Church websites have two primary types of visitors. They are either members of the church looking for updates because their pastor mentioned it, or they are people looking for a church. Unfortunately, these two groups don’t have the same needs and it excludes an overlooked group, people looking for God.
Solving both of these issues is pretty easy to do for any church. For members, the easiest thing to do is setup a separate website or a sub-domain to handle all the communication you need to that group. You can make it public or private, that’s simply up to you.
This leaves you with two groups to content with, those looking for a new church and those looking for God. I believe both of these can be handled at the same time by pointing people to Christ. In this age of technology, accomplishing this isn’t hard. You want to be able to educate people about God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice as well as show how he is impacting the lives of church members and the community they interact with on a regular basis. Here are some ideas to accomplish this goal.
Video and Audio sermons. With a large percentage of people having smartphones, there is no excuse for any church in the US, Europe and most Asia-Pacific countries not to record every sermon to video. 1,000s of pictures and videos could be taken of ministry work in the communities we serve. All of this content can be uploaded to places like YouTube and Flickr for free then served through your website. The cost to churches are simply the time to organize it all into a compelling story.
Testimonials. Everyone has a story. Some stories are amazing. Many stories are very similar to one another. But those stories are compelling. They are evidence of changed lives through The power of the Cross. Capture those stories on video and pictures. Share them online. Again,expensive cameras aren’t needed. God will shine through whether you are using a cheap video phone or an expensive studio.
Ministry Impact. Record in video, pictures and words your ministries impact on the world. Show the changed lives. Show the effect on the community. Show God through the eyes of the people who serve and are being served.
Sharing. With all this awesome content, make sure you enable it all to be shared by membership. Their reach is greater than the church alone. Help them reach the world by socially enabling all of the content you have.
Get them involved in the adventure. All of this material should be compelling to anyone, especially those God is calling. Invite them not necessarily to join the church, but to join the adventure, to be part of the journey you are on to impact the world.
Christ told us to love one another and to teach people about Himself. Remember that non-Christians are generally turned off by the church. Church to them is for weak-minded whackos. There is very little about the idea of a church that is attractive to that audience. So stop trying to sell the church and simply show them who Jesus is through your words and actions. He is far more attractive than any church, which is what we should be striving for anyway.
Why is it that some churches, regardless of size, are either great at reaching teens and early adults or they just never seem able to connect? I believe it comes down to having strong leaders that they can identify with, trust and follow.
The needs of this age group have never really changed over the years, but the way they fulfill those needs certainly has changed dramatically. Their decision to follow someone are driven primarily by two questions.
- How will you help me belong?
- How will you help me be significant?
This group of young adults are extremely wired and mobile. They spend more time in online social circles than any other place. They are heavily influenced by people in these circles that have the most power and voice. They use these tools as to communicate, but they also use them as weapons, as powerful ways to affect change, to get around the “system”, to motivate others and as a main source of entertainment.
A common marketing practice in social media is to go where the people are. To hang out with them and listen to what they have to say. Church youth leaders also must embrace the mobile tools out there and engage people where they are. If a leader can’t do this, they are typically viewed as irrelevant to this age group.
A recent report from MobileYouth that studies the behaviors of teens and young adults states that not every age group or gender is connected in the same way, but there is a group that is that seems to affect the behavior of the less connected. These change agents are able to use their social currency to move and shape the local cultures around them, whether they realize it or not. By focusing on this small set of youth, you are able to affect a much wider audience of followers. But simply being a loudspeaker to this group is not effective.
The tactics for interacting with this group are relatively simple, but take time.
- Engage with them. This is simple enough. No one wants to be ignored. They have a voice, sometimes loud, sometimes silent, but both can be powerful. Get to know them and interact regularly. This can be a challenge, but don’t give up.
- Understand the lingo. Notice I didn’t say speak their language, but understand it. If you aren’t I the same age group you’ll just appear fake, but you still need to understand what they are telling you.
- Earn their attention. If you aren’t relevant on a regular basis, if you don’t engage and interact, if you don’t go to bat for them, you won’t be attractive.
- Be an authority. Leaders are rare these days. Great leaders even more so. Don’t be bossy, but be a leader that can serve and inspire this generation.
- Empower and partner with them. This age group is at various stages of testing their wings. Give them responsibility to succeed and fail. Stand along side them as Guiding partners and let them have the credit and failure. Teach them to move past the failure and celebrate when the succeed.
- Create a sense of belonging. Everyone wants to belong, but not necessarily to the same group. Create environments and projects that allow for multiple types of groups that can work together and independently while recognizing each others strengths. Help the socially challenged find ways to be embraced and participate. Empower the leaders to look beyond the stereotypes and embrace true servant leadership.
How engaged is your organization with teens and young adults? Is your church engaging daily or is it just sending out announcements for the weekly Bible study? If you’re just doing the basics, maybe its time to rethink how you communicate.
The vast majority of people across the US have mobile phones and computers for accessing the Internet. Even the most rural and out-of-the-way places these days has some kind of access. So I’ve listed out some of the worst deadly “sins” that church communication staff can commit these days.
- Ignoring social media. The younger generations don’t use email very much. You have to use these tools to reach the younger generations. This includes Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, Pintrest, Foursquare, and any other popping up out there.
- Ignoring email communication. All generations except for the latest, but especially the 30-60 age range, are email junkies. If its not in an email, it might as well not exist.
- A website for church members only. Please, please stop creating church websites that just give the service times, when the next Women’s brunch is to be held and what ministries you are involved in. Communicate who Christ is. Point people to Him, not just yourself and your church.
- Targeting only the desktop. Tablets and phones are outselling desktops and laptops. That trend will continue until the next whiz-bang device comes out. Your site better work equally as well on mobile devices as it does on the desktop browser.
- Using sermons only once. Many people are learning to listen to more than just their pastor on Sunday. People, especially younger generations, are also consuming audio and video podcasts from other churches. Get your church sermons out there in podcast form as soon as you can and register them on iTunes and other services as well.
So what other things should churches be doing, or avoid doing, online and in communications?
Growing up in the deep south in the 70s and 80s there appeared to be no shortage of TV “evangelists” wanting money for something. It was one of the big reasons I refused to go to church at that age. Who would believe you had to give 100 bucks so that some guy on TV could build his empire? Unfortunately, lots of people did give money, millions in fact, to these people because they were masters at marketing. They promised something people wanted (forgiveness, healing, a better life) in exchange for money… and people bought it. What these people didn’t understand is that these things were paid for about 2000 years ago.
But that era had another, long term negative impact. It made the spreading of God’s Word a taboo, as if Christians had crawled from underneath a rock somewhere, hocking empty promises. I wish this wasn’t the case, but we have to fight past this stereotype to reach people, especially here in the US.
Christians are told to be a light on the hill in darkness. Even a small flame can shine a long way in the dark. This “flame” is best seen through our actions and behaviors that reflect who God is. In this age where even the poorest in America have smartphones, TV, the Internet, email, Facebook, YouTube and lolcats, the Church has missed a real opportunity to reach people who want to know more about God and connect with something true. Its odd that the latest Internet meme has people more enthralled than loving one another. People are tired of media bias, political positioning and weak leadership. In fact, over 50 millions people a month are trying to find God.
So what is the little church on the street corner to do if people are turned off by religious marketing? It turns out there is a lot, probably more than any church by itself could probably take on. God has made us creative and He wants us to tap into His creative spirit, so to speak. The basic definition of marketing is making people aware of an idea or organization. How it occurs doesn’t matter, that is up to us.
Whether you still go door to door, help at the local school or shelter, post Bible verses on Facebook, create a billboard, handout water, or wear a cool tshirt, you are marketing. As the body of Christians, we have a huge opportunity to reach millions of people, especially online in our social circles and in search engines, we merely need to start. It doesn’t have to be huge. Start with something small, start with anything, but be that light on the hill. The Internet is a dark place and we need to light some bonfires everywhere we can.
So now you why you should publish your content to YouTube as well as the basics of how to publish to YouTube. Woohoo! So now I have a word of advice for all you pastors and teachers out there.
Record everything, especially your sermons, even if you don’t publish them to YouTube or anywhere else for now. Technology exists right now that can convert the spoken word in video to text. This technology hasn’t been rolled out yet to the general public (that I know of), but it will be soon. This will make any video searchable.
Imagine having access to all of your sermons, or say Andy Stanley’s and being able to search on every sermon ever preached about Joshua 1:9, or anything else? Basically a Google search for videos? Can you imagine what kind of a research tool that would be for yourself or anyone who wanted to learn more about the gospel? So why not record everything you can now with the knowledge of being able to share it with everyone in the future?
The TV industry is about to go through a huge revolution within five years that will see it merge with our computers and become far more interactive. Imagine what a innovative company like Apple could do with the TV like they did for the phone? Well, its something in their plan. More and more content is being delivered online. You actually do not need cable programming or satellite anymore to get the shows and movies you want. Its almost all available online.
A huge transformation is coming in how we consume our content. As teachers, be prepared by recording what you teach now for those future generations. You don’t want to start and already be behind.