If you’re a church pastor, chances are you use a computer on a daily basis. There’s also a 39% chance you access the Internet with that computer. (After all, how else would you be reading this?)
But you’re not the only one that needs a digital presence; your church needs a solid digital presence in this modern world too. Your church needs to do more than reach people by announcing church events, listing prayer requests and providing an online worship experience.
These days you must also consider appealing to the younger generation within your congregation. But you need to balance any shifts in culture against the older generation who may be comfortable with the way things are.
And then there’s the youth ministry.
Juggling all this sounds simple, right?
Well, maybe not.
It’s not as easy as opening a bunch of social media accounts. Fruit from this effort takes both prayer and meticulous planning; kinda like your last road trip!
The strategies you use in your digital outreach program are as important as plugging in proper coordinates before you begin any road trip. It may feel daunting at first (and maybe a little technical too) but I assure you; it’s much easier than it looks. Mostly.
Am I prophesin’ or prophe-lyin’? You be the judge. A few tips to get you on your way:
Decide What You Want Out of Your Digital Evangelism
Everything has a purpose (in theory). A church that decides to dive into the Internet and establish a digital presence is trying to solve a problem. Are you trying to broaden communication with your existing congregation? Are you trying to extend your church’s reach to the wider community, e.g. millennials?
A well-defined purpose will help anchor you when you run into hurdles later on, reminding you about why you started. It also helps to actually write those goals down. Your digital strategy bears as much importance as other kinds of business at your church and writing your purpose down helps to cement the commitment you are making.
Remember, not every church requires a digital presence. If your church is a small church in a small community, it might not be a priority to have strong digital presence just yet. Maybe using a Facebook Page would be enough?
On the other hand, a larger church (or one that is rapidly growing) will benefit immensely from having an online presence. For the moment, let’s assume this means you..
Pick Your Web Channels Carefully
There’s a lot more to your church’s Internet marketing than just setting up a Facebook channel and letting the office manager give it a go. You need to have a clear idea what kind of audience you’re dealing with and what kind of engagement they would prefer from their church.
For most of us, social media has become a major part of our lives (a blessing and a curse!) So, at first blush, it might seem like a good idea to have an account for your church on all the major social media platforms. (Yes, even Instagram.)
However, this can be counter-productive in the long run. For starters, you might not have the bandwidth or manpower to manage all of those accounts effectively.
Second, your congregation might not even want to engage with their church on social media. They might simply prefer regular emails through the church email service, or even a blog they can read from time to time.
Survey Your Flock
There’s no magic bullet here; you’ll have to conduct a survey of your congregation to figure out what usage demographic makes up the majority. Are they a Facebook crowd or a Pinterest crowd? Are they willing to share their email addresses with their church? What age demographic are you targeting? If you’re targeting millennials in the wider community, you’ll need to understand what kind of digital outreach they engage with most.
Your Spiritual Cornerstone is Jesus. Your Digital Cornerstone is Your Website.
When laying your digital evangelism foundation, the best place to start is a simple website. Unlike using a Facebook Page or some other social media channel, this is actually Internet real estate you control. The best church websites are not an intrusion but an extension of what’s already on the ground.
From your church website, you can post sermon transcripts, a church calendar and run a regular blog where you post spiritually-edifying Christian material. For the camera-brave, you may also test the YouTube waters by posting videos of your sermons and impromptu lessons on hot topics in today’s culture.
If the response is good, you can advance your marketing blitz from there and create accounts on social media channels relevant to your audience (and—now that you’ve surveyed them—you know what those channels will be.)
Have Growth Goals
How do you know if your church’s digital outreach efforts are successful? Is the number of visitors to your website growing? Are you gaining followers and seeing more engagement on your social media accounts? You need to set clear goals to know where your strategy is working and where it needs improvement.
Don’t worry about getting great results at first. There’s no need to set lofty goals in the beginning. If you’re new to cyberspace, I recommend you just start small by looking at the engagement you get on social media and the visits you get to your website, and then set greater goals as you develop your voice and content.
Oh.. about that content..
Content Jesus is King
It doesn’t matter whether you are a church or a corporation, content is still king (lowercase “k”). This is as true for a church’s digital evangelism as it is for anyone else.
As you begin developing and posting your content, you’ll notice some content will do far better than other content. You’ll see some social media posts get more engagement; more likes, comments, and attention. Maybe you’ll notice you have certain blog articles accounting for a majority of your traffic.
This is the content you should study closely. You may want to regularly rinse and repeat this type of content to strike a chord with your audience.
Remember, different people are looking for different things in their church, especially when they’re considering the prospect of joining a new church.
Promoting Your Content
When it comes to SEO for churches, it helps to categorize your content. (SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is a practice of positioning content to show up in search results.)
Categorizing your content will give you a better idea about your audience’s interests: church matters, Scripture teaching, youth ministry, general announcements, spiritual advice, etc. Clear categories will give you insight into what is working and what isn’t.
Tip: Once you’ve developed a reliable cheat sheet of content topics, you’ll find it much easier to generate well-performing content on a regular basis.
Deliberately Delegate Digital Evangelism Duties
While it may be tempting to give away the keys to the Kingdom and have everyone on your staff submit articles, you may want to reconsider. What you’ll likely end up with is a mess: Lots of different writing styles, conflicting answers to audience questions, and a badly coordinated digital marketing campaign.
Recommendation: Have a single point person (or a small team of people) managing your digital outreach. Meet with them and tell them and document your expectations (remember those goals you settled at the beginning of this article?)
Since you have your digital outreach strategy documented already (ehem), provide it to your team for their feedback.
With planning and prayer, your entire online presence will be consistent and your work in advancing the Gospel beyond the digital divide will bear Kingdom fruit.
Go forth and conquer.
In support of your efforts,