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Faith in advertising
Lanier Hills Church takes advantage of new media
The Rev. Randall Popham, pastor at Lanier Hills Church in Gainesville, shows off his Facebook profile. The church advertises on Facebook and has a group page on the social networking site.

Lanier Hills Church

Where: 3129 Duckett Mill Road, Gainesville

Services: 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday

More info: 770-297-4673

Lanier Hills on Facebook

The Times Life department on Facebook

Today, there are more than 120 million active users on the social networking site Facebook.

And some churches are taking advantage of the popularity of the site by creating Facebook pages for their church as well as advertising on the site.

The appeal for churches is the same as for any other Facebook user - connection. A Facebook page can keep church members connected with each other, updated on activities and provides a place to post photos and sermons.

At Lanier Hills Church, the Rev. Randall Popham was already using Facebook personally when he got the idea to advertise the church.

"It's a two-way connection," Popham said. "People can see what is going on in my life, and I can see what is going on in their life. And they can feel more connected."

Lanier Hills targets young adults with Facebook

Popham said he has had a personal profile on Facebook for a while. Then, he thought about using Facebook as an advertising tool.

"With Facebook (advertising) I can say I just want people in this location, and so the Gainesville area," he said. "You can tell it zip codes, all that kind of stuff. You can pick the age group and the people you want to connect with.

"You only pay for when people click on the ad ... it's like 29 cents."

When users click the ad, it takes them to the church's Web site.

Popham said the site was perfect for the church since Facebook's fastest growing demographic is those 25 and older, according to statistics posted on Facebook.

"We chose Facebook because the people we are trying to reach are usually Facebook users," Popham said. "The average age of our church is probably 35, which is my age. So I have noticed that in the past six months that a lot of our members have kind of caught on."

Facebook presence draws new visitors to church

Since the Lanier Hills Facebook ad has been targeting local residents, Popham has seen great results.

"It's been good. I've probably had it for three to four months," he said. "I've had nearly 1 million views of the ad on the page ... and we've had nearly 500 clicks. We know we are getting a response from it because nearly weekly we meet people who saw the ad on the page and came to our church."

Popham added that when someone visits the church they fill out a visitor information card on which they are asked to check a box identifying where they heard about the church, and some have written in Facebook.

Not only does the church advertise on Facebook, but it also advertises with local media outlets.

"I heard a guy say one time that advertising is kind of like a propeller for your church," Popham said. "A lot of people will get their church started or their business started by pouring a lot of money into advertising to get their propeller going, but it's almost like the bigger the church gets the more propeller you need to advertise to get it going.

"So, we try to increase every year our advertising and different ways that we do it."

Facebook keeps members connected

Cathy Shaw, who became a member at Lanier Hills in June, said she loves keeping up with church activities on Facebook.

"I really enjoy it and sometimes on Sundays you don't always have time to talk to everybody," she said. "So, sometimes it's nice just ... to tell them they did a good job (on Facebook) or ‘Gosh, I heard you were having a rough week and I'm thinking about you.'

"It's so much easier to stay in contact with your church family."

Shaw said Facebook is just another reason that made Lanier Hills attractive to her family.

"The fact that everyone is so connected at some level, whether it be Facebook or whatever ... it enhances the bonds that you have with that part of your church family."

Which is why Popham checks Facebook between 10 and 25 times a day.

"As a pastor I'm in the people business and the best thing I can do is to stay connected to my people," he said. "So with the daily statuses and what people are doing, it helps me connect. I may not see somebody during the week but I will see them on Sunday and I can say ‘Hey, I saw your pictures from Disney World.'"