Guest Contributor

By Kathy Patterson Conrad and Harry T. Smith

While Cookeville First United Methodist Church already had a Facebook page for seniors, it was primarily a bulletin board announcing various events. Interaction between individuals was limited and missing a sense of community and togetherness.

As a result, our Senior Adult Council established a Facebook group for seniors in February 2020. Our goals included:

  • Gathering to reduce loneliness
  • Discussing important happenings in our lives
  • Sharing current events
  • Posting church and Sunday school services/news
  • Sharing humor and hope
  • Supporting those in need

Little did we realize we would be facing a pandemic forcing us to shelter in place for months on end. Fortunately, this group has helped members stay connected with one another. Post-pandemic, we anticipate this group continuing to provide connections for members.

To maintain a degree of security, the group is invitation only. However, membership is not limited to people in our congregation. Rather, it includes people from the community as well as out of state members. Since its inception, the group has grown to over 200 members.

If you’ve been thinking about creating a Facebook group for your congregation, here are a few things we have learned along the way.

Facebook Page vs Facebook Group

A Facebook pageis generally open to the public and allows companies, groups, and individuals to post updates. Our senior adult group’s Facebook page serves as a bulletin board of announcements and is one of many communication tools the church uses. However due to Facebook’s algorithm, not every post shows up on people’s news feed all the time.

A Facebook group is a community-based option gathering people with the same interests to discuss topics and share opinions. A group also has options to be private (invitation only) and overseen by one or more administrators. Once someone becomes a member of a group, he or she can share posts that show up in all group members’ news feeds.

We felt it was important to have a Facebook presence where members who have common interests and needs felt secure. Thus, we created a group.

Administrator Responsibilities

Facebook group administrators have responsibilities. Someone has to invite charter and subsequent members, create a banner and add associated graphics to the group’s page, monitor members’ posts in terms of appropriateness to the group, and encourage group members to post content. At times administrators may need to post content to get the ball rolling.

Facebook Group Rules – Leading by Example

Sometimes Facebook group administrators may need to provide guidance to members who want to post something but are unsure of what to say. This is where group rules come into play. Some administrators post a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts in terms of appropriate content and behaviors.

Another option is to lead by example. This is the route we chose and it seems to be working well. One of the few rules we have is that we do not allow political postings. As administrators, we have the ability to remove a post and send a private message of explanation to the person making the post. Providing a private explanation is an important part of maintaining community.

Building Membership

After setting up a group with charter members, it’s important to continually add new members for more interactions and topics. Your church directory may provide phone numbers and/or email addresses of potential new members. Charter members may have friends they can invite.

Over the life of our Facebook group, we have discovered:

  • Members outside the church are positive contributors
  • While our group is targeted to an age 55+ audience, we enjoy having younger members
  • The majority of members choose to read posts rather than posting themselves

Identifying Themes, Topics, and Key Contributors

After we created the Facebook group and invited charter members, we generated introductory posts to start discussion. We also shared posts from the Upper Room and other United Methodist webpages. Later we created a weekly calendar of topics called DayBreaks. Currently our topics are:

  • Sunday – Link to our online worship service with bulletin
  • Monday – Recipes
  • Tuesday – Prompts (general questions for discussion)
  • Wednesday – Grace Notes (short YouTube devotional by minister)
  • Thursday – Psalms
  • Friday – Faith Stories (personal stories of faith by members)
  • Saturday – Acts of Faith (action steps for your faith)

We recruit contributors to create a month’s worth of posts for topics. While some members don’t initiate or respond to topics, we’ve identified members who are interested in creating posts.

After contributors create posts, they send them to an administrator for final editing and scheduling. This does require a bit of time and knowledge of Facebook mechanics on the part of the administrator(s).

We use Survey Monkey to poll our membership on the topics they find most interesting. As the seasons change, so may the topics. Tailor your topics to your members’ primary interests and needs.

As our group has matured and grown, our topics and conversations have moved into newer, deeper territories. For new groups, a safer approach might be to start with lighter conversations:

  • Have you ever driven a stick shift?
  • Have you been on a cruise?
  • What is on your gratitude list today?

These fun, light conversations develop a sense of trust and companionship.

Our goal is, and will always be, to honor God with our words and actions. Loving and encouraging each other through a Facebook group page is one way do this. If you would like to view our group page, please contact either Kathy Patterson Conrad at kathyc@cookevillefumc.org or Harry T. Smith at harry.t.smith@gmail.com

Kathy Patterson Conrad works part time at God’s Grace Food Pantry, enjoys photography, graphic design, and travel. As an itinerant clergy spouse, she is currently sharing her creative gifts with the senior ministry at Cookeville FUMC.

Harry T. Smith enjoys writing, building dulcimers, wood turning, and serving on the Homeowner Selection for Habitat for Humanity—all while continuing to serve God’s Kingdom through his involvement in many older adult ministries at Cookeville FUMC.