Beyond “The Notices”

The first few Anglican Pages I found in Facebook were, or reminded me of, “The Notices”. You know, the bit of church that, back when you were a kid, popped up when you had just thought “it’s nearly time to go home now”. The bit of church that made sure you learned to groan inwardly to avoid that look from your Mum…

I can see why a church might put “The Notices” online. We’re very good at forgetting them, and it’s sensible to remind us in all ways possible, so that only about half of us still forget. But let’s be honest. They are often not that awesome, cool or inspirational. If you put “The Notices” on your Facebook page, you need to add something else as well. Your page is outreach, hopefully to a variety of people, so you want variety of content. Here are some things you can include

  • Images. Images seem easy for people to talk about and often get more comments than other material posted on Facebook pages. If uploading your own photos and they identify people, we have a Privacy Act to consider – ask first. If sharing other people’s Facebook photos through Facebook’s internal sharing mechanism, relevance is the main consideration. If sharing photos from anywhere else, please be aware that New Zealand has added a lot of grunt to Copyright Law recently. Learn about CC Licensing and Public Domain, and attribute all images properly. Flickr is a great place to find CC Licensed images, using the Advanced Search facility.

Flickr makes it fairly easy to figure out which photos you can use, suck as these crosses by "freefotouk". The photographer must be named. Click to enlarge.

  • Links. You can link to happenings in your local community, church news items, blog posts, recipes and “how to” pages, or almost anything in reasonable taste, provided that the relevance to your ministry unit or your core business in faith can be made clear in a few short words. Linking to pages with photos will usually show a thumbnail on Facebook, and this mini-photo will increase the likelihood that people will follow the link.
  • Sermons and resources. You may have spotted that a sermon won’t fit on a status update, but you can uses notes instead. Your notes tab isn’t enabled by default, but it’s reasonably easy to do. Go to your Facebook page, then Edit Page  on the right, Apps on the left, Edit Settings under Notes in the middle, and then Add. A note is basically a long status update, visible from your Notes tab on the left side of your page. See notes being used to share sermons by St Anne’s.
  • YouTube videos. Make your own or link to other people’s. OMGod our Church simply post YouTube videos as links. Like me, they have found that the video thumbnails haven’t displayed in the last few videos they linked. I haven’t solved that one. Tikanga Toru have a YouTube tab. I’ve linked straight to the tab. It’s a quick way to find YouTube videos they recommend.
  • Event updates. If you’re running a faith-related event, there will be people who would love to share the excitement. The Waiapu Diocese had a small team of Facebookers and Tweeters giving updates on their recent Synod, and I found that I was glued to the screen with my housework suffering in the background. Social media can make people feel part of something from afar, so let’s give them that opportunity as often as we can. You can even “go live” if you have the tech-skills – see St Margaret’s Live Stream page next time you are sick in bed on Sunday morning.
  • Questions. Popular wisdom tells us that we can draw people into conversations by asking questions, but it is a risky strategy on Facebook. The 50 people who show up on your stats may all be shy. Ask questions if you have a team looking after your page who can lead the way in responding, or if take-it-or-leave-it comments are already showing you have visitors who feel comfortable taking part in online conversations. Please don’t ask questions that you would not wish to answer in public yourself.

The different types of content above can all be used to share a wide range of ideas that reflect the rhythm and diversity of worship. Our worship lives have some core components that we visit repeatedly, and some of these are good guides to themes for our Facebook pages.

  • Our worship begins with welcoming, gathering and becoming community as people enter our churches. People may come to our page at any time, so this theme must always be visible.
  • Intercession is part of our rhythm of prayer and may govern the style of links we share at times and the comments we make or invite about them. Public, written prayer can feel uncomfortable for many, but our discussion can still have an intercessory style without being overtly prayer-like.
  • Confession is part of what we do together, and even more than intercession would be uncomfortable for many in public. However, linking to a well-crafted site, blog post or prayer on confession occasionally can be a non-threatening way to make this part of our outreach via Facebook.
  • Ritual, sacrament and contemplation are a huge part of the way we sense God’s presence. Images with gently reflective comments can be a useful way to weave this strand into our online presence at times. While ritual connects the churched across time, space and language barriers, it is a mystery to the unchurched. Well-chosen images and comments on your Facebook page may unlock that mystery for someone in a way that makes church feel like somewhere they could belong.
  • Offering of selves and resources can be facilitated by occasional requests for assistance via your Facebook page.
  • Scripture is central in our worship but few of us are scholars of scripture. A link to a scripture site that moved us, together with a personal comment, shares our sincere response to scripture and invites response from others.
  • Expressing thankfulness and wonder acknowledges the gifts of creation, salvation and God’s love. I feel wonder at creation and find that the internet is full of sites and images that take that wonder to new levels. Images representing love are almost as easy to find. However, salvation and other mysteries of the faith will mystify image search engines, just as they do us. When you find a great resource, share it. When you don’t, I think it is wise to resist the temptation to share mediocre material with readers whose responses you cannot see and be guided by. Discipling in these aspects of faith is often best done face-to-face. The incarnation story is not all in the past. It can also offer guidance in our use of distance communication technology today.
  • At the end of each worship service we send people out, and we hope to do this with their sense of mission rekindled. Vision-casting quotations, images and videos are very popular in social media, and looking at many cause-related sites (including secular ones) will show you models to love or hate before you build your own faith-related way of sharing inspiration, passion, and energy for being God’s people in the world.
  • The high days and holidays of the church calendar are days to get excited about God stuff online. Last Easter on Facebook was amazing. A multilingual wave of “Christ is Risen” and “He is risen indeed” from colleagues in the international education community moved me deeply. Call in Russian, response in Polish. Call in German, response in Hungarian. Google translate identified the languages for me, but words like Kristos needed no translation at all.  When things like this happen, jump in, partake, enjoy!

There are no rules, of course. These are just my suggestions, and I hope that one day, when someone feels a little devoid of inspiration some of these thoughts will help. My own Facebook page is a resource and doesn’t represent any ministry unit at all, so models very few of these ideas. Our strength  will lie in learning from one another, and in responding to God as we do so.


About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
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