The Future of the Church is Digital: Part 2
The Future of the Church is Digital: Part 2
10 Actionable Strategies and Tools to Take Advantage of Now
In Part 1 of this post, which can be found here, I set the stage and diagnosed the problem of why rejecting the use of technology and digital communication strategies will hurt a church's effectiveness. I have heard great feedback from that post, but just in case there was any disagreement, I'd like to clarify something.
I believe wholeheartedly that the future of the Church is dependent on the faithful preaching of the Word of God that brings dead hearts to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. The most harmful thing for the Church is not the rejection of technology, but the preaching of Christless therapeutic sermons. With that said, God can work through His people or around His people.
My challenge for churches and parachurch organizations is to embrace the tools that our current generation has to be as effective as possible.
Here are 10 actionable strategies and tools that you can take advantage of now.
If they seem random, it's because they are. I wanted all churches and ministries of all sizes to be able to find one or two nuggets of value that changes how they think.
1. Go Digital With Your Bulletin
If you have a smartphone, you probably have the YouVersion Bible app installed. It is an incredible ministry and is available in 900 languages worldwide. The team at Life.Church developed the app. They also develop many other free resources for churches. One of the new features released in 2016 was the Events feature. A church can create a digital bulletin of sorts with sermon outline, embedded scripture, web links, text content, images, announcements and more. Anybody in your area who has the YouVersion app installed can find your event and visit your church. A great feature of the app is that when your content is digital instead of printed, links can be added for event signup, donations, and buttons to share content on social media. We are excited about this feature and look forward to seeing how churches will use it to make their services more interactive.
2. Create A Brand For Everything
The purpose of branding every event, program, and ministry is not to show off your team's creative skills. The purpose of branding is to increase engagement and awareness. Imagine if your favorite shampoo or favorite barbecue sauce had a different logo and packaging design every week. Think about what a nightmare it would be to go shopping and find the items on your list. Brand design creates a visual profile in our minds. Whether you are finding your shampoo on a shelf or recognizing your best friend in a large crowd, the unique visual profile in your brain helps you do that quickly. If every announcement and event is written in the same font, no wonder so many people claim they didn’t see the announcement. Alternatively, if a church member knows that they are a parent of a high school student or involved in the women's ministry, their brain will take notice of announcements associated with that brand.
Creating a brand can be a simple font choice and color palette consistently applied to a few key pieces of collateral. Below is a brand system that I helped a church with recently to encourage early registration.
3. Update Your Database
Almost every church these days has some type of database. They are used primarily to track membership contact information, tithing, and important dates like birthdays. I was impressed recently by a church that had a lengthy questionnaire as part of their new member process. The level of detail competed with many doctor's offices. The questionnaire asked detailed questions about your unique skills, if you'd be willing to host an event at your home, if you own a truck and many more out of the box questions. It took less than a few minutes to fill out the form and the online version is even faster. This process provides a rich database of information about church members. Next time your church has an opportunity to serve that requires a truck, you can email everybody in your church who owns a truck with one click. There are many options on the market for your database, but we continue to hear from clients who have a great experience with Church Community Builder.
4. Use Private Facebook Groups
Private Facebook groups are growing quickly but are still an overlooked tool that can be incredibly powerful. The power comes from the fact that the group is private. Student ministry parents, individual ministries, worship team members, deacons, the list goes on of what groups you can create within your congregation. If you're not a fan of Facebook for whatever reason, try a platform like slack, which we mention below.
5. Try Facebook Live
Facebook Live is great by itself, but when paired with a private Facebook group it can really be effective. I've seen many churches recently that are using Facebook live within a private Facebook group to cut down on the need for so many meetings. Instead of an inconvenient parent’s meeting for your children’s ministry summer camp, distribute the same content via video using Facebook Live. Use the comment section for any questions. The questions that are asked and answered can be viewed by everybody instead of the same question being answered 30 times through one to one emails.
6. Get Your Team on Slack
Slack is one of the fastest growing communication platforms in the world. It currently has 4 million daily active users and 60,000 teams. Slack is use by companies and teams both large and small. If your staff team is not on slack, then it should be. A helpful part of Slack is that you can create public and private channels in addition to the direct message chat feature. These channels are essentially chat rooms limited to the members of that channel. If you have ever planned an event and had a combination of written notes, emails, and text messages to sift through, then slack will be your new best friend. You can also share files and access over 600 apps and integrations that create even more efficiency. A recent competitor to slack is Workplace by Facebook, which is a social network entirely separate from Facebook, created for your organization. We have read good reviews, but have not used or tested Workplace by Facebook. We love Slack and use it daily.
7. Become A Storyteller
Storytelling in both video and written form is an effective way to communicate the vision of your church or ministry. Mission statements don’t convey your mission, an authentic story that shows that mission being lived out is what truly connects with people. These stories don’t always have to be shared within a 60-minute box on Sunday morning. They can be pushed out on your website, blog, email newsletter, and social media accounts throughout the week. Storytelling creates an inbound approach where people are emotionally drawn to want to interact with you. Outbound content is the noise that says, “join us,” or “volunteer interest meeting tomorrow night.” When you tell a story, you don’t have to invite people to visit, join, or sign up. Those things become a natural byproduct of a story told well.
Below is an example of an expertly told story through video:
8. Get A Sermon Transcript
We live in a culture where people's lives are becoming busier and busier. Lack of time doesn't necessarily mean lack of interest. Create a digital strategy that serves the busy lives of your congregation by offering an alternative to listening to an MP3 of a 45 minute sermon. You can do this by getting a written transcript of every sermon or teaching session in different studies. These can be put online with your video and MP3 for those who prefer to read than to listen. People may want to be reminded of the sermon content or may have been out of town. We see a great football game and share the 5-minute highlight video with a friend. Why can't we do the same with a sermon?
Here is an example of this strategy in use:
Use That Sermon Transcript For Quote Graphics...
A strategy similar to the one outlined above involves getting every sermon transcribed. When you have a transcript, it gives your team rich content from which to pull quotes. At conferences all over the world, business leaders give powerful 60-minute keynote speeches. In addition to the speech being shared online in its entirety, you'll see powerful one-liner quotes pulled out and placed on a graphic. These graphics are shared on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. The same can be done with the teaching content. This is a quick and cheap way to generate a lot of shareable content for social media.
9. Send Video Updates to Volunteers & Leaders
Both in the church culture and in the corporate world I hear this joke: "well we just had a two-hour meeting that could have been a two-minute email.” If you are a pastor or ministry leader, you’ve probably struggled with that exact thought. Is this something that requires a meeting or should it just be an email? Why not make it something in between those options. The popularity of video content is growing fast because it is such an intimate and authentic medium. Video is also becoming easier than ever to produce. For simple messages to a small group, it doesn’t have to be incredibly high quality. You can be in your car stuck in traffic or sitting in your office and record a quick video. Whether it is an update for small group leaders or a pastor thanking preschool volunteers, many of these personal video updates need to be kept private. You don't want to put them on YouTube for the world to see. The options to do this via email is to upload to Vimeo, or Wystia, which allow content to be password-protected. Even better, if you have a private Facebook group with the group you’re trying to reach, upload the video there. Your email may not get read, but the video will be watched.
10. Write a Blog Series
Maintaining a consistent blog can be effective when those posts get shared online. Unfortunately, many churches and organizations use their blog as a community bulletin board to post announcements. Your blog should be a place for articles and stories. Pastors who do book-by-book expository preaching talk about a benefit being that they don't have to come up with a new sermon topic each week. One of the things that can discourage consistent blogging is coming up with new topics. That's why doing a recurring series is such a stress-free strategy. A six-part marriage series is a great example. Write the content all at once, then break it into six posts and schedule them to release every Thursday for 6 weeks. An ongoing "Ask Anything" is always a popular approach. Put a link to an online contact form at the bottom of each "ask anything" post for readers to easily submit questions.
There is a great article from Desiring God about 6 Reasons Pastors Should Blog
Remember that these are simply tactics. They are actionable and helpful, but must be attached to a larger, sustainable strategy. If you want to explore what that might look like for your organization, I respond to every email I receive and love to talk with ministry leaders about how they can increase their effectiveness. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org