Rethinking Facebook: Hospitality in your living room

EVERYWHERE we go, the ReadTheSpirit team is asked: “What are you doing about Facebook?” That’s a natural question. As innovative publishers, we are reshaping the way media is building positive communities—so men and women nationwide are interested in our advice in light of dramatic changes within Facebook.

Today, three of our experts respond.

How dramatically
is Facebook

This is an enormous shift! Since Friday (April 11), headlines in nearly all of the leading business publications are proclaiming, as Bloomberg Businessweek asks in a headline: Is this “The End of Free Facebook Marketing?” The biggest change is that, unless companies and other groups start paying Facebook to distribute their recommended links—those popular social media channels will be shut down to a minimal distribution. As few as 1 percent of your followers will actually receive what you are broadcasting in the “old” way so many Facebook pages have been operating.

Want even more bad news? (“Bad,” that is, if you are pushing “old” Facebook broadcast-style marketing.) News reports also are highlighting a second major change at Facebook. In an effort to weed out spammy manipulators of social media, Facebook now will search for and will punish those Facebook pages that explicitly tell followers and friends to go “like” and share their postings. In other words, if you try to work around the new limitations on distribution by aggressively and pointedly telling your audience to go spread your message—Facebook will even further reduce your reach. With the cap already heading toward 1 percent, this second reduction amounts to silencing activity on your Facebook page. In TechCrunch online magazine, Josh Costine’s current headline is “Facebook’s Feed Now Punishes Pages That Ask for Likes.” If you’re doing “old-school” Facebook promotion—ouch!!

And even more limits! On Friday, WIRED magazine’s latest headline is: “This is the End of Facebook as We Know It.” Ryan Tate—author, business analyst and one of WIRED’s senior writers—reports on yet another Facebook change. Depending on how widely you use Facebook on a daily basis, this may (or may not) be bad news for you: Facebook is shutting down the chat feature on its mobile app. Instead, you’ll be prompted to get another Facebook app just for messaging. Writes Tate: “Facebook, the company that makes billions from connecting people to each other, is about to make it harder to have a conversation. … In mature markets like the U.S., Facebook’s user base has essentially stopped growing.” In the future, Facebook will become more of a family of related apps, each with a specialized function.


Today at ReadTheSpirit, we are sharing this advice from three of our leading followers of social media …


Martin Davis, based in the Washington D.C. area, consults with businesses, nonprofits and congregations through his company and website: Sacred Language Communications. He also is a contributing writer at ReadTheSpirit. Two of his most popular columns focus on revamping church websites and church newsletters.

You’re probably saying, “Wait a minute! We’re still learning how to use Facebook, because you’ve been telling us that everyone needs to get on Facebook. You’re confusing me!” To be clear: We are not reversing our long-standing advice. Facebook still rules all forms of social media.

Now, we’re advising, first: Don’t worry. Much of the high anxiety in headlines this week is coming from media marketers who have built their bottom line on coaching clients to drive Facebook marketing campaigns in ways that worked very well in recent years. If you are a member of a congregation or another community group, primarily using Facebook for its intended purpose—friendly contact with others—then you’ll be fine in the midst of these huge shifts in the business world.

If you are reading this column, today, as the sole person charged with using Facebook as a bullhorn to blast information to your congregation or community group—then you definitely need to rethink what you are doing. This approach to evangelism is a pathway to … well, toward a rapid decline in your effectiveness.

Social media is truly social connection. Meaning you have to spend time cultivating people, talking with them, and nurturing them. This is what Facebook at its best does—and will continue to do. It allows you to engage your members and those in your community by sharing photos and video clips, offering up thoughts and articles for discussion or spiritual growth. Continue to easily share that information with others—and really get to know one another more personally.

The good news? That’s what congregations and community groups do best!


David Crumm is the founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine and books. To learn more about David and our work so far, visit our “About” page.

I agree entirely with Marty’s analysis. These huge changes in Facebook can actually benefit congregations and community groups—if you are focused on real hospitality, the ancient value that runs through all of the Abrahamic faiths and nearly all other global religious traditions as well. As Marty says, stop thinking of Facbook as a bullhorn.

Think of Facebook as your living room. When friends stop by, what do you? Offer a drink of some kind—and often food. You sit and chat, catch up on the news of the day—usually about what your kids are doing, the fun you had a local event the other night, what you’re planning this coming weekend. You talk. You listen. You show off your latest photos. At its best, that’s both classic hospitality (which is another term for the best forms of evangelism, or sharing good news). Facebook remains the most powerful network in America for doing that!

Be a good host—just as you would in your living room. For example, pay attention to the optimal times when your friends want to sit down with you and share the latest news. Did you know that recent studies of social media show that between 1 and 4 p.m., each day, is the optimal time for Facebook sharing nationwide? That’s different than the optimal time range for Pinterest (8 to 11 p.m.), Twitter (1 to 3 p.m.) and Instagram (5 to 6 p.m.). Warning: These times may not be optimal for your friends, though. Ask around. When are your friends online? Be a good and timely host and conversation partner.

Rather than assigning one person in your congregation or community group to “do Facebook,” look at all the ways your organization can be offering material to help with the person-to-person hospitality. One of the biggest ways you can help: Make sure that someone attending each of your significant events is snapping photos and uploading to your website a wide-ranging album of their pictures. Get friends in the habit of looking through your latest albums for photos they are eager to share on Facebook.

Encouraging real hospitality—a major goal in so many groups today—is a pathway to lively sharing on Facebook.


Paul Hile is a writer, editor and project manager with ReadTheSpirit magazine and books. He also is charged with keeping a close eye on changes in social media and advising our authors on the best use of these online tools.

These changes at Facebook are not ideal for most organizations who have been using pages to promote links back to their website or to their events and products. But, it is important to note: The biggest changes only affect “pages.”  Most of our authors aren’t in jeopardy of exceeding their “friend limit” on their personal Facebook accounts, so I am advising them to make better use of their personal Facebook activity.

This is all the more reason to encourage writers to use Facebook and engage with friends in a natural, regular way. The more people talk and interact with us on a daily basis online, the more we’re in front of people. It’s important to remember that there’s more than one way to get attention on Facebook. One, of course, is to post content. The other is to have people talk about you. The more that happens, the better.

As Martin and David have pointed out: This is social media.

In my research, I am convinced that successful social media strategies depend on human, person-to-person interaction. When our public presence on Facebook is “just another page,” then we’ve lost the human relationships that are the real arteries of social media. When followers of “just another page” don’t have any sort of personal interaction—attachment and investment in whatever is being shared—the results of that sharing fall off sharply.

People want to to interact, explore and invest in real relationships. If we pay attention to that core value, then Facebook continues to be a vast and friendly public square for lots of healthy sharing.

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Sorting Fact from Fiction in Church Growth & Social Media

The following column was reported by Read The Spirit Editor David Crumm and nationally known church consultant Martin Davis. To read Martin Davis’s earlier columns in Read The Spirit, start with his recent columns on the challenges of change and on why your church newsletter may shock you.

TWO HEADLINES compelled us to help readers sort fact from fiction concerning the popular myth that church growth depends on widespread use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like). While Facebook, in particular, is a very valuable way to let church members share the richness of congregational life—the myth of explosive growth is perpetuated, we both agree, by a new report in the online Christian Post, headlined: Top 5 Churches That Use Social Media Best. Some truths, we think, come from a second new headline out of the Pew Research Center. Here is our report …


MARTIN DAVIS WRITES: There were no surprises in the Christian Post list. The winners were Mars Hill Seattle, Oklahoma-based Life Church, Tennessee’s Cross Point, Gateway Church in Texas and San Antonio’s Community Bible Church—five leading mega-churches with massive audiences, bulging budgets, and staff members dedicated to social media. “When it comes to churches,” begins the Christian Post article, “having at least a minimal digital strategy has become crucial in expanding Christian outreach even locally within their own communities.”

Here are three myths that I think the Christian Post article may fuel:

MYTH: Social media is the key to congregational growth. The view that social media is essential to growth is intoxicating, and wrong. Megachurches—if that’s the type of community you’re trying to cultivate—were around long before Facebook hit the scene. Social media in megachurches is more a reflection of the population served than a distinguishing trait.

MYTH: The purpose of social media is to produce growth. Here’s the real problem. By tying social media to growth, Christian Post overlooks the more important point: Electronic communications (e-mail, e-newsletters, etc) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) are first and foremost about communicating, not growth. As with any form of communication, executed properly, growth may be an outcome. But growth is not an indication of success.

MYTH: Effective social media requires top professionals. Most leaders of small to mid-sized congregations—at least occasionally—cast longing glances at the huge staff rosters of megachurches. The five models held up by Christian Post suggest that experts are central for social media success. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, communicating through social media requires our adjusting to these media; and, good advice and guidance helps. If you are a poor communicator in person, or have difficulty writing coherent thoughts, social media will only compound your difficulties. People who communicate effectively will amplify their voices through these tools. All good writers know that an editor helps. All great public speakers can name their teachers and mentors. Professional advice helps. Occasional training helps a lot. In fact, I regularly consult with congregations on smart ways to use websites, newsletters and social media.

But congregations do not need to go out and hire top guns to run their websites, newsletters and social media. In fact, doing so can often hamstring congregations with a distant webmaster who can’t communicate as immediately or as effectively as the people already leading the congregation.


DAVID CRUMM WRITES: This week, Joanna Brenner and Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center are releasing an update on social media tracking that is causing another flurry of news stories. You can read their entire report via the Pew site. In fact, their latest headline—72% of Online Adults are Social Networking Site Users—may fuel assumptions that social media is a life-and-death issues for congregations. But, read the whole report. When I completed it, I found: Martin Davis is right.

Here are three truths—highlights from the latest Pew report, and the past year or so of Pew social-media tracking:

TRUTH: Twitter is a trap for congregations. Want to leave your congregation in the dust? Announce that, henceforth, you’ll mainly be Tweeting the latest congregational news. That seems like a reasonable move, doesn’t it? Every prime-time television show seems to be promoting Twitter hash tags these days. But, look at the data. Pew reports that Twitter usage is growing but has only reached 18 percent of the online population. Mostly, these Tweeters are aged 18 to 29—not the main demographic in most congregations. (It’s important to note that the ’72 percent’ and other percentages cited in Pew’s new report are based on people who already are Internet users. That group is huge, but it’s still only 85 percent of all Americans. That means each percentage cited in the Pew study actually is a smaller portion of the population as a whole.)

You may be aiming at young adults. You may think that Tweeting is an ideal way to attract 20-somethings, but people outside your community are not likely to see your Tweets among the zillions of 140-character messages flooding Twitter every day. And here’s the Achilles Heel for most congregations: Among 50-to-64-year-old adults—the life’s blood of most congregations—Twitter users comprise only 13 percent of people who already are online. Considering the population as a whole, that means you’ll be leaving nearly 9 out of 10 of your members aged 50 to 64 in the dust with your Tweets. The problem of heavily focusing on Twitter is even worse among 65-plus men and women. Only 5 percent of online users in that age range ever touch Twitter. For that big portion of your community, you can Tweet like crazy—but 65-plus folks will perceive that you’ve suddenly fallen silent.

TRUTH: By itself, social media is not a true open door to the community. These days, “Open Doors” is a mantra echoing in congregations coast to coast. By the thousands, church leaders have updated their signs and newsletters to de-emphasize denominational divisions and stress their wide-open civic appeal. Social media may seem to reach broadly across the entire community. In fact, among 20-somethings, virtually everyone uses some form of social media. The use of social media also is rapidly rising among men and women 65 and older. But—even with all of that growth—Pew reports that social media use by Americans 65 and older still has not reached the 50 percent mark among online Americans. Do you really want to leave half of your seniors behind by putting too much emphasis on social media?

TRUTH: We should dive into social media, and—right now—we should be swimming in the Facebook pool. Don’t misunderstand today’s column! Martin Davis and Read The Spirit both strongly encourage vigorous use of social media! The vast majority of Americans use some form of social media every day. If Anthony Trollope or Susan Sontag were still alive and writing, they would wryly describe social media with their now-classic phrase: It’s become The Way We Live Now. We must dive in!

But, drawing upon the past year’s findings from Pew researchers, this pattern is clear: Facebook is, for the moment, the closest thing we have to a new public square. Here’s a widely reported Pew conclusion: “People who use Facebook have more close friends, get more social support and report being more politically engaged than those who don’t.”

Facebook social patterns make a lot of sense—just use your own common sense. As in most public squares, Facebook has its gregarious communicators and greeters—and, Facebook also has its avid followers. In fact, as Pew reported last year, “Facebook users get more than they give.” What does that mean? Think about your own congregation. Some folks enjoy standing around after a service, greeting friends and making people feel welcome. Others enjoy taking part in this experience—but don’t initiate it. They look to a smaller handful of extroverted members to get things rolling. The same is true on Facebook. Pew found, for example: “only 40% of Facebook users in our sample made a friend request, but 63% received at least one request.”

The social principles you already know so well in your community have moved into the heart of Facebook. Rather than rushing out to buy the services of a high-priced media professional, you’ll do far better by identifying men and women who enjoy extending greetings in your building—then encouraging them to extend greetings on behalf of the congregation, day by day, on Facebook.

Beyond “friending” and sharing greetings, what else do Facebook users love? Sharing photos. In your own congregation, what do members enjoy when they have time to sit and chat with friends? Sharing photos. Do you have members in your congregation who avidly snap photos? Why not share them on your church’s website so men and women can easily find photos of congregational life—and share them further via Facebook.

This isn’t arcane science. These are the social principles you know so well in your community—moving online.


FROM MARTIN DAVIS and DAVID CRUMM: Much of our communication with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors already is digital. It’s The Way We Live Now. Facebook use dwarfs the readership of all congregational bulletins and newsletters put together. Do you feel pulled in too many directions? Want to skip Tweeting your congregation’s news? Go ahead!

But the basics of congregational life—the truly timeless spiritual treasures within our faith communities—remain the same. The majority of Americans seek God’s love in community with similarly inspired men and women and, then, we feel moved to share these experiences with others.

And, that’s … Well, from both of us: That’s the truth.

Want more?

Want Martin to help you? That’s easy! Visit the website for his courses and consulting: Sacred Language Communications. You can contact Martin Davis via this page within his website. Martin plans to regularly publish helpful columns in Read The Spirit through the autumn and winter.

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