How to Use Facebook Groups for Discipleship

Earlier this summer, I published a 3-part series on improving your church’s Facebook Page. Hopefully, one of the things you picked up is that it is far more important that your Page and the posts you fill it with target potential visitors, since this may be their first point of contact.

But the question remains: what about our current members?

Sure, we are to be engaged in mission and evangelism, but we are also tasked with discipleship. Just because a ministry is focused on the Great Commission and Greatest Commandments doesn’t mean there aren’t needs within the congregation. If we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we need a place that helps us do that.

Add the fact that average church attendance hovers around twice a month at the moment. This means that if we rely on worship alone, we have roughly 24 hours of people’s time and attention per year. Add a weekly small group, and that number jumps dramatically. Add an active space online and it can jump exponentially.

This is where Facebook Groups can be a vital tool for discipleship. And a few changes that Facebook made to Groups recently has made it an even more attractive option.

Why Groups?

A Facebook Group is like a meeting room within Facebook. You can post just like normal—text, links, photos, videos, events, comments, etc.—but it is only visible to those within the Group (if set to Closed or Secret). You can even host a Facebook Live session just for the Group.

You may have seen Bible studies, small groups, or even church leadership/program teams utilize Groups, but you can also create a Group for the church in general.

A Group gives you and your members a dedicated space to interact and post information that is not your Facebook Page. It is not that you’re sharing top secret information in a Group, but rather you are keeping your Page laser focused on attracting and inviting interested visitors.

How to Create a Group or Link an Existing Group

One of the biggest, and most welcome, changes to Facebook Groups is the ability to link Groups to your Facebook Page and even create one directly connected to your Page. Previously, Groups had to be created by individuals, but not anymore.

Linking a Group to your Page takes an existing Group, lists it on your Facebook Page, and makes the Page itself an administrator (similar to how you can post and comment as the Page rather than as an individual). Creating a Group directly from your Page does the same thing.

Having the Group listed on your Page makes it easier to find. Having the Page as a Group admin helps with oversight, and it can also be a big help when staff or volunteer positions change.

To link an existing Group to your Page or to create a Page Group, you must first add the Group Tab. Click on Settings in the top right of your Page, and select Edit Page from the left column.

Scroll to the bottom of the right column, and click on Add a Tab.

In the box that appears, click Add Tab next to Groups. Then click Close at the bottom and return to your Facebook Page.

On the left side of your Page, under the Profile Image, is a list of all of the Tabs. Click on Groups.

To link an existing group, click the blue Link Your Group button in the middle. To create a new Group, click the gray Create Group button in the top right.

Important Group Settings

When choosing or editing the privacy level, I recommend a Closed Group. The existence of a Closed Group, the membership list, and certain details—like the description—are public, but the actual posts and content within the Group are not public. Anyone can request entrance into the Group, and current members can invite people to join the group, but everyone must be approved to join.

If the Group needs an extra level of privacy—like a small group or recovery ministry—or it simply does not need to be public—like a ministry team—you can set the privacy level to Secret.

I would not recommend using a Public Group unless you really love spam, robots, and trolls.

As mentioned above, with a Closed Group, anyone can request entry or get invited, but they must be approved. There are two options under the Membership Approval setting: anyone can approve requests/invites or Group admins and moderators only. I would recommend having admins and moderators handle approval so that you can be sure the people joining are actually connected to your community. You can add a short survey (up to three questions) for people to fill out when they request entrance. This is a great way to gather information like:

  • How did you hear about the church?
  • What would you love to hear a sermon about?
  • What is your favorite part of being a member of ?
  • What ministries, topics, or resources do you wish the church offered?

Next, review the settings related to posting within the Group. Under Posting Permissions, you can allow any member to post or set it to admins only. Under Post Approval, you can check the box requiring admins or moderators to approve all posts before they appear in the Group.

To start with, I would allow anyone to post and not require specific approval. The point of the Group is to help foster community, and limiting posting works against that. However, you can always edit these settings in the future if need be. In addition, some groups create posting guidelines—what is and is not allowed—and include it in the Group Description, in a pinned post, or in the files section.

You have all of the same admin/moderator tools that you do with your Page, so you can hide or delete posts and comments, and remove/ban people if necessary.

How to Promote Your Group

I think the best first step to promoting your online Group is to start offline. Take time in worship, your weekly bulletin/newsletter/email, or in small group meetings to explain why you’re starting a Group. Share the vision of a space where people can form community online and grow in their faith.

You can even build it up like a big event, choosing a Sunday morning as a launch date. Advertise, announce, and generate excitement toward that date. Then on that Sunday, ask everyone to pull out their phones and request entry to the Group. Have your admins/moderators ready to start approving people so that by the time the service is over or when people get home, they are in the Group.

Another great launch technique is to offer something of value that people can only get inside the Group. You could provide a coupon they can print off or instruction on who to email for a special t-shirt, sticker, or other giveaway. The pastor could prepare a PDF devotional or e-book. You could film a really silly video with your phone of all the church staff getting hit in the face with pies or singing karaoke or doing something else that people would want to watch. It doesn’t have to be expensive—just appealing.

If you’re going to have a launch day, first set up your Group as a Secret Group. This allows time to nail down the settings, graphics, and even preload a few posts without people being able to find the Group before you’re ready. Then, on launch day, switch the privacy setting to Closed so that it becomes visible on your Groups Tab or through search.

Remember to keep promoting the Group even after the launch. Include it in your bulletin. Mention it during the new member/next steps class. Even encourage people to take out their phones and join during the announcements a couple times per year.

How to Keep the Group Active

More than likely, the Group will thrive or die within the first couple weeks. If people are excited to join, there needs to be something exciting when they get there. And remember that community is built through interaction. This means you need to do some planning ahead of time.

First, have a content schedule. Make sure you have at least one post per day for the first couple of weeks. Just like with your Page, you can create posts ahead of time and schedule them to post at a later time and date.

Try to focus on posts that encourage or inspire engagement. This is easier said than done, but the main point is focus less on things like announcements early on. Make it fun and meaningful.

Second, build a launch team. Recruit some people in your congregation who will commit to being active in the group through the first couple of weeks. Ask them to Like posts and leave comments. As with a tip jar that has a few bucks in it already, people are more willing to do what other people are already doing than to be the first one.

In order to keep things going beyond the launch phase, think about some weekly features you could do that people will look forward to. Perhaps on Mondays, you post a motivational Bible verse or quote from Sunday’s sermon. On Tuesdays, you ask for prayer requests. On Wednesdays, have a staff member, volunteer, or other church member do a devotion on Facebook Live. On Thursdays, post a worship song from YouTube—maybe one you’ll be singing that weekend. On Fridays, just post something fun, like an either/or poll question (ex. What’s your favorite summer treat: watermelon or popsicles?) or a silly photo caption contest.

How to Use the Group for Discipleship

Because your Group will be made up of people already connected to your church, it becomes a great place for discipleship. You can share more “inside” information about your church, like announcements, Facebook Live interviews of staff members or volunteers, or details about ministry programs. While your Page should be focused on taking the first step, your Group can be a resources for all of the other steps your church offers.

You can go more in depth about topics in a way that might not make sense to visitors or simply overwhelm someone who is new to the faith. Along these lines, you could do a Bible Study or a book study within the Group using text posts, photos, videos, questions, etc.

If you create a culture in the Group of encouraging posts and comments by members, unplanned discipleship moments will pop up too. Someone might be having a tough day and asks for prayer. Someone may have a question about something they read in the Bible or heard in a recent sermon. Group members may organize a meet-up at a local park or cafe that you can attend. These are all great opportunities for ministry.

Focus On What Facebook Focuses On — HINT: It’s Groups

A good rule of thumb in general is to focus on whatever Facebook is currently focusing on. They tend to boost the organic reach (views you don’t have to pay for) of whatever feature they are promoting. For example, while Facebook was running television commercials encouraging people to use Facebook Live, organic reach for Live videos was through the roof!

It appears that Groups is the next big feature that Facebook is focusing on. They have been building relationships with the moderators of the largest and most active groups to see what is working and what needs improvement. They have introduced new features. They even featured a church as an example of Groups done well.

Since the Facebook algorithm is a secret, I cannot guarantee what will happen. However, if past history is a predictor of future behavior, Groups will see a boost in organic reach while it is Facebook’s new focus. This means that posts and conversations within Groups will likely show up more often in the newsfeed, showing members what’s going on and encouraging them to get more involved.

If you commit to promoting your new group within your congregation and make a plan to keep it active at the outset, now is the perfect time to start a Group!

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