out, and people instinctively shy away from it.
- Posting the same content without edits can look lazy. Those who follow your parish on multiple platforms don’t want to see the same content recycled. Instead, they’d like to see uplifting content and events on Facebook, witty banter on Twitter, and beautiful images on Instagram.
Design for accessibility to improve your digital evangelism strategy
Now that you understand a bit more about content genres and have gathered your most ardent supporters, it’s time to focus on the principles of content design. Digital evangelism is all about Jesus Christ and his Church, but the way we get there is through engagement. And engagement only happens when you catch people’s attention.
Remember picture and font choice matter. You want your messages to draw people in! But it’s easy to forget that your No. 1 priority is accessibility. You want to make social media evangelism easy for everyone.
One key element is looking at how your key parish social media posts are designed and asking yourself, “Is this piece something that everyone can read or watch with ease?” You may have followers and strangers who have difficulty understanding your message because of age, poor eyesight, or other physical handicaps.
Here are a few considerations from the Global Journal of Health Science:
- Avoid backgrounds that are too busy or that would require someone to squint or zoom in to read the accompanying text
- Crisp sans serif or serif fonts should be preferred to cursive scripts or irregular decorative fonts (the “Comic Sans” problem). Note that the use of cursive scripts is rampant on social media right now for stylistic reasons, but it has been shown to be ineffective at communicating messages.
- Font size should be 12 point at a minimum
- Use uppercase to draw attention, but don’t use it for long blocks of text
- A sharp contrast between your background image and text works best
- Avoid the colors violet, blue, or green when signaling key information
- Don’t design posts that contain three or more fonts. The brain has trouble maintaining focus when more than two fonts are used.
With these points in mind, you may realize your current livestreams, posts, and pre-recorded videos can only be viewed by a small portion of the population you want to reach!
This doesn’t mean that your designs shouldn’t be visually appealing – just accessible. Next time you’re creating a graphic, run it by a few people and ask for their honest feedback. It will make you a better communicator and your design piece more accessible… all for the sake of digital evangelism.
Remember that using consistent fonts and logos or brand standards will keep the look and feel of your parish communications familiar to your audience. Match fonts from your parish website and donation pages to your other online content. This consistency will help people feel right at home. Include these key points in your church social media strategy. (And if you don’t know what fonts are being used on your website, you can use a font finder to identify them.)
Grow your social media evangelism team by applying the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule)
Remember the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle also applies to social media and your digital evangelism strategy.
Eighty percent of your online activity – likes, shares, and comments – is generated by 20 percent of your followers. Even if you’re posting daily and have hundreds of followers, you’ll start to notice the same vital few are the most likely to interact with your posts. That can be a good thing! Let’s identify those followers and then use their skills to help grow the parish.
- Identify the “usual suspects” on your social media pages. Who are the first people to like, comment, and share?
- Acknowledge them. Send an email, direct message, or handwritten note to each of your online super supporters, thanking them for their support. Recognize the significant role they play in your digital evangelism strategy and encourage them to continue this.
- Compare your active online and offline volunteers. Is there an overlap between your key parishioners and your key online followers? Personally reach out to any key volunteers (committee members and donors) who aren’t showing up on your parish social media pages and ask them to follow the page and share anything they like. Let them know it’s part of the parish’s digital evangelism strategy to be more active online and ask for their help.
- Get everyone together. By inviting your most committed parishioners and key online followers to meet and work together on committees, councils, and task forces, you are assembling a dream team for your parish.
This 20% of actively engaged followers are highly skilled in the art of enthusiastic invitation – exactly what you need to grow your online audience. This group can help with creative communications and interactions that will grow your following.
Other Tips to Improve Your Church’s Social Media Presence
In addition to deeply understanding your audience, social media genres, and accessibility requirements, you also want to make sure your social media pages are functioning properly. Here are a few ways to tune up your Facebook page specifically for the sake of digital evangelism:
This is a unique set of characters preceded by the @ symbol that can be used to make your parish easier to find on Facebook. If your parish started its page more than a few years ago, you may not have claimed yours. To do so, navigate to the About section of your page and then go to Username.
Your vanity URL must be less than 50 characters long and should describe your parish community. Ideally, you want to grab a username that matches the URL of your parish website. So, if you are hosting your website at www.stsamplemn.org, check to see if https://facebook.com/stsamplemn is available.
There are countless benefits to claiming your vanity URL. It will help your page appear higher in search results and people will be able to navigate more easily to your Facebook page.
Categorize your Facebook page
Facebook allows you to further identify your page by placing it in three categories. This has implications for Facebook’s search tool but Google as well. Choosing the right three categories makes it more likely that your parish’s Facebook page will appear when people look for churches in your local area.
We strongly suggest you categorize your parish as a Catholic Church, Christian Church, and Religious Organization. Here’s how:
Remember first impressions matter
First impressions matter on social media, just like they do in person. Making sure your parish’s social media pages look visually appealing is important.
Facebook and Twitter also allow you to create and upload banner images, which serve as the background of your page. We recommend you swap out banner images every liturgical season (at a minimum), to show that your page is living and actively updated. This consistent strategy can be important to digital evangelism. Banners can also bring attention to important events coming up or show beautiful images of your community.
High-quality profile pictures and banners communicate to visitors that you care deeply about your online presence. That makes it more likely that people will show up in person to visit!
Consider using hashtags
At Catholic Social Media, we are asked about parish hashtags frequently. Many parishes ask, “The church down the street has its own hashtag. It seems to be everywhere. Should we be doing the same for the sake of our digital evangelism strategy?”
In short…yes! Like a parish mission statement, logo, website address, or Facebook vanity URL, a parish hashtag can help show the world who you are.
Read more about the dos and don’ts of church hashtags.
Make your social media presence feel human
To get more advanced with your church social media, here are a few other ideas to ensure your messages are seen by as many people as possible.
- Social media rewards originality. If your update on renovations is that elevator position has not changed in two months, you will still want to get a new photo of it or alter the graphic you used in your original post (even by a few pixels). Posts from the same page that contain the same images or wording as a prior post are penalized on most social media platforms as spam. Changing pictures or wording even slightly lets you repurpose content. But spamming the same exact message over weeks or months will eventually harm your reach and engagement.
- Pin posts frequently, then unpin them, then pin them again. This is an excellent way to keep people’s attention shifting between the topics you need them to focus on. You might consider pinning a post to the top of your page for an upcoming event, Christmas or Easter Mass times, or some other relevant content that you want to get more views and interactions. One sneaky way to achieve the 8:1 ratio is to create a “weekly calendar” post and pin it every Monday morning. That way, one post is advertising 5-10 different events.
- Attention spans are short, and it’s okay to go back to old news. A short, updated post about a longstanding initiative at your parish is perfectly acceptable. Just as most people don’t read the bulletin cover to cover, most people don’t catch every single Facebook or Instagram post from your parish.
- In general, act like a human being, not a ‘bot. The more you act like a human (scheduling posts at slightly different times, using new graphics and text on every post, responding to comments, and so on), the healthier your page will be. You don’t want to do anything robotically.
Growing Your Following to Supplement Your Online Evangelism Strategy
Once you have your church social media strategy settled, the next most important thing to do is to grow your following. A simple formula to keep in mind is this:
Increase in followers = Increase in the potential for shares = Increase in souls reached
Every new follower comes with more opportunities for content to be liked, shared, or commented on, which means you are digitally evangelizing in your community with greater frequency than in the past.
Early in the history of our organization, Prenger Solutions Group conducted a parish survey, assessing the giving practices and social media usage of Catholic churches. One thing we discovered: parishes with one or more Facebook followers per registered household saw their offertory rise by 10% on average between 2017 and 2019, while all other parishes saw a 1% decline. How’s that for motivation?
Those results led to long-term growth in parish media followings across North America. Many parishes wonder how to take people who see their content and turn them into followers as part of their digital strategy. It’s simple!
Ministering to Your Online Audience in Person
Your digital evangelism strategy is working, and you have reached thousands of people online. But what is waiting for them when they arrive at church or parish activities in person? The next step is to remember, your digital evangelism strategy is not for its own sake. It’s in place to get more people to visit your parish and join your community of faith. This strategy is there to help people learn the Gospel and grow closer to Jesus.
As a last part of your strategy, consider what first-time visitor offerings you have. Be as welcoming as possible, so they will return. You won’t want to put a young family right into a small sharing group that has been meeting for years. Likewise, some visitors won’t be ready for RCIA or an hour of Adoration. Instead, think of “bite-sized” ways that visitors can get involved:
- New visitor and parishioner dinners
- Tour of your church with an emphasis on the symbolism of the architecture and art (Bonus tip: people love “behind-the-scenes” type content about this on social media as well)
- Small volunteer opportunities- invite them to sell raffle tickets at the parish picnic or help with a spring clean-up day
Thanks to a strong welcome strategy you will be ready to receive your new first-time parishioners and in-person guests.
Digital evangelism can be an amazing way to engage a whole new audience and spread the Gospel, but we know for many parishes it can still seem overwhelming. This may be due to a lack of time for pastors or parish staff who are already busy with parish duties.