How the Diocese of Central New York Used Facebook to invite 5,000 Central New Yorkers to Join Us for Christmas

Image above: Children dressed as angels for the Christmas Eve Children’s Pageant at St. James’ Church in Skaneateles. Photo by Michael Rowe. 

Has your church ever used Facebook ads to promote an upcoming event or share a special story? Facebook ads are an easy and cost-effective way to reach out to your community. Here’s how the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York used Facebook to invite 5,000 Central New Yorkers to discover God’s love with us in the recent Christmas season.

Step One: We identified a strategic goal.

Churches often find that Christmas and Easter (along with St. Francis Day and Ash Wednesday) are holidays that attract visitors who aren’t necessarily regular churchgoers. Our goal? We wanted to invite those curious folks to check out their local Episcopal Church here in Central New York.

Step Two: We focused on just a few tactics to help us achieve that goal.

Tactic 1: We wanted people to be able to find a local Christmas service easily. To achieve that, we created a simple Christmas “landing page” on our website. The main feature of that page was a searchable map of Christmas services in the Episcopal churches of Central New York. Thirty-three of our churches participated by sending us information about their Christmas services. We hope that all 87 of our churches and chapels will participate next year!

Tactic 2: We used this fantastic invitation video from The Acts 8 Movement of The Episcopal Church as the core of a Facebook Ads marketing campaign. The ad had a “Call to Action” aligned with with our stated goal. Viewers were invited to  click a link to “Find a Christmas service near you.” The ad (pictured at right) ran from December 16th through Christmas Eve. Facebook even allowed us to choose who would see it. We kept it simple and broad by focusing on people who lived in or were visiting Central New York.

Step Three: We observed the results!

  • 5,510 individuals saw the ad on Facebook (i.e., they were invited!);
  • 2,900 individuals watched the video;
  • 158 individuals responded to the ad’s call-to-action by clicking the link to our Christmas landing page, where they could use our simple map to find a convenient Christmas service.
  • The Christmas landing page was our second most popular page in December 2016, and 68 percent of visitors to that page were visiting our website for the very first time. This means we achieved our stated goal of reaching out to the people we don’t see regularly in church—people who might be learning about the Episcopal Church in Central New York for the first time!

The cost of the whole campaign? Apart from a $40 one-time fee to purchase the map feature for our website (and we’ll use it again and again) the whole campaign cost just $84.99, or 54 cents per click to our website.

Step Four: What can we do differently next time?

Since this was our first diocesan-wide online invitation campaign, we know we have a lot to learn. Here’s some of the conclusions we drew, and some things we’re going to try for our next campaign:

  • Video subtitles are really important. We all know that subtitles make our video messages accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing. But get this: Facebook told us that 94% of our viewers watched our ad with the sound off. So we’re super-grateful to the folks at Acts 8 for providing subtitles in their video!
  • Facebook ads do work. We saw a significant increase in website traffic from Facebook in December, and the majority of those visits were from new users.
  • Next time, diversify. The average view time for our 60-second ad was just 6 seconds. Next time we do a similar campaign (at Ash Wednesday or Easter), we’ll consider doing several different kinds of ads—perhaps a shorter video or a catchy graphic in addition to the longer video—to see which type of ads perform best with the folks we’re trying to reach.

What do you think?

Do you have questions or ideas to share with us? Has your church ever used Facebook ads? Please let us know in the comments!

Showing 13 comments
  • Lara Dreyer

    Congatulations! Thank you for the great write up – especially for the thoughts about what you might do next time.

    • Meredith Sanderson

      Thank you, Lara! So glad you found it useful.

  • Robin Garr

    Great effort! I have to ask, though, based on my own experience using Facebook to promote church events: were you able to determine how many of those clicks and views actually converted to visitors in the pews on Christmas? We’ve found that this last mile is by far the hardest nit to crack.

    • Meredith Sanderson

      Thanks Robin. We really don’t have a way to trace conversions all the way to the pew; link clicks are the closest we can come. We just don’t have the volume to be able to correlate a trend in attendance to any one campaign. But I’d love to hear if anyone has a more ideas!

  • Nancy Davidge

    Meredith: Thank you for sharing your experience – including your analytics and your analysis of what you would do differently in the future. So thorough and easy to follow. And thanks for asking the question. I’m eager to see responses!

    • Meredith Sanderson

      Nancy, great to hear from you. We’re eager to hear others’ experiences, too!

  • Laurie Sanderson

    This was great Meredith, thank you!

  • Dan & Laurie Neumann

    This is awesome. This just reinforces the thought that churches do need to “market.” I think many are resistant to that idea, but you did this in such a strategic way, this is a really good example of getting the word out about your service. Thanks for sharing.

  • Rev. Lou Divis

    Please tell me how to add a landing page to our website. I’m looking into fb ads.

    • Meredith Sanderson

      Hi Rev. Lou–thanks for your question! In this article, I used the term “landing page” to refer to any page on our website created for a specific purpose. In this case, we created a page that exists specifically for the purpose of helping folks find a Christmas Church service. All our FB ad traffic was driven to this page. I’ve seen the term “landing page” used even more specifically (see this article from Hubspot). Hope that helps!

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