Even when the end of the Covid-19 pandemic is in sight, there are still a few realities the Church must face for the days ahead.
One of those realities is that digital ministry is here to stay. And the churches that embrace online efforts as a part of their overall ministry strategy will be positioned to reach more people in their communities.
It’s not only because people have fallen out of the habit of in-person churchgoing. And it’s not because every Church should follow every trend. Every church doesn’t need to create an app or start multiple online campuses.
But every church needs a digital strategy for reaching more people online, even if they’ve returned to in-person services.
Why Digital Strategy Matters
#1 – We don’t know how many people are going to come back to church at first.
Whether their pastors like it or not, there are going to be people in every church who won’t feel comfortable coming back to church the moment that coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Yes, some of them have gotten used to the convenience of watching church online from home (or attending “Bedside Baptist” as some call it). Some people just won’t feel safe attending right now and will need alternate ways to stay connected to their church family.
Instead of waiting to see how many people will return to in-person worship services, church leaders need to know how to reach people online. As you plan for in-person gatherings, embrace and plan for digital ministry too.
#2 – Churches will reach a broader audience.
Even if you spent your entire Saturday going from place to place, you might never have the opportunity to shake thousands of people’s hands in your community.
But online, you can reach thousands of people and introduce them to your church. When your church has a digital strategy, you have a plan to reach an audience that might’ve never inquired about your church before. And you’ll be able to communicate with them directly and succinctly through social media, video, and more.
#3 – Digital ministry meets people where they are.
People in the U.S. spend an average of 2 hours and 3 minutes on social media each day—much longer than most people spend in church on any given week.
The global population watches 1 billion hours of YouTube videos per day.
One-third of online activity is spent watching videos, with over 500 million people watching videos on Facebook every day.
A larger amount of the online content that people consume can and should come from the Church. Digital strategy matters because it gets the Church’s important, life-changing message out to the masses through the screens they spend so much of their time staring into.
Where to Get Started With a Digital Strategy for Your Church
The concept of a digital strategy might seem too calculated for ministry. But it’s this type of planning that allows churches to not only minister online, but to do it effectively. Here’s how to get started.
#1 – Understand your audience.
What do you do when you’re trying to get to know someone? You ask them questions about themselves.
Knowing your community isn’t only about answering the question, “Who are we speaking to when we write a post online?” although that’s an important factor too. But knowing your community, those in your online audience, is also about being able to provide content that resonates with them.
For example, let’s say that you run a survey among your online audience and find out that your core audience is primarily moms. This doesn’t mean that you neglect those who aren’t in the majority, but you’ll want to remember your core audience and prioritize them in your content creation.
This might look like creating kids’ activities to give away or emphasizing your divorce care ministry if you found that many of them are divorced. When you understand your audience, you can tailor some of your online ministry offerings to serve them best.
Run a free Know Your Community Report to go beyond demographic and get a fuller picture of your community’s faith, finance, family, vocation, and health.
#2 – Create and share helpful content.
For far too long, the default digital strategy for many churches is to blast the internet with bulletins, events, and information that’s all about the church and what it’s doing.
There’s nothing wrong with using online platforms to let people know about upcoming events, but it shouldn’t be 100% of the posts. This neglects the only audience that we mentioned above and doesn’t consider what type of resources or encouragement they might need.
So, when we say that churches should create helpful content to share online, we mean content that’s practical and enters into people’s lives and struggles. The type of content that’s best for you to share will depend on your audience but don’t be afraid to experiment to see what gets the most traction online.
Try one of these ideas.
Guides, Bible Studies, and Devotionals
We all think of our churches as welcoming places filled with friendly people, but there are members of your community who will be nervous about coming through the church doors.
But they’re not too shy to download a free devotional that your church provides online. This might be the introduction they needed to get to know your church well enough to visit one day.
Download our Lent Guide and participate with us from Ash Wednesday (Feb 17) to Easter in our weekly prayer emphases, prayer at the church every Wednesday, and weekly acts of kindness for essential workers in our community.— Central Comm. Church (@central_365) February 13, 2021
Download your copy at https://t.co/pmj3KBvQuh pic.twitter.com/6AUK3kC06W
Manna Church is doing “Morning Manna” devotionals on YouTube. And Celebration Church is using Instagram TV to share weekly “Mike’s Minute” devotionals, short video devotionals with their pastor that are ideal for social media viewing.
Podcasts and Playlists
A couple of great examples include the Gospel Coaching Podcast from Redeemer Church and the Windows & Mirrors Podcast from Cornerstone Church. Both of these churches are using the approachable podcast medium to reach a broader digital audience and help them grow spiritually.
Oak Hills Church created a Spotify Playlist that they share on the Study Tools page of their website. Users on Spotify in particular use 17% of their time on the platform listening to personalized playlists.
What do the people in your congregation and community need? This should be the guiding question for every piece of content churches create.
Is it encouragement through text messages? Is it a guide for weary parents?
Is it Mental Health Resources, as Celebration Church shares through workshops and helpful videos?
“Be helpful” might seem like an overly simplified start to reaching people online. But it’s a key part of being a church that gets to know their community and serves them wherever they are, even if where they are is on Facebook for their fourth hour of the day.
#3 – Focus and align your church’s strategy.
We’ve trained hundreds of church leaders on crafting purpose and mission statements to help guide their church. But strategy joins both purpose and mission in getting church teams on the same page.
Your church’s digital strategy should align with your church’s mission, purpose, and goals and everything you post online should be in service to that.
Before you start posting, it’s beneficial to answer a few simple questions to kickstart your church’s online presence strategy.
So, what’s in a digital strategy?
- What tools should you use?
- What kind of content will you share?
- Which channels should you pursue?
- Who’s on your team?
- Who are you trying to reach online?
A digital strategy establishes perimeters for posting and ensures that every video, live event, and social media post is serving the mission of the church.