Disclaimer: Ms. Crystal Smith neither agrees nor disagrees with Mark Zuckerberg’s assertion that Facebook is the “new church”. Through this article, she offers a comparison based on the number of “butts in the seats” at traditional, brick-and-mortar churches versus the number of those who tune in to watch church services social media.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg set off an international firestorm last week when he posed the question of whether Facebook could be the “new church.” I saw an array of responses from extreme disgust (“it’s the mark of the beast”) to those that were more accepting (“this is genius”). Regardless of your thoughts on the topic, we can’t ignore that one of the questions asked frequently by 21st century worshippers of Christ is, “Do I have to attend church weekly to be considered a faithful Christian?”
Since its founding in 2004, Facebook has become a primary way for friends and family to keep in contact with one another and to get and share news. Apps like Facebook Live have offered more opportunities for face-to-face interaction with the click of button. More recently, it has become a way for members of the Christian community to fellowship with one another in real-time.
Dr. E Dewey Smith, Senior Pastor of The House of Hope (Atlanta, Macon and SouthPointe), has taken heed of this recent trend within the Christian community. In staying consistent with his brand of remaining relevant to five generations of ministry, he has incorporated the use of digital media to stream live worship services and made-for-TV-quality ministry broadcasts.
Dr. Smith is a veteran of televangelism, having introduced television ministry to many of those within his hometown of Macon, Ga. Being the person that he is, he is not afraid to step into an untapped market of evangelism to reach the masses beyond what can be accomplished with a 60-second Instagram clip. He has been given the wisdom and insight by God to be able to congregate with and minister to five generations within one building while simultaneously engaging multiple generations in the digital world on any given Sunday or Wednesday. And the statistics bear out the success of this approach.
On average, by the time I leave the House of Hope Atlanta (HOHA) sanctuary on Sundays, approximately 8,500 people have attended both morning services in-person. Compare that to the numbers of those who viewed the live worship services via streaming that day and you’ll see that the number of web views doubles and triples that count.
As an example of the impact of social media on ministry – and seemingly in support of Zuckerberg’s statement – check out these stats from the House of Hope Atlanta on this past Sunday, July 9:
- 3.1K views for Dr. Smith’s “Living Hope” on Facebook Live at 8:30 p.m.
- 12.7K views of HOHA’s 10:15 a.m. worship service
- 14.6K views of HOHA’s 7:30 a.m. worship service
That’s more than 30,000 views from social media alone on one day! Remember, a little less than one-third of that number was actually physically in the sanctuary! To drive the point home even more, an additional 12.6K views were recorded at HOHA’s Wednesday night Bible study on July 5. That’s more than 42.6K views of 4 services for one ministry in one week! Many argue that it’s not a numbers game, but to some extent it actually is! Just this one example of this one ministry bears out that social media and the use of digital means of ministry are viable!
So why aren’t more churches doing this? Most ministries are afraid that the use of social media for ministry will adversely affect their image because of the negative perception that product sales combined with evangelism has garnered. They may believe that the message is somehow less about Jesus Christ and more money oriented because it’s delivered via Facebook or through a smartphone. Dr. Smith is a man of faith and his ultimate goal is to spread the message of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
Some argue that worship isn’t authentic if you attend online because the Bible says, “Do not forsake the assembly of believers!” Well, I believe that ‘assembly of believers’ has been redefined. The mandate given to Christians is to go, teach all nations – no restrictions were ever placed on HOW to do it. Just GO. TEACH. I grew up in the 7th Day Adventist church and for me, social media and digital ministry is no different than 7th Day Adventists passing out tracts within communities. Instead of going to houses, we’re reaching them on their smartphones – same goal, different strategy!
Dr. Smith asserts that his purpose is to impact, inspire, and give insight to an under served audience. Through the live broadcast, Dr. Smith is able to access viewers across the globe including those within his local community. Individuals who may live doors down from the church yet have never attended are often prompted to connect with the church because they were “introduced” to it through social media. Butts in the seats.
Another advantage of digital ministry is the potential to reach millennials and the generation that follows them – Generation Z. Unlike their parents and grandparents, these individuals likely were not forced to attend church services regularly or to have a faith relationship with God. Despite the belief by many that this makes millennials and Gen Z’ers less connected to God, I counter that for them God is more relationship than religion. Statistics also bear out that millennials are the ones most likely to use social media and are the demographic represented most often as those tuning in to digital broadcasts. I submit that it’s not necessarily that they don’t love God; they don’t like “church.”
We have to keep it real. What our forefathers dealt with is very different from what many of us do. After a day of difficulties at work, terrors in traffic and the demands of family, the idea of leaving home to attend Bible study at a local church is not at the top of most of our lists. Dr. Smith has been offering live streaming of Bible study at the House of Hope for most of the 14 years he’s served as the Senior Pastor. His profound teachings and willingness to break the mold of how Bible study is done has resulted, as I mentioned earlier, in 12.6K views each Wednesday! To be clear, though the in-person attendance is not at that same level, the average 300-500 is still an impactful number of attendees for any midweek evening church event!
As a branding and marketing strategist, I spend a fair amount of time checking statistics to determine the effectiveness of the strategies I use with my clients. What I find is that most ministries think they’re getting the same level of viewership by streaming live on their website. But this is an easy debate. All that a ministry needs to do is compare the real-time viewership of their worship services vs. the number of people who view a re-broadcast of that same service. Most will find that there is no comparison in reach/views between the one-time airing of one church service through one website link versus the airing or re-airing of that same one church services on multiple social media platforms that are then shared among thousands of viewers and via other website links!
We would LOVE to work with your ministry to explore opportunities for expanding the reach and span of your audience. In addition to streaming, we also handle the editing, setup and distribution of broadcasts across social media platforms. Contact Crystal Smith Enterprises today and let us share ways to connect you better both locally and globally!
Featured Image: UrbanChristianNews.com
Featured Video: “Living Hope” Digital Broadcast/Joy105.com