How to Run Your Church Smoothly and Grow It With Google’s Apps for Churches
In today’s Google-dominated internet world, it should come as welcome news that churches with any congregation size and with all ranges of budgets can use Google solutions for both administrative and marketing operations.
With its robust and seamlessly integrated G Suite (including apps like Gmail, Drive, Chat, etc.), Google can help you run your church’s administrative backend. With its advanced and widely accessible marketing applications (such as Google Analytics, Search Console, and YouTube among others), Google can help you grow your church by making your website discover-able and conversion-friendly.
In the following post, we’ll explore all that you can accomplish for your church with all of Google’s relevant offerings. But before we get started, let’s look at three ways using the G Suite and Google’s marketing apps for your church is better than going with the alternatives:
- If you use Google’s G Suite for your church, you’ll have a seamless virtual administrative backend. Every G Suite app can “speak” with every other G Suite app right-out-of-the-box. So you won’t have to work on integrations (which can get both messy and costly and may need further maintenance).
- If you use Google’s apps and the G Suite for your church, your administration can live in the cloud. Because Google’s apps are entirely browser-based, your “church office” and your marketing tools are accessible and usable from any device and at any time. You’ll also find flawless, light-weight, native apps that span operating systems for almost all the crucial programs (Gmail, Google Calendar, Hangouts, Drive, etc.) you need for running your church.
- If you use the G Suite for your church, then you can quickly switch between your administrative and marketing work. One second you could be working from your Gmail account and the next you could be responding to a review of your church on your ‘Google My Business’ page. Not only that, but collaborating on your Google Analytics account and other Google properties becomes hassle-free when everyone’s using a G Suite-powered account.
If you compare G Suite with alternatives like, for instance, Microsoft 360, pricing-wise, you’ll find it very competitive. In fact, with G Suite, you get a better bang for your buck overall (things like free calls and better storage really shine here.)
A few quality and more affordable alternatives like Zoho suite exist, but if you do an app-by-app rundown, keeping in mind the features your church needs, you’ll see that Google’s offerings are miles ahead of the rest.
So that brings us to the question…
How Much Does a G Suite-powered Church Cost?
G Suite’s plans start at USD $6 per user per month for the Basic edition with the higher tiers (Business and Enterprise) charging USD $12 and USD $25 per user per month respectively. For most churches, the Basic edition suffices but you might consider upgrading if you need more storage bandwidth or advanced features like smart search and cloud identity.
If your church qualifies for Google’s ‘Google for Nonprofits‘ program, Google will give you its Basic plan (that sells at $6 USD / user / month) for FREE for all your staff, plus discounted rates for its Business (at $4 / user / month as opposed to the regular pricing of $12) and Enterprise (at $8 / user / month as opposed to the regular pricing of $25) plans.
Google Ad Grants for Churches
A Google Ad Grant is one of the most generous offerings that a church gets as part of Google’s ‘Google for Nonprofits’ partnership program.
Using the Grant, you can receive up to $10,000 per month of free ads as an in-kind donation from Google. You can use the Grant to run ad campaigns that get your church more exposure and promote its mission of Kingdom growth. You can also run ad campaigns to attract donors and volunteers, or simply to drive new visitors traffic to your church.
When used effectively, your Google Ads Grant puts your church at the top of the front page of Google search results before highly targeted people — those who show strong intent to either visit it or associate with it in any capacity. This exposure can translate to tons of in-person visits, hundreds of volunteers, or tens of thousands of dollars in donations for a worthy cause.
But to qualify for a Google Ads Grant program, you’ll need to meet some conditions. Google is pretty strict about nonprofits meeting the applicable criteria, and they frequently check that eligibility requirements are still being met once a church receives the grant. Here’s a simple tool that lets you see if your church is eligible for one.
At Missional Marketing, we manage the Google Ads Grant accounts for hundreds of churches. We often use it along with a proper or “paid” Google Ads account. Not only does this help us use the “funded” account to learn what’s working the best for a certain church, but it also gives us freedom to run more optimized ad campaigns that push beyond the restrictions of the grant.
You can think of ‘Google My Business’ as Google’s directory of businesses, where listing your church is critical.
If you build an optimized ‘Google My Business’ listing for your church, you’ll immediately experience improved search visibility because local search results (for queries like “church near me”) are often directly fetched from Google My Business profiles.
But it’s more than just a discovery tool; it actually doubles up as a strong branding and communications channel as well. Just look at the following screenshot showing an optimized Google My Business profile for a church to get some perspective.
Google My Business can offer engaging pictures and warmly written reviews telling potential new guests about the ambiance they can expect when visiting in person. Clear directions, contact information, and working hours listed here help clarify the logistics.
Finally, GMB shows how the church is communicating with its community. Google My Business has a feature called ‘Posts’ that lets businesses post such key communications, showing an active and thriving church. If you’re interested in learning more about how to effectively manage Google My Business for your church, take a look at our Ultimate Google My Business Guide for Churches.
Google Search Console for Churches
It can alert you if your website is being penalized by Google for any reason, such as slow-loading pages or content that doesn’t render appropriately on mobile devices.
In addition to highlighting critical issues like these, it also gives you a snapshot of how your church is being discovered in Google searches. For instance, it can show you if your church website is showing up for a relevant local keyphrase like “Catholic church in San Fernando” (as well as your ranking position and click-through rate if it is). If your search traffic just can’t find you for the keywords you’d like them to, you can find many opportunities for improving your church’s search engine visibility through the Google Search Console.
This dashboard also shows you the most popular pages of your church website, in terms of where Google is delivering the most traffic. You could use these insights to optimize your most popular pages for better conversions.
Google Analytics for Churches
Google Analytics gives you a 360-degree view of what’s going on with your church website.
It can tell you how your visitors find your website — and church — whether by looking you up on Google, being sent from social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter, or getting referred to you through other websites.
It also provides insight into what users do on your website, which may or may not match your intent. For example, you can set up Google Analytics goals to measure how many people sign up for an upcoming event, check out your latest sermon, or reach your Plan a Visit page. If you’re looking for users to take certain actions, you can easily see results that indicate whether your strategies are working or need some tweaking.
Google Analytics also shows you your church website’s most popular pages as well as how user behavior typically “flows” through your website. You can use behavior flow to discover your church website’s leaks — perhaps some pages show massive drop-offs and send people away instead of engaging them. This would signal an opportunity to address your page content or design for improved performance.
Google Ads for Churches
Google Ads is the #1 marketing channel that helps a church realize its goals. Whether you qualify for a Google Ads Grant account or use paid Google Ads, this is one channel that promises immediate and measurable ROI for your church.
The Google Ads channel is so effective because it gives you the chance to outrank everything else on Google’s first page of search results. You can build Google Ads campaigns to break into select audience segments, such as parents who are searching with queries like “ministry for children,” to gain more church members, or simply to drive direct foot traffic to your church on regular days or for special events (like, say, the Easter prayer service).
Google Maps for Churches
With Google Maps, Google gives your church website the opportunity to appear in the top search results when people search for queries like “church near me.” Considering that about 76% of the people who look for such “nearby” queries actually visit a related business in a day, you can imagine how this channel can funnel hundreds of new visitors to your church.
Google Maps optimization is also the single most effective tactic when it comes to local SEO — which is central to the online marketing of any church website.
To make the most of Google Maps, you should try and break into the “local pack” — which means your church website should show up in the top three “featured” listings on the results page. This can be done with skillful SEO and continued site maintenance.
In addition to your Google Maps listing, you can also sign up for your Google Earth listing. Google Earth gives your church its official placemark. It helps online visitors locate your church and “see” it through Google’s lenses — kind of like “virtual visits” to your church. Google Earth uses 3D satellite data to give your users a real-like experience of visiting your church. (Here’s a virtual tour to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre powered by Google Earth to give you an idea.)
Google Alerts for Churches
Google Alerts is the best web monitoring tool for managing your church website’s online reputation. It can alert you each time your church is mentioned online. This gives you the opportunity to make the most of the positive coverage that your church or ministry gets and also lets you post clarifications and take action if you’re being targeted.
In addition to this central use case, Google Alerts also helps you in two more ways:
- You can get alerts each time someone posts queries like “the best church to visit in [your area].” This lets you promote your church in natural ways.
- You can use it as a competitor analysis tool by setting up alerts for the other churches in your region.
Google Trends for Churches
Google Trends shows you the popularity trends of search queries that relate to your church — or churches in general — and helps you optimize your church website and communications to address them. You can set your target region and see the high-volume queries that its residents are actively searching.
For example, if you were to check out Google Trends right now (amidst the global Coronavirus pandemic) for the topic “church,” you’ll see a lot of queries around the theme of “reopening of churches.” This data can help you strategize communications that tell your visitors when they’ll be able to visit once again.
Another use case for Google Trends for churches is for monitoring event-triggered search trends and using its insights to plan and create content. For example, if you look up for queries like “thanksgiving prayer” in Google trends, you’ll immediately get a bunch of popular ideas like “thanksgiving prayer for family and friends” and “thanksgiving prayer for kids” and “catholic prayer for thanksgiving” and more.
You can certainly learn this information using other keyword research tools… but with Google Trends, this process takes under a minute and is absolutely free.
Google Knowledge Panel for Churches
A Google Knowledge Panel format search result will typically be displayed by Google when someone searches for your church specifically by name. Knowledge Panel format results might also exist for your pastors or church leadership when people look them up on Google. The Knowledge Panel shows up on the right-hand side of a Google Search Engine Results Page SERP) like so:
In the case of churches, a Knowledge Panel will fetch details from your Google My Business listing. Naturally, that makes an optimized Google My Business listing an effective way to secure a rich and accurate knowledge panel for your church.
When it comes to the Knowledge Panels of people like your pastor (if they’re well known enough for Google to exhibit this behavior), the individual him/herself can claim their own Knowledge Panel result, allowing them to make suggestions to Google as to the contents.
Google Drive for Churches
Google Drive works as an excellent file management system for a church. You can use it to store and organize all your church content, such as artwork, administrative documents, wedding or funeral announcements, newsletters, sermon notes, and photos or video footage.
Managing your content via Google Drive can multiply your productivity as it consolidates all your content in one place and allows for easy file sharing. Imagine having instant access to everything your staff needs for their day-to-day work, accessible on any device.
Also, you get full control over who has access to your content as permissions can be defined at the file or folder level. So you can opt to share the marketing folder with your marketing team and the more confidential content, like your tax paperwork, with a separate select few.
With its multiple integrations with tools like DocuSign, you can use Google Drive to create legally binding documents as well, such as those needed with contractors. Finding files is also easy with Drive’s powerful search functionality.
Google Photos for Churches
Google Photos is Google’s solution for all your media management needs. With Google Photos, you can empower your entire staff to capture photo moments on their phones and share access to them via a Shared Album. Pictures taken over digital cameras can also be uploaded.
You’re able to use Google Photos in many ways. For example, if you receive a press request on your latest Easter celebration, you could easily pull up that album and share pictures. You could also maintain a “Staff” album with the headshots of all your staff members and folders with interior and exterior shots.
You can make your albums available to your marketing team so they can publish fresh, original visuals on your website and in your social media content. Your online reputation management team could also make use of this and update your listings from time to time. (Did you know that 60% of local searchers are drawn to search results with high-quality images? Plus, Google tells us that businesses with photos get 42% more requests for driving directions and a 35% higher click-through rate to their websites.)
Google Photos doesn’t just let you store your pictures and videos and enable easy sharing but also lets you edit them to really make them pop. Also, Google Photos comes with excellent search functionality so you can easily find your pictures when you need them.
Google Forms for Churches
For newer or smaller churches that don’t yet have a forms solution as part of their established infrastructure, Google Forms can act as an easy-to-use option to get the job done. You could use it to create clean and simple forms for special event registrations, signing up new members, donors, volunteers, or small groups!
Another great feature of Google Forms for churches is its RSVP template that you can use to plan everything from your Sunday prayers to regular services to special gatherings.
Google Forms offers light customization settings, so you can match your form with the look and feel of your church website. You can also embed Google forms directly into your website.
All the responses your forms collect — such as the applications if you set up a hiring form, or event details if you set up an event registration form — are available in a reader-friendly way and also in a spreadsheet.
Ideally, you’d just want to create a folder in your drive and call it ‘Forms’ and store all your forms inside it. You could either share the entire folder with your team or bring on collaborators as needed for each individual form — for instance, when collaborating with your HR lead on the application for a lead pastor or worship director.
Google Hangouts Chat for Churches
Google Hangouts Chat is Google’s answer to a church’s instant messaging needs. You can use it to create “rooms” to streamline your communications and conversations. For example, you could set up one room for your pastoral staff and another one for your worship planning team and one more for your legal committee. You can create separate rooms for your various serve teams. You can even create temporary rooms that you can dissolve (think: project-based committees you create around special events).
Of course, you can send direct messages with Hangouts Chat. You can also jump on a call (with video turned on or off) with a single click on nearly any device.
A great advantage of using Google Hangouts Chat for your church is that it’s part of the Google family, so its native integration with Drive is unparalleled. This makes pulling up that document or form as painless as possible when using the Google Drive + Google Hangouts Chat combo. For example, if you share an important notice’s draft in your church leadership team’s room, Google will instantly add everyone in the room to the doc with reading and commenting permissions.
Just like almost all the other Google apps for your church on this list, Google Hangouts Chat works seamlessly on phones, so your team can stay connected all the time.
Gmail for Churches
Gmail sits at the core of Google’s apps for churches. It’s Google’s email solution that lets your church’s team communicate and collaborate via emails from your church domain.
But don’t mistake it for just a basic email provider — it’s also the key that unlocks all of the G Suite solutions that you’re seeing on this list (Google Drive, Docs, Forms, Chat, Sites, etc.)
Gmail fits so well into the G Suite right-out-of-the-box that it makes you instantly more productive. For example, if you get an invite to a meeting, you can click confirm and your meeting will get logged into your Google calendar and you’ll display to others as “busy” during that time. If you get an email with an attachment such as a receipt for record keeping, you can add it to your “Receipts” folder inside your Drive with a click. Or, if you’re collaborating on a Doc file with a colleague, you’ll be able to respond to the comments right from inside your Gmail.
Gmail also comes with features like tags, templates, snoozing, and email scheduling. And you can easily extend its functionalities with further extensions. Also, Gmail works beautifully across all devices and browsers.
YouTube for Churches
Google’s YouTube is another powerful channel for marketing your church. It lets you create a video channel for your church that you can use to connect with thousands of your target users actively searching for videos around topics that are relevant to you — for instance, the Bible, salvation, marriage, parenting, etc.
YouTube doesn’t just help you get more “discoverable,” but it also helps you engage better with your community. For example, for your regulars, you could create a playlist called ‘Prayer for the Day’ or ‘Bible Verse of the Day’ and allow them to subscribe. Each time you post a video, your subscribers will get notified. You could also have playlists around special occasions (like Easter or Christmas).
From time to time, you could also use YouTube’s live feature to live stream your church’s events to reach the people who couldn’t attend in person. Routinely live streaming your church’s regular events (like, say, the Sunday service) can be another great practice to keep your congregation engaged. Your footage can be uploaded for replaying, so your community can watch it when it’s convenient.
You can also use YouTube Ads (YouTube’s paid advertising program) to run video ads for promoting your church before hyper-targeted local audiences.
Hangouts Meet for Churches
Google Hangouts Meet is a multi-purpose video conferencing or video meeting solution. Your church teams could do their weekly meet over it or your pastor could use it to engage with a small group for prayers and keep the experience as “church-like” or “in-person” as possible.
Essentially, it gives you the power to virtually connect “face-to-face” with your team when a virtual meeting seems more productive or feasible, or with your church members when physical attendance isn’t possible.
Don’t confuse this with a YouTube live stream… because here, the whole group is on — your clergy as well the members — so it’s interactive, whereas a YouTube live stream or any other broadcast service is more like a one-way transmission. This feature also makes it an excellent platform for running interactive, educational sessions — for example, a Bible study with a small group and your pastor.
Google Sites for Churches
Google Sites is a tool that allows people with very limited technical ability to create website content in a simple drag-and-drop interface. While Google sites isn’t an appropriate platform for your church website, it could be a good place for your church to host collaborative internal content for your team.
For example, consider creating an internal knowledge base that helps your team quickly find the information and processes they need to perform their day-to-day work. Alternatively, think of the support a new pastor might need during the on-boarding process. Depending on which website content management system and church management system your church uses, Google Sites might be an ideal platform on which such assets could reside.
Google Calendar for Churches
Google Calendar is an all-in-one calendaring and scheduling solution for a church. It lets you create multiple public and private calendars to streamline your church’s activity and workflow. It also lets your team members share their availability via their personal Google calendars for planning meetings more effectively.
You could use Google Calendar to set up a private “Pastor’s Calendar” that’s available only to your pastor and a select few administrative contacts. Or you could use it to create shared calendars that show the availability of your facilities and rooms (so you can avoid double booking and plan your resources better).
Another great use of Google Calendar for your church might be to create an internal events calendar that updates everyone on your team with all the events planned for the calendar year. This can help everyone — from your clergy and finance teams to the managerial and maintenance staff — stay on the same page and in the loop as soon as a new event is added or an existing one updated. You can also invite people to your specific events as needed and even add video meetings to them with a single click.
If your church doesn’t already have a superior solution in place via your website content management system or church management system, you might also leverage Google Calendar into a public events calendar and embed it into your website. Your church website’s visitors can then use this calendar to see what’s happening at your church.
Google Classrooms for Churches
Google Classrooms is Google’s learning management solution for churches. It lets you create interactive educational programs that can be purely online or blended (i.e. spanning both online and in-church sessions) that your students can complete at their pace.
Each class has a teacher or educator (that could be your pastor, for instance) who creates the program (including the study material, assignments, assessment tests, quizzes, announcements, etc.) and students are given codes to access it.
All this coursework gets saved to the classroom’s Google Drive folder. You could use Google Classrooms to create programs around Bible Study, Prayer, Marriage, Evangelism, or pretty much around any theme you wish. This is also a fantastic option for your “Next Steps” program or new member classes.
As you take your education opportunities outside of the church building with this distance learning solution, your church’s reach can broaden. All that your students will need to join your program is a free Gmail account. Their Gmail ID lets them access your program content, participate in the discussions and online sessions, and submit their assignments. Updating program content is also easy and intuitive.
Google Optimize for Churches
Google Optimize is Google’s conversion optimization suite that integrates with Google Analytics. It lets you test different versions of website content to see which one performs best.
With Google Optimize, you can experiment with your website content to gauge which variant more often produces the desired results. This might be as simple as changing what the main “call-to-action” button in your church website’s navigation bar looks like, or perhaps a far more complicated idea.
In addition to running tests (also known as “experiments”), Google Optimize also lets you offer personalized experiences on your church website. For instance, if it’s a Sunday, you could switch your homepage’s message to a “Join us for our Sunday prayer” to better engage your visitors. Even basic alternatives of Google Optimize that let you test and personalize your users’ experience charge hundreds of dollars each month.
Also, Google Optimize’s native integration with Google Analytics lets you accurately measure the impact of your experiments on your church website’s key performance indicators (such as goal conversions).
Wrapping It Up…
If you don’t choose Google’s products, you’ll likely end up working with dozens of vendors — for example, 1) Dropbox for storage, 2) Zoho Mail for your emails, 3) Slack for your chat, and 4) maybe Zoom for your video conferencing.
These are each strong solutions in a vacuum on their own, but they won’t synergize well when used together. In contrast, with Google’s apps for churches, all of your tools are built to work together in spectacularly seamless integration. Training your team is also much easier with a setup like this, and you eliminate the number of logins needed (and inevitably, passwords forgotten). Besides, there’s almost no learning curve for most of Google’s apps, thanks to their innate intuitiveness.
Perhaps most importantly, Google offers you all of this — often the best-in-class solutions for your needs — at an affordable price. Signing up for multiple vendors for all the similar products can get quite costly and complicate the management process as well.
We encourage you to check out how Google’s administrative and marketing solutions can help grow your church. Is your church already using Google Apps for church growth? Share your experience in the comments!