A church without a plan is a muddle – specially on social media

I’m putting together a few ideas about social media for a session with some of our local churches later in the month, so here’s where my mind is drifting. I am convinced social media presents an opportunity for the Church of England to portray itself as relevant, exciting and with a really quite wonderful part in our communities. However there is a risk that without self confidence and a clear message it could make for more of a muddle.

Creating a coherent web and social media presence for any organisation requires a plan and strong sense of purpose. The bones of a communication strategy consist of knowing the audience, having a clear expression of your own identity and a single minded message. Is the church ready for that? I hope so.

Vast numbers of people are now congregating on-line to shop, discuss, show off, celebrate and organise themselves. For most businesses and other organisations having a mobile friendly interactive website with integrated social media accounts is now absolutely essential. Over the Christmas season it has been astonishing how huge e.commerce has been. To be almost permanently on-line is now what you might call normal behaviour for many of us.

But the communications environment is now so very cluttered that the trick is not just to be present but also to be discoverable, to be noticed. It’s very easy to be a producer and publisher of content these days but let’s not be complacent – who’s going to notice our little drip in the ocean? Our on-line presence needs to stand out and be crystal clear in what it is saying.

To be discoverable means that we must be present not just on social media but in a range of media and in a strikingly creative way. At every turn and at every glance we must have an unmistakable, distinctive presence. We must be unshakably confident in who we are, what we stand for and what we look like. This is our brand.

Identity is weakened it it’s not consistent. A church that doesn’t have consistency across all its brand touch points is heading for confusion and disengagement. Every single person helps to form the identity of the organisation and so everyone must internalise the live out the values and mission of the church.

There is a temptation to believe that to appeal to the world we must try to be like the world with which we are trying to connect, but that works against being distinctive. What could be worse that being a chameleon in a crowded place (unless you work for Mi5) – let’s go for bright red not camouflage green.

What makes the Church of England distinctive is its extraordinary history and more importantly the message that we are loved and saved by God’s grace though Jesus Christ. It seems to me that we must be confident about the things that set the church apart – the really big differences. There is a temptation to talk only about the things that we have in common with our audience and to craft our image in a way that we think will be least offensive to our visitors, but there comes a point when we need to assert difference.

Here lies the biggest challenge for the CofE, not so much in using social media but in being confident and bold in the messages it puts out. There are encouraging signs of boldness from Archbishop Welby with some big statements on social justice. Can our local churches be equally bold when it comes to challenging local decision makers and drawing attention to local needs?  But whatever we say we must anchor the message in our single most important proposition, the reason we are who we are; unafraid to talk about the person of Christ.

So the Church of England is grappling with what it means to do business on-line. The church is not flogging goods (though it might), but more importantly telling life changing stories which is well suited the the medium. Nevertheless, the practical drive for the church to embrace on-line technology is in fact about selling something – getting people to buy into the real church and not some figment of the public imagination.

I’m looking forward to seeing some bold, creative and challenging messages from the church on-line.

Published by Mark

Mark Waddington is a former BBC broadcaster and producer. He now works for the Diocese of Leeds as Urban Mission Officer. If you would like to get in touch email mark.waddington@leeds.anglican.org