Sometimes when I think about my church’s online presence, it stresses me out. I’m comfortable online. We have a strategy and a team. We have been using our approach effectively for a long time, and yet it still feels overwhelming to consider all the new trends, how to keep gathering and using different types of content, new social media platforms, new features on old social media platforms, how to stay up to date with all of the algorithm changes – to name just a few.
The questions taking up space in my brain seem to be endless. What are we doing on Twitter? Should we be on TikTok? How do we get Instagram Reels up and running? Should we be producing IGTV videos? What about Facebook Live? Is our website up to date? How should we be pushing our services? Is our quality good enough? Should we be doing more? Less? Is this still effective? Are we making a difference? Are our online Sunday mornings making it too convenient for people to miss out on church? Do people even know what they are missing when they don’t show up? How can we communicate better using these tools?
It is all so overwhelming.
I find myself summing it all up with an exhausted sigh, and a frustrated, “Ok, so now what?”
If you feel overwhelmed by anything online, please know you aren’t alone. If you feel discontent or frustrated with your current online presence, please know you aren’t alone. If you feel lost or wonder what to do next or what to stop doing, you aren’t alone.
I want to take a few minutes to help you answer the question I get asked most: “I’m online. Now what?” It’s a strange shift from the question I would be asked repeatedly in 2019: “Why should we even bother?” usually followed by a remark about how social media is a waste of time. Twenty-twenty changed that part of ministry forever. There may still be a few holdouts resisting the idea that people not only shop online but collect information online, interact online and even gather online; but the large majority of churches have navigated the waters of having an active online presence. My social media feeds are filled with online sermons, live broadcasts, devotional content, theological videos, and boosted posts – all reaching and ministering to people. The need to move online became apparent, and the church responded.
So I want to start by just saying: Great job. The last few years have been a crazy time in ministry, one that was not anticipated and one for which none of us were prepared. You have taken on new challenges, stretched yourself, and plunged into the uncomfortable, all for the sake of the Gospel and the love of Christ and His church. Maybe things aren’t where you want them to be right now. That’s okay! You did it. You jumped online and started doing the best you could with what you had. What a God-honoring effort.
So now what? What if moving online isn’t enough? And what if doing more online isn’t necessarily the right move either?
I want to suggest seven things to focus on now that you’re online that will help increase your effective reach in your community and congregation. I also think these will reduce your stress by taking something that can so easily feel overwhelming and breaking it into some manageable areas you can focus on without detracting from your other efforts.
If you have a team, great. Talk about these seven things with your team. Doing this on your own? Great. Let these seven things breathe for a week or two and then pick one to start working on.
7 Things To Do Now That You Are Online
1. REMEMBER WHO IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT
In the People, Places, and Things category, people always seem to get the least attention. We spend so much time talking about things instead of focusing on people. It’s really easy to think in terms of what, when, and where instead of who. In our churches, we build programs, design systems, produce services, and shoot videos. All of this is great stuff as long as it is setting the table for people, relationships, and connections. You have to keep the people you are trying to reach or minister to in focus.
So now that you are online, push pause for a week and refocus your efforts on whom you are trying to reach. What are they in to? Where are they spending their time online? What do they need most: an introduction to Jesus or something deeper? What are their fears, frustrations, dreams, and desires?
Don’t just create or collect content. Create and collect content with a person and a purpose in mind.
Remember that you can have incredible content and videos but if you aren’t connecting and engaging with people you are just wasting your time and money. It may look good to you, it may make you feel good about your church, but if it isn’t connecting with people it is simply an exercise in self-indulgence. Conversely, you can have terrible content (I have nailed a few of these in my time online) but if you are really hitting people where they are, that content can have a big impact.
So, simplify your approach to everything online. Ask yourself whom you are trying to reach and for what purpose and then let the who define your what.
2. UNAPOLOGETICALLY APPLY YOUR CLEAR VISION TO EVERYTHING YOU DO ONLINE.
We all know how important vision is for leading your church. Yet, visions can end up being statements hanging on a wall instead of statements that are used to define, guide, and direct your ministry efforts.
I am starting to learn that there is never an end to simplifying our vision and making clear applications that people can understand and participate in. Work on thinking through how your vision should direct or even change what you do online. Then don’t apologize for it. People may try to pressure you into turning a social media platform into an announcement platform. If it isn’t in your vision, don’t budge. I have had people criticize my videos because they aren’t “deep enough,” but we aren’t trying to be deep, we are trying to meet people where they are, add value, and pique their curiosity. Because we are clear on what we are trying to do we don’t second guess ourselves, and our clarity provides others with the opportunity to understand and participate in our vision simply by sharing a video.
If your vision as a church isn’t clear or if you haven’t looked at it in a while, push pause and revisit it. The effort and time you spend clarifying and creating simple applications of your vision that people can actually participate in is more important than any time and effort you can spend trying to figure out your next online move.
3. VALUE IS STILL KING
Value, value, value. I feel like I am constantly talking about adding value. Don’t use your platforms to post what you want to post. Use your platform to add value to people’s lives. This should be so simple for us. After all, we have the Gospel, God’s word, and tons of life-giving eternal value to add to people’s lives.
If you are using your platforms simply to promote your events you are completely missing the point. There is nothing wrong with promoting your events if they are part of your vision, but you should add value long before you invite someone to join you at your event. We try to keep our invites to 4 – 6 events a year. The rest of our content posted weekly is all about adding value to people’s lives with no strings attached.
What are types of content that add value to people’s lives? Well, it starts with understanding whom you are trying to reach, and applying your clear vision to your online platforms, but here are some possible ideas: short devotional videos, sermon clips, a verse with a short application, inspiring quotes, thought for the day, etc.
4. ENGAGEMENT LEADS TO ENGAGEMENT
Most of the people who are discontent with their social media presence are really discontent with engagement. While engagement can be an indicator of whether or not you are reaching your intended audience, it isn’t good to weigh your success based on engagement alone. The rule of engagement is this: If you want people to engage with your content you have to engage with them. That means if you really want people to like, comment, and share your posts you need to make sure that you are engaging with everyone who comments and shares. Not only does this help your organic reach but more importantly it keeps you focused on people and keeps your posts personal.
If you want engagement, start by engaging with people. Like their posts. Reply to every comment. Thank people for sharing. Send direct messages asking how you can pray for people. Social media can be terribly self-focused when we are just seeking to grow our own brand, but when you stay focused on engaging with people it can be a powerful tool that actually can affect people’s lives and your church in positive, life-giving ways.
5. IT’S GOT TO BE PERSONAL
Whatever you do online, make it as personal as possible. The biggest problem I have with so much of what we do online, whether it is posting video clips or full services on our online location is this: It is so impersonal. It is easy to pop in and out without ever making a human connection. Online content can never, and will never, replace in-person gatherings and conversations. But, we can work on adding the very important personal missing piece by putting some attention to making our impersonal platforms as personal as possible.
You can add a personal touch by doing simple things consistently. Reply to every comment. Send messages asking how you can pray for people. Interact in the chat on your live videos. Post content that is transparent. Ask people how they are doing. Speak to the real issues people are facing every day. When responding to direct messages from the church page sign them with a name (we do something like this: ~Josh). Use posts that speak in the first person. Introduce your team. Show behind-the-scenes content. Let people see and hear from the real you.
6. DOING LESS BETTER IS BETTER THAN MORE DONE POORLY
The temptation is always to do more. I don’t know why this is such a universal problem for all of us. Whenever we see a deficit of any kind we want to do more. That’s why we end up with bloated churches full of programs and light on people. Doing more isn’t always the answer. In fact, I think doing less online can be really powerful. It conserves resources and forces us to keep a laser-sharp focus on the purpose we are trying to accomplish. Doing less can keep you from getting overwhelmed or burned out while increasing your effectiveness.
Getting online was a great step. Don’t try to do everything else this year. You don’t need to be on every platform, just be on one platform your audience is using and do that really well. You don’t have to broadcast the whole service live, you can just broadcast the sermon. You don’t have to pull video clips from a sermon, you can just post an encouraging word from your team. Find what you can do well and do that. Stay in that space until you have the capacity to add something else or until it is time to change it up.
Stay simple, small, and effective. Focusing your efforts will increase your quality and will likely drive your engagement up.
7. ADD TOUCHES
Touches are points of contact you have with people. Any time you have contact with someone in your church or ministry, you are building a connection and relationship with that person. We think about this when we welcome people to church. Many of us have guest gifts, follow-up mailers, or “thanks for coming” emails, phone calls, etc. These are essential connections that help people get to know your church and feel connected and cared for. Churches do a pretty good job with this one for the most part. The question now is how do we add personal touches to those who are connecting with us online?
We are just starting to think through these connections, and it is pretty exciting to explore how we can connect with those who connect with us online. Creating online connect cards and landing pages focused on gathering email addresses is a great start. We send gifts to those who fill out our online connection card. Connect people to your church and start to build a relationship with them by adding meaningful connections anywhere you can.
Be encouraged that God is using you in what may be unfamiliar territory to make a real difference in people’s lives. I have heard such incredible stories of God using online tools to change lives. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed or to feel defeated. Keep it simple and stay faithful to what God has called you to. God will take care of the rest.
I’d love to hear what you have been doing online. What have you found to be effective in reaching people using your online presence?