There are only so many hours in the week—and no one feels this more than the busy Pastor.
For over a decade, churches have been moving online, some haphazardly or begrudgingly. But when the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on lockdown, many found themselves forced to explore online methods of connecting with their congregations, seekers, and neighbors.
A meaningful online presence for a congregation is an extension of the church’s identity, passions, and mission. It is the result of strategy and investment, first offline, then online. (We explore this in-depth during the Digital Ministry Track of the Resilient Church Academy.)A meaningful online presence for a congregation is an extension of the church's identity, passions, and mission. Click To Tweet
But don’t fret!
There are some basic steps any congregation can take that will quickly upgrade their online presence. You can work on these steps now, while you are sorting through the hard questions.
Five Steps that Make a Big Difference
(1) Make sure your website answers the #1 question
Consider this: Who is your website for?
Chances are, there are two answers. First, it’s for potential new visitors looking for general information. Second, it’s for members looking for specific details.
Should your website address the needs of your current members? Sure—but that doesn’t make them the primary target of your website. Ideally, they have lots of sources of information, like friends, bulletins, and email newsletters.
The potential new visitor, on the other hand, doesn’t have those things. They are just looking for basic information, primarily about how to visit a weekend gathering.
Make sure your website answers the #1 question, “where and when do you meet?” This information should be “above the fold,” that is, in the top section of your homepage, where you can see it before you scroll down.
(2) Make sure you show up where people are looking
When people are looking for a faith community online, there are a few routes they might take. If they search on Google, this will likely take them to Google Maps or Yelp. These websites aggregate basic information like addresses and hours and reviews of everything from restaurants to nail salons, and yes, churches. Facebook has also gotten into this game, adding space for reviews and basic business information.
To make sure your church shows up where people are looking, make sure you have access to your church’s page on Google Maps, Yelp, and Facebook. Keep these accurate, with correct addresses, hours, and contact information, especially as the pandemic forces church’s to make changes.
While you’re at it, get some reviews. That might sound weird, but it’s how those websites work—and it’s where people are looking. We’ll give some explanation on how to do this in #4 below.
(3) Collect contact information
When someone visits your church, how do you follow up with them? Ideally, they make a new friend, and those people connect separately. Most churches should have a system for collecting contact information, such as a card they can fill out, found in the pew or the bulletin.
But today, many people will visit your website, livestreams, and social media accounts long before they’ll visit your church. Are you set up to collect this information online?
Make sure your website’s homepage has an obvious space to collect information. It could be as simple as a “subscribe to our newsletter” or “ask us a question” form on your homepage. There are various ways of collecting this information online. For livestreams, you can use an SMS-based service like Text in Church. For Facebook, you can post links to your contact forms or even use Facebook Messenger.
(4) Make it a team effort
Creating digital content can often feel like shouting into a void. Did anyone watch the live stream? Did anyone see the cool graphic I posted on social media? The nature of social media platforms and their algorithms makes this even more complicated.
One easy step you can take to help get your content into the world is asking people to help. Recruit a small team of members of your church to be your “buzz team.” The buzz team’s role is to share your church’s content in their social media streams, increasing the content’s overall reach. An ideal buzz team member doesn’t need to be a hip Gen Z college student trending on Tik Tok; they need to be already active online and to behave online in a way that speaks well of the church.
Once you’ve identified these potential team members, ask them to participate by sharing specific content regularly. If they agree, then you can consistently email them with a particular request to share specific content. Here’s a script you can use:
Thanks for being a part of the Church Buzz Team! Can you share this link below? I’ve provided some text you can use, or you can write your own.
“I found this quote shared in a recent lesson in my church so inspiring during a long week!” [URL of Social Media Post Here]
Cultivating your Buzz Team can have major benefits. Buzz Team members are also great people to ask to leave reviews on social media. On top of that, they can help you develop new ideas for future online content.
(5) Know your milestones
Are all of your efforts making any difference? It’s hard to know—but not impossible! Like any project, you need to where you are starting from and where you are going.
Want to grow your Facebook audience? First, make sure you know how many followers you currently have, and how many people you are currently reaching. Want to make sure more people are watching your livestream? First, determine how many people are currently watching it.
Here are a few key metrics to consider as you start:
- Unique Website Pageviews: How many people view a page on your website.
- Facebook and Instagram Followers: How many people are tracking with your social media.
- Social media shares: How many people share a social media post you make.
- Email List: How many people receive your email newsletter.
- Podcast downloads: How many times are your podcast episodes downloaded.
As you develop your unique strategy, you’ll determine what milestones matter for you. Review them regularly and revise your approach accordingly.
There’s Nothing Wrong with Low Hanging Fruit
If you don’t have a clear vision for your church’s online strategy, there’s no time like the present to develop it! But don’t wait until you have all your ducks in a row.If you don't have a clear vision for your church's online strategy, there's no time like the present to develop it! Click To Tweet
Get to work on your low-hanging fruit—and don’t forget to track your milestones so you can see your growth!
To go even deeper and learn how to foster community and mission by blending digital tools and face-to-face interactions into consistent and meaning-filled experiences, check out this track of the Resilient Church Academy!