Back in February, we wrote about the differences between a Facebook Page and Facebook Group, Should your Congregation have a Facebook Page or Group?
So let’s say you have your Congregation Facebook Page and now are looking at ways to use a Facebook group.
Here are some ways you can use a group:
- Online Bible Study – Every Pastor knows how hard it is to schedule a Bible study at a time that works for busy people – a Facebook group allows people to participate when it’s convenient and without leaving home.
- Post the scripture for the coming Sunday on Monday and ask open-ended reflection questions on the text.
- Have an “Ask the Pastor” forum. Invite people to ask questions they’ve wondered about scripture or worship or theology.
- Share a news article and ask people to share how their faith interprets the news and how they react to it.
Remember that a Facebook Group is set up for discussion. You want people to interact. It’s not just for announcements. Ask open-ended questions and follow-up questions.
For the purposes of a discussion group, your best privacy setting is probably closed. I don’t recommend any secret groups in a congregation. In this case posts to the group will show up in the feed of friends who are also in this group. Sometimes people will see that and fear that all their friends can see their posts. Only friends in the group can see the posts.
However, you should make it clear that while you can and should establish confidentiality guidelines, people can still copy and paste or screenshot their posts and they should keep that in mind. It is no different than in any group where people can break confidentiality. The difference is there is always some dispute about what someone said when repeating what is heard. There’s no disputing what is written in black and white. That can be good or bad. Just make sure people are aware of that.
In order to facilitate discussion, you need to create a safe space for people to share their thoughts and reflections.
Anyone who has participated in a Facebook discussion group understands how challenging that can be. You want to find the balance between a no holds barred free for all, and an over moderated heavily censored experience.
As I always advise, begin with your own congregation’s mission statement.
You might even post that on the description of your group. Then articulate how the purpose of this group works toward the mission of your congregation.
Pin a post with the purpose and guidelines for discussion on the top of the group.
Say something like this:
“Welcome to the St. Happy face Lutheran Facebook Discussion. The purpose of this group is to discuss ____. We are glad you are here. Please read over these guidelines and make sure you understand them. They exist to make this a safe positive place for us to discuss, share and grow in faith.”
- Please respect the opinions of others. Be kind and generous in what you write and how you interpret what others write.
- Remember Luther’s advice to “Interpret your neighbor’s actions in the kindest way”.
- Vulgar, profane and abusive language is not allowed.
- Please keep to the stated topic.
- Please do not dominate the conversation.
- It is okay to disagree. Extensive arguments should be avoided.
- Please do not post links to commercial sites for advertising.
- If there is an inappropriate post please contact a moderator. Do not engage the inappropriate post.
- Inappropriate posts will be deleted and the person will be warned. If inappropriate posting continues they will be removed from the group.
You may want to tweak these guidelines based on your context. But it is important that everyone knows the rules.
For a successful group, you will need to maintain an active presence in the group, both to monitor it and to keep the discussion going. You should have at least two administrators, more depending on how big the group is.
Sometimes when you see a conversation is going off track you can post a general call out like “please remember to keep on topic” and then asking a question to get back to the topic, before resorting to personal warnings or deleting posts.
As you can see, it takes some effort to begin and maintain a discussion group on Facebook but the results can be well worth it. You may find people participating and sharing in ways they would not in person. Give it a try!
About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-HansonThe Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.
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