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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

What Every Church Leader Should Know About Facebook Ads

This is the latest in an ongoing series on digital marketing for church leaders - be sure to check out the companion post on advertising with Google!

In the first post, we looked at why and how church leaders should advertise on Google. But Google Ads are only one-side of the digital advertising coin. Google provides the ability to advertise to those looking for a church right here, right now.

But Facebook provides the tools to advertise to those looking for a church before they know they even know they are looking for a church! Google helps advertisers to meet the demand of customers seeking a specific product or service. That's helpful when the service you offer, whether it is facemasks or virtual school support, is growing in search interest. It's only somewhat useful to churches, where search interest has stagnated and even declined in the last five years. As a church leader, you should be advertising on Facebook because you're called to bring the Gospel story to your community even if they're not specifically looking for it.

The importance of audience-based advertising

Facebook Ads succeed because they put your message in front of users whose online interests align to the goals of an organization. They work for churches because they introduce your ministry to like-minded community members who are unfamiliar with the work of your Christian community. Within your context, there are more Facebook users interested in faith, spirituality, and social justice than there are Google searches for those specifically looking for a new church home.

Over one-third of American Millennials identify within the "spiritual but not religious" category. This audience of approximately twenty-four million Americans may not have a church home, but they believe in God, pray, and read scripture at a rate that is nearly identical to church-affiliated Christians.

The spiritual but not religious group also uses Facebook extensively (despite the rumors you might have heard, Facebook remains by far world's most popular social network). 77% of Millennials use Facebook daily. This group shares countless affinities with the work of your ministry, their spiritual practices are similar, their hunger for justice is near identical, they even share many of the core theological convictions that define your ministry. They just lack an invitation to involvement, an opportunity to hear the story of what God is up to with your ministry. That's why it's so important to combine Facebook's powerful audience-based advertising with Google's search engine marketing.

Facebook Ads share in common many of the same advertising settings as their competitor, Google Ads. There's still an opportunity to target ads to a specific community, focusing on a tight radius around your church building. There's still an ability to pay only for clicks that drive new traffic to your website. And there's still the reality of these clicks costing mere cents on the dollar, a fraction of the cost of marketing in print, within publications, or on television or radio. I suggested in my post on Google Ads that a church could generate hundreds of new site visitors for less than the cost of a pastor's mileage reimbursement. With Facebook Ads, a church could generate hundreds of visits from community members who have never heard of the congregation, for less than the cost of coffee and donuts during pre-Covid coffee hours.

Set up for success

As with Google Ads, there are some settings you'll want to get right from the start of your advertising test. I'll list a few of them here, but you'll want to consult two other resources before you activate your campaigns. First, offers an approachable and free startup guide to any church leader who is trying Facebook Ads for the first time. Facebook also offers a free online course to any first-time advertiser.

There are two settings you'll want to get right from the start. The first is your ad "copy." You don't need to be Don Draper to write good ad copy for Facebook. Just write a compelling call to action. It can be as simple as "Experience grace and restoration - join for online worship Sunday at 9!" Be clear about how, where, and when post viewers can connect with your ministry. And don't forget a high-resolution image. Image-based ads are viewed more, clicked more, and noticed more!

The second setting you'll want to get right is your ad targeting. Facebook builds its advertising campaigns around location and other audience characteristics. As with Google Ads, you'll want to set a target radius around your congregation. But don't stop there. Narrow your ads so that they display for those who have a demonstrated interest in faith and spirituality. This is done through Facebook's Detailed Targeting settings. In the following screenshot, you'll see example settings for a Madison, WI, Millennial-focused ad campaign targeting ads to those who are interested in faith, prayer, social justice, or Lutheranism.

Once you set your targeting criteria, Facebook will ask you whether you want to run the ad continuously or for a set timeframe. For most churches, I suggest running a 30-day test with a $5/day investment.

Ethics and privacy concerns

It's no secret that Facebook has been scrutinized over its handling of user data. Their business model bundles and anonymizes user data, then sells that data to advertisers in the form of ad targeting. This should raise ethical questions for the church leader. But the keywords here are bundling and anonymity. You'll never be able to target ads to specific users. You'll never even have access to data on specific users, or even on specific groups of Facebook users (want to see how Facebook characterizes your interests? Check out this page). And as a Facebook advertiser, you are not given any special access to protected information about consumers.

Still, some will question whether it is ethical to advertise on a platform that makes its money targeting ads based on user internet behavior. I would advise church leaders working through this quandary to perform a simple ethical calculation. Weigh the opportunities from bringing the Gospel message to unchurched and unheard audiences against any concerns you might have about Facebook's ad targeting. Does the good of engaging new segments of your community in God's graceful and restorative work in the world outweigh the misgivings you may have about how Facebook makes its money?

For more on the ethics of Facebook advertising, check out this blog post from Rebel Interactive.

Facebook Ads for churches during COVID

Some church leaders may hesitate to advertise on Facebook, due to the uncertainty of being a church navigating a global pandemic. While it may be true that we don't know when our buildings will reopen and when in-person gatherings will resume, we do know that 2020 has been hard on us all. We also know that social media sites have become the most contentious platforms on the web. Those using social media are wandering through a landscape defined by cancel culture, mudslinging, hyperpartisanship, and trolling. They need an oasis of grace. They need an escape to Sabbath rest and togetherness. Your ministry offers this oasis, it provides this escape, even if your worship service is held on YouTube or Zoom or Facebook Live. Your church may have left the building, but it still provides exactly what our world needs: a restorative word for a divided team, a word of healing in an era of pandemic illness, a word of rest during a year that has shocked and exhausted us all.

The world needs to hear from you. Facebook will help you get the word out. Please don't hesitate.

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