The New Reality
The world as we know it has changed. These changes were birthed from necessity as society sheltered at home during the peak of the global COVID-19 pandemic. And even as danger from the virus has decreased, behaviors formed during the pandemic have continued. People have shifted from going out to staying home. They’ve moved from in-person to online. Every facet of society has been impacted. The following image charts some of the changes we’ve experienced.
Some may dream of things returning to the way they were once the pandemic ends. However, most of these changes were already taking place. The pandemic simply sped up the process, giving people time to cement new behaviors into their lives. The truth is that online options for every area of life are here to stay.
Church in the New World
The great migration from in-person to online has also impacted the church in a major way. At one time, if a person was going to attend or engage with the church, they’d physically attend a local church. Today, almost every interaction is possible, online or in person. Churches that prioritize online engagement will be positioned for long-term growth. On the other hand, churches that focus on in-person interaction only, may soon find themselves outdated and out of touch with the new realities of society.
Here are a few changes we have seen in the church.
While some may lament this new religious reality, others see great potential. The online world opens up new, exciting opportunities for churches to reach anyone and everyone. Churches now have the ability to directly connect with individuals seeking spiritual direction and emotional help.
Growing Church Engagement Online
Simply having a church website and social media account isn’t enough. Pursuing this new potential will take time and effort. Growing churches must find new ways to engage people as they search the Internet. The following sections offer a complete list of ideas for online church engagement.
Generate New Traffic
It takes multiple meaningful “touches” before a person typically takes any action. Your church needs to place itself in front of people online. Through ads and purposeful posts, you want to connect with people in a meaningful way as they browse the Internet.
– Google Ad Grant
Google offers churches up to $10,000 per month in free church advertising in Google’s search network. The Google Ad Grants works best to cast a wide net to reach people searching Google for all sorts of church and felt-need related terms.
– Paid Google Search
While the Google Ad Grant limits the number of people who will see your Google Search ads, paid advertising in Google’s search network enables you to reach everyone in your area. It’s a great way to reach a targeted audience searching for specific church terms.
– Paid Google Display
Google’s Display Network shows picture and video ads while people browse through websites. They’re a great way to engage and invite people to your church and church events.
– Organic Optimization
Organize your online content in order to be seen and understood by search engines. The more relevant Google believes your content may be to a person searching, the more likely your content will appear as a top search result.
– Local SEO
Local SEO refers to how often your church appears in local geographical church searches for terms like, “church near me”. When a person is searching for a local church, your church should do everything possible to appear as one of the top three local church search results.
Facebook continues to be one of the largest online social media platforms in the world. It offers ample opportunities for online church engagement with church-related content. Facebook is also a great way to interact with your own congregation who use the platform.
Instagram reaches people of all ages. Churches should regularly post on Instagram to show their church is active and relevant. Advertising on Instagram can also reach a younger audience.
This platform is presently popular with younger people. As the church is challenged to reach every generation, TikTok is where the youngest generation lives and interacts. Posts in TikTok can easily reach a lot of people.
Snapchat is an ever-evolving platform where people share posts with their followers. Churches can use Snapchat to share event info, sermon snippets, or other information with followers using the platform.
Nextdoor is all about local connection. Churches can post local events on Nextdoor or even run ads on the platform. It’s a sure way to connect with and engage your local community.
Waze is a popular navigation system used by people all across the country. Advertising in Waze will help your church connect with people driving through your area and near your church. Waze ads can also be shown to people who may be interested in your upcoming church event.
Create Effective Landing Pages
A landing page is a page on your website built for one specific purpose. Landing pages work well with ads, offering useful information connected to your online ads. Offering helpful information on a landing page isn’t enough. Your landing pages should offer opportunities for church engagement online. Your church should try to capture a person’s contact information in order to follow up and connect with them.
Landing pages should offer purposeful next steps with call-to-actions like a form, sign up, or gated content.
At the bare minimum, landing pages should give people an opportunity to ask a question, acknowledge interest in the topic, or engage with your church in some way (like a prayer request).
– Sign Up
Instead of simply telling people about your church event, offer an opportunity to sign up. Capture their interest and follow up rather than hope they’ll remember your church later.
– Gated Content
Gated Content offers relevant content in exchange for a person’s contact information. Using gated content is a way for a person to identify their interest in a topic in exchange for information they’d find useful. Gated content can take many forms including downloadable PDFs, quizzes, visual experiences, helpful videos, presentations, training, and access to special websites.
– Contact Information
Sometimes a person may get to your landing page and want information right away. Consider adding a contact email and phone number to your landing page. This gives an interested person the option to take their next step immediately or at their convenience.
Offer Relevant and Helpful Content
Your website should offer opportunities for online church engagement. There was a time when most churches thought of their website as an online brochure, giving general church information. Today, your church website can offer multiple ways to engage deeply with the church online. Instead of thinking of your website as a form of one-way communication, think of it as a platform for two-way communication. Consider adding videos, photo collections, and actions that encourage exploration.
Videos help add a human element to your website. There’s a big difference between reading the words “Welcome to First Baptist” and watching a friendly face warmly welcome people to the church. Videos can be created for all sorts of purposes within your church website.
– Photo Collections
Slideshows and photo collections give people a glimpse into your church culture and give them a chance to learn even more about your church ministries. Slideshows could also be used to share information on a helpful topic like divorce recovery or parenting young kids. Photo collections could give a glimpse of your youth ministry or of the great work you’re doing to serve the community.
– Interactive Features
Try to add interactive website features where individuals on your site can click to uncover more information. Features like this offer people on your site the ability to “learn more” only if they desire to do so.
Position Your Church Content to Reach a Larger Audience
In many ways, churches are in the content-creating business. Every week, pastors spend hours preparing helpful content to share with their congregation. This content can be positioned to reach a much larger audience through YouTube SEO, Vimeo SEO, a Sermon Video Library, and a sermon blog.
– YouTube SEO
Youtube is the second greatest search engine behind Google itself. Everyday millions of people search for videos that range from “how to fix a car engine” to “cats dancing”. Because Youtube can’t “see” video, you need to add elements to each of your videos that will help YouTube better understand your content. Missional Marketing shares 6 steps to optimize your church YouTube videos.
– Vimeo SEO
Similar to Youtube, Vimeo is a heavily used video platform by people across the world. Taking the time to optimize each of your videos with tags, keywords and long keyword-rich descriptions will help them to be found more easily online.
– Sermon Video Library
Church sermons are often shared once and then forgotten. A sermon video library can help your sermons be findable through Google searches. Also, the sermon video library empowers a person to search by topic, popularity, and date added.
– Sermon to Blog
Sermon-related blog posts are an excellent way to offer engaging content online. One sermon could easily turn into one or two blog posts. They could be shared on your church website and posted through every social media platform. Blogs posted to social media give people the chance to like, comment, and share. Posts on the church website could drive new traffic to your website organically, helping move people to engage with your church.
Thoughtfully Build Your “Watch Online” Experience
During the pandemic, families across the world began watching church services online. This behavior has continued, even as the pandemic has weakened. Churches looking to grow long-term must invest in their online church experience. This experience should include prominent access, an engaging webpage, and quality video.
– Prominent Access
An effective online church service experience begins with easy access to your “watch” page. As an individual lands on your church website, they shouldn’t have to wonder how to watch online. It should instantly be very clear and visible on your church website.
– Engaging Webpage
Ideally, your church service stream will be embedded within your church website. People who are sent away to other sites to watch online may not return. Your “watch online” web page should feel like a full church experience. It should welcome people, share the live streamed service, and help people get connected and take next steps.
– High Quality Video Production
Churches hoping to grow their online audience should invest in their video production. This includes improved sound, lighting and video quality. Churches should also experiment with their online format. The online church experience is new for most churches and for most congregants, so who knows what format may work best for the online church.
– Interact with the Online Audience
During your services each week, remember to acknowledge your streaming audience. Addressing this audience helps you better connect with your digital attendees and may even persuade them to make an in-person visit or become an online member. You could even add examples in your sermon that speak to the family watching from a comfy couch or coffee shop.
Offer Opportunities for Next Steps Online
As individuals engage with your church online, you should consider offering ample opportunities for next steps. These next steps should filter into your church’s overall discipleship strategy. For example, your church could offer an online “Church 101” or “Intro to the Bible” class. Your church could also experiment with online discipleship and Bible study groups. Some churches have tried online watch party groups.
Churches today sometimes complain that congregants act like passive consumers of church, rather than active participants of the mission of Jesus. In light of this, pastors should thoughtfully consider how to engage people online to take next steps through the church. Sometimes this may mean encouraging them to visit the church in person, while other times this may mean giving real chances to interact, leave comments or join an online small group.
– Chat Feature
Your church website could add a chat feature. Your church could ask for volunteers to respond to chats throughout the day, or add automated responses. Your church website should also consider adding the opportunity to initiate chat.
– Online and In Person
Online church engagement can have multiple ends. Your church could want people to join an online “first-time visitor” meeting, or convince people to attend in person for the first time. The most important piece is to be intentional and plan a pathway for newcomers to engage with your church.
The Future of Online Church Engagement
The church has always adapted to engage people where they are. As people spend more and more time online today, the church must march forward or fear being left behind. It’s not enough to exist online. Growing churches in the coming years should invest time and resources to reach new people online by providing multiple opportunities to engage with the church.