This Facebook tip could apply to any organization with members that publishes a directory, but my experience has been with church directories, so that’s the example I’m using for discussion.
The way these directory projects usually work is that a photography firm approaches the church with an offer of a free printed directory. Each family or individual member in the church gets a free photo sitting and an 8″ x 10″ portrait, along with a copy of the printed directory, and an opportunity to purchase additional poses and prints.
Of course, few families get just the free photo. When these firms take your pictures, they retain the copyright. You can’t even legally scan the photo and use it in your family Christmas letter. That’s why they tend to get significant sales; I remember with one of these in which our family was involved, our photo package was about $400.
I’m not begrudging Olan Mills its profit-making opportunity, but just as web 2.0 tools are disrupting other industries, Facebook could provide a better free directory for churches and other organizations. One that’s really free.
The answer is through a Facebook group formed by the church. Everyone who joins a Facebook group has his or her profile picture added to the list at the bottom (just like a church pictorial directory). You can use the messaging function to contact anyone who is a member. For those with whom you have closer relationships, you can add them as friends.
Here are some Facebook functions that might have application for an on-line church directory:
- Members can upload pictures and videos (try that in a printed directory!) and can tag their friends. This would be especially good for pictures from church picnics, potlucks, youth group outings, short-term mission trips and the like. Then, when Facebook friends of your members see these things show up in their News Feeds, it may open up an opportunity for discussion if they are interested in finding out more.
- Members could put prayer requests on the Wall, or the Message All Members function could be used to send requests out to everyone.
- Message All Members could also be used to send alerts about weather-related cancellations to everyone’s cell phone. That’s particularly helpful in climates like Minnesota’s.
- The pastor’s sermon text could be put on the discussion board, with an opportunity for members to ask questions or make comments.
- Video of the pastor’s sermons could be uploaded for shut-ins to watch, or for people who were out of town on Sunday.
As I thought about this concept, I wondered whether some churches might have something like this going already, and Mars Hill Church in Seattle instantly came to mind. Mark Driscoll is the pastor there, and I’ve heard mp3s of some of his sermons that made me think, “If any church in America has a Facebook group, it would be Mars Hill.”
I don’t think Mars Hill is using Facebook as a replacement for the church directory; for one thing, I know they have several thousand members, while the Facebook group has several hundred. And the Facebook limit for a group to be able to message all members is 1000, I believe. For the great majority of churches, and the ones likely in the market for photo directories, that limit isn’t a real problem.
Oh, and by the way, I just checked out Olan Mills, and they now have a free on-line directory service, too. Good for them, that they’re responding to changes in the market. Here’s a sample Olan Mills on-line directory (The password is secret. No, really it is secret.)
If your church has lots of members who want professionally posed photos and prints, a service like Olan Mills is for you. (They say they do more church directories than anyone else.) But if you want your directory to be part of an interactive on-line community, a Facebook option would be better.
The other reality is printed church directories tend to get out of date fairly quickly. People die. Others move away. New children are born to current members. And hopefully, if your church is growing, new people are joining.
Broadening our discussion again to include both churches and other nonprofit or not-for-profit organizations, I think it’s better to have your multimedia on-line directory in Facebook for free, with candid and action photos of people, and to distribute photocopied text-only member listings with updated contact information more frequently. This provides a better basic information directory for everyone, and a richer experience for those who are on-line. And the money your members would spend on posed photos could instead be used to support your shared cause.
To make this kind of directory work, though, you need to have a plan for what you want to accomplish with it, and key individuals who share the vision and will keep the momentum going. But with that vision, and with a core group committed to using it, I believe Facebook can be a powerful tool for connecting a community.