5 Tips To Build A Thriving Digital Church MinistryLast Updated: April 12th, 2023

The world is changing quickly, especially when it comes to the technological landscape we’re immersed in every day. While parents and grandparents remember the times of rotary phones and dial-up internet, their children and grandchildren spend hours in front of a screen each day. This has clear implications for churches: digital ministry has to be a priority. Lauren Bercarich, the Digital Director at Liquid Church in New Jersey, recently joined us on the Missional Marketing podcast to share her expertise in growing an online ministry with a missional focus.

Digital Ministry 101: The Future of Digital Discipleship

Though many churches grow by planting new campuses and doing building projects to expand their facilities, this is changing. When COVID forced businesses to operate remotely and churches to livestream their services, the need for offices and ministry facilities diminished significantly. As people adopted the concept of seeing church services online and over Zoom, churches saw their attendance drop dramatically. Even now that in-person events have resumed, only around two-thirds of those people have returned to attending church. This shift in how our world operates means churches have to change their approach to the discipleship process.

Rather than expanding facilities, the future of an engaging, relevant ministry is reaching people in a digital format. Of course, we still need each other, and an in-person community is more important than ever. But engaging new visitors and nurturing church members’ faith throughout the week is increasingly done online. Even though churches have historically been slow to embrace new technology, your church can be proactive and do the work to integrate new technology now. You’ll build a thriving digital ministry and connect with more people right where they are.

Digital Ministries Need a Robust Digital Platform

Gone are the days when having a website was enough. Now, churches thrive when they have a fully unified digital platform integrated across different apps and media types. If you’re starting with just a website, broaden your reach. Establish yourself on several social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok. 

From there, select an email distribution and Client Resource Management (CRM) system. A CRM is essentially a database to keep track of people. It securely houses contact information, and organizes the classes or programs they take or have shown an interest in. Having a CRM that’s connected to your email distribution platform allows you to send emails to select categories of people within your larger body, such as first-time visitors or single parents. 

To create a streamlined digital platform, think through each step of your user experience or UX. For example, if users need to create separate accounts with different logins for various apps or websites, it creates a disorganized, burdensome user experience. The solution to this problem is ensuring your church integrates its software and apps within your website. 

If your church has the resources to do it, this is achieved most effectively by creating your own app. For example, Liquid Church has invested in building a TV app so its members can watch sermon videos, children’s lessons, and supplemental Bible teachings or programs. Because this is integrated within their system, a child might watch the children’s lesson on the family iPad, and when she’s done, mom might get a text with a few discussion questions to ask. 

These integrations assist in the discipleship process in practical ways, which people can easily incorporate into their everyday lives. This enables churches to disciple their members daily—not just on Sundays. And the good news is once these systems are set up, many are automated, so your ministry staff doesn’t burn out trying to manage them. 

Disciple People Where They Are

These days, there are fewer third spaces where people hang out. Most people go to work and then they go home. And what do they spend the majority of their time doing? Going online. 

To engage people like Jesus did, we need to meet them right where they are. He didn’t wait for people to come to Him. He sought them out. He went to Samaria and the Decapolis because that’s where people were. Every church should ask, “How can we meet people where they are?”

Use Personalized Communications To Make People Feel Known

Have you ever received an email that was clearly not for you? Maybe you’re a single mom and got an email for Father’s Day. Or perhaps you’re single and got an email about a marriage seminar. These communications are not surprising from a generic company, but most people expect their church to know who they are. If they receive an email like this, it says you don’t know or care about them, which is exactly the opposite of the message you want to send. 

When setting up your CRM and email systems, segment your members to increase your ability to send them only emails that apply to them. While it can seem like a lot of work initially, it’s worth the effort. People want to be known and accepted, and this is a powerful way to connect with them and make them feel like part of your community. 

You Don’t Need Fancy Software to Speak to Your Audience

If you come from a small church that doesn’t have a communications team or a large budget, you can still write emails that speak to the felt needs of your members. For example, if you send out an email about Mother’s Day, include a few sentences thanking moms for the hard work they do to serve their families. You might also have a sentence or two addressing how dads could bless their spouses on this holiday. By speaking directly to different segments of your congregation, you minimize the risk of sending a generic email that doesn’t pertain to them. 

Don’t Spend Your Energy Selling Events When You Can Reach People in Their Context

Church communications teams used to focus most of their marketing on promoting specific on-location events to get new people in the doors. But this is no longer the most effective way to market your church. Studies show that people engage with a church several times digitally before they feel ready to attend a church service or event. 

So rather than wasting your energy primarily on event invites, shift your digital marketing to help people within their context. If they find a blog post, a podcast, or a digital download that helps them with their current struggle, they are more likely to join you in person and become part of your church family.

Help People Solve Problems

While maintaining local SEO is important for people searching for a church to attend on Sunday, a significant number of leads don’t start with a Google search for a church. Instead, they begin with a Google search about a question or problem they’re having. They search for terms like “how to grow my faith,” “how to deal with doubt,” or “where is God in my pain?” 

Does your church have online resources that address these problems? If not, then you’re asking people to show up courageously every Sunday and build relationships for months before their issue gets addressed. And honestly, we know most people don’t have the perseverance for that. They have a problem they want to fix now. So ask yourself how you can help them.

Every Problem to Solve Is an Opportunity to Embrace

Obviously, you can’t address every problem people search for on Google. You don’t have to solve all the world’s problems simultaneously. Instead, what you can give people is hope and point them to Jesus. Every crisis is an opportunity your church can embrace to connect with people who are hurting.

Move People From A DIY Journey To An Incarnational Community

Most ministry workers and pastors may not describe their faith as a DIY project, but the reality is most people searching on Google may be starting there. They’re looking for steps or tools to fix their problem. Your job as a digital ministry is to address their present felt need, then move them from a DIY journey to an incarnational community. 

When you meet them where they are on their journey and offer Christ-centered hope, they will want to go deeper. And once they experience your church’s incarnational community, their faith will grow and develop into so much more than a DIY project. 

Invest in Searchable Content and Search Engine Platforms

Because most people are starting with a problem, their first step to solving it usually includes a search engine. Google is the most prominent, but several other platforms function like a search engine, too—YouTube, Pinterest, even TikTok. As you offer hope to people who are struggling with real problems, invest your time and resources into putting content on these platforms. Just make sure your material is SEO-friendly and easy to read. 

Don’t Settle for the Ninety-Nine When You Could Pursue the One

Because attendance levels have been slowly climbing since COVID, it’s tempting for churches to consider this “good enough” and just invest in the people they already have in the room. Jesus didn’t stop there, though. He didn’t base his ministry only in synagogues and places where good religious Jews spent their time. He also went to places the gentiles lived, places where people with leprosy and demons lived, and even invited sinners to dinner. We should be doing the same. Don’t settle for the ninety-nine sheep when Jesus showed us how to pursue the one lost sheep and bring him home. But to do this effectively, churches need a digital ministry that engages with people and helps them solve their problems. 

Next Steps

If you’re excited to build your digital ministry, but feel overwhelmed by how much work this requires, you’re not alone. Many churches have small budgets, minimal staffing, and limited resources. Don’t try to do everything at once. Start small. Find one area you can reasonably improve over the next few months and get your team excited about it. God blesses those who are faithful with little. Create a strategic plan with scalable steps, and you’ll be on your way to building a thriving digital ministry. 

To learn more about building a digital ministry and hear Laura Bercarich’s story, listen to our latest Missional Marketing Podcast episode.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *