One question I hear all the time from other Church Communications Ministers — as well as pastors who are juggling their church's media — is "How can I keep people engaged online?" This question was huge during the height of the pandemic when many churches were scrambling to either enhance or, in most cases, establish their digital presence. But now the vast majority of churches have regathered across the country and some churches still have a certain demographic of folks who simply won't return to the physical building at all. For whatever reasons, these individuals are content to merely watch the worship service online via Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or the church website. Sure it helps to keep things as "normal" as possible, but if your church is still mostly empty, then you need to accept that is NOT normal and be willing to admit that God is still at work in the midst of the craziness, then embrace the reality that digital engagement is part of the new normal in this post-COVID environment.
Things were heading this way before the pandemic — and many churches were already active in the livestream world — but COVID exacerbated the situation all the more for every church no matter their size, demographic, or location. Even many small town churches, country churches, and rural churches began entering the digital world for the first time. And regardless of whether you have a healthy attendance or not, live-streaming your service always allows people who miss the service the chance to catch up later that day or week at their own convenience.
So let's look at a few simple ways that you can enhance your livestream engagement. Here they are, in no particular order:
#1. Ask meaningful questions in the chat feature.
Pro Tip: Don't go crazy with questions in the livestream thread. Ask ONE question and then sit back and wait for a reply to that question. Do not ask a million questions that elicit no engagement. Then there's no point. Plus, people tend to get pretty annoyed with that and you'll end up driving them away. If you're just mindlessly rambling as the church account, it looks really goofy, silly, and unprofessional.
#2. Use lower thirds to point them to external links, places, resources, etc. (prayer request forms, podcast and audio platforms, calendar of events, etc.)
In the video world, a lower third is a graphic overlay that is placed in the "title-safe" lower area of the screen, but not necessarily in the entire lower third of the screen as you might deduce from the name. In its most basic form, it's really just text and/or graphics on top of the video. For your church's livestream video, use lower third graphic to promo your website, your prayer request forms, your calendar, your podcast, and other valuable resources that the viewer may want to access.
#3. Ask questions that specifically relate to the Scripture/passage/content/theme of the message that is being preached during the livestream.
This still ties into number one a little bit, but involves more interactivity on the part of the livestream manager. While the pastor is speaking, fire off a question or two about the content of his message to spark healthy spiritual dialogue in the chat thread. This may also mean you'll have to monitor the comments that people leave, but you have to do that anyway as a Page administrator. It's great to know that people are watching your livestream, but it's even better to know that they're actually paying attention to the sermon and getting something out of it.
#4. Insert a poll into the live chat or onto the Page.
Facebook has a poll feature and it's a great way for people to "vote" on something and feel like they're a part of the online experience of the church. Whether it's voting on their favorite message from the pastor's current series or something fun like the best summertime activity, it will almost always boost engagement. Give it a shot and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised.
#5. Keep your service livestream available on each platform permanently.
People want to be able to watch the service on THEIR time. If they couldn't make it to the service or if they've been out for a while, they need to be able to watch and engage with the livestream conveniently. So don't go back and delete the livestream video later that week just because the service is over. Just let the archive build up and folks can rewatch them at their own leisure.
The ultimate goal with your livestream engagement is not to entertain people — although that may be an occasional byproduct — but to minister to people. When you share a Bible verse with a person through the live chat, or respond directly to their prayer request with a realtime prayer response, it means something to that individual. Yes, it's a two-dimensional form of communication, but seeds of ministry, encouragement, help, and hope are being planted. You have no idea how one verse, quote, or prayer request interaction might impact a person or change their life and alter their destiny for eternity. And ultimately, that's what Church Communications is all about.
How Can I Help You?
Need help overhauling your church website? Stuck on how to design or develop better social media graphics? Need help establishing your social media presence? Managing your livestream? Want some effective strategies on church marketing? Community relations? Book me for a coaching session or request me to come speak at your church about these issues.
As we head into the summer and many churches rekindle some sense of post-pandemic normalcy, I think now is a perfect time to pause and reflect on effective communication strategies. What worked? What didn't? How can we do better moving forward? What worked before COVID that may no longer be adequate or useful? Are there some methodologies we can ditch? Are there some new ones we should adopt?
The more I speak with small church communicators and pastors who double as communicators, the more I come to realize just how overwhelmed everyone remains. There may be a renewed passion for church life in some areas — which is fantastic — but the reality is that many weary pastors and communicators are just now beginning to find their footing and look to the future with hope.
Long before words like "COVID" or "pandemic" were in our daily conversations, church comms was often intimidating and stressful enough even for the most talented and seasoned of communicators. There are weekly projects, deadlines to meet, social media channels to manage, new tools to learn, design trends to follow, videos to shoot and edit, podcasts to host, bulletins and flyers to proofread, and a million other things we could name. But — like any other job or ministry position — the key is to not allow yourself to become overwhelmed.
I believe healthy churches can and should focus on streamlining their communication procedures in ways that keep everything smooth, uncomplicated, simple, and as peaceful and stressless as possible. This ensures that everyone on the team is working together in harmony so that they can focus on getting the Gospel message to the audience with proficiency and ease. It also ensures that the audience can access that Message, which is the ultimate goal.
Here are some communication tools, tips, strategies, and techniques for healthy churches to be using as we continue to navigate through the remainder of 2021:
#1. Multiple Channels and Outlets for Information Access
During COVID, many small churches, understaffed churches, and churches in rural areas suffered due to a lack of more than one platform. Others completely backed off and only focused on one platform (usually Facebook.) Their people didn't know where to turn to find out what was happening, when they would be regathering, or if there were digital ways to watch their pastor preach. Many of these folks would have simply had to resort to calling their pastor's personal cell phone, assuming they even had the number. Much of this hassle, frustration, and confusion could have been avoided altogether had there been an updated website and/or social media channel.
Healthy churches keep their information and presence in more than one place whenever possible by utilizing both digital and print methods. A website is great, but maintaining a regularly updated Facebook Page is even better. You'll also have folks in the church and/or surrounding community who will want to know if you're on other popular social media platforms like Instagram or Twitter. Are you active on those platforms? Why or why not? Maybe your church wouldn't have a large enough following on Twitter yet to justify a presence there, which is perfectly fine. Maybe you have a large demographic that still prefers traditional printed bulletins to take home. These are things you will need to take into consideration, particularly if you're a small church pastor managing all of this yourself without the assistance of a Communications Director and/or team. Every church is unique and has specific communication needs. Either way, the general rule of thumb: The more channels, the better.
#2. Relevant Messaging
This has become all the more critical in the post-pandemic church movement. People want to know what they need to know. They don't have time for things that don't apply to them. This was true pre-COVID, but the pandemic exacerbated it all the more. Be sure that your announcements, posts, and messages reach the specific individual groups for which they are meant. In other words, your senior saints probably don't need to be included in a group text about an upcoming young couples retreat. Talk about awkward. When it comes to social media posts, you can always tag specific people in the comment thread who you believe need to see the announcement the most. These sort of things go a long way in helping everyone cut through the noise and filter out what is unnecessary or irrelevant to them.
#3. Enhanced Visitor Follow-Up Protocols
If you weren't doing visitor follow-ups before COVID, now is the time to start. (I discuss follow-ups briefly in this post here.) With so many folks still on the fence about how often to attend, whether they'll return to their home church or find a new one, and how long they'll even stay in one place, every single visitor to your fellowship matters. If you truly desire for them to grow spiritually, undergo discipleship, and become faithful attenders and subsequent participators, then you have to make some sort of effort to pursue them with personal phone calls, e-mails, texts, and even visits to their home or office. You might even meet with them for coffee or a meal. It's all part of the relationship-building process, which is also more critical than ever in the post-pandemic church movement.
Perform a quick assessment of your church's follow-up process. Do you even have one? Why or why not? Who is in charge of it? Is he or she friendly? Does the senior pastor also reach out? Do you use more than one communication method? Phone and e-mail? Text and coffee with the pastor? Whatever you do though, don't let a visitor slip through the cracks.
The challenges wrought by COVID upon the Local Church At Large have given us a unique opportunity to reassess our communication methodologies. Don't try to revive old strategies that didn't work in the past. Don't make up new ones just for the sake of newness. Focus on establishing relationships with people in the church and the surrounding community and be sure to lather that relationship in trust, kindness, and a whole lotta Jesus. And, in the process, don't be afraid to try something new or make adjustments to the way you did something before if the situation calls for it. It just might be time for a change.
What did I miss? What is has your church changed in regards to communication techniques that has been successful in the post-COVID emergence? Do you have any advice, tips, or suggestions from your own experiences? Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail!
The last few months have been some of the most difficult, disheartening, disappointing, frustrating, stressful, and altogether challenging times for individuals who work in the digital communication space. More specifically, this has been true for those of us in church and/or ministry leadership positions. Pastors, elders, teachers, volunteers...everyone has been affected at one level or another. Everyone.
I know what you're thinking. "Gee, that's not exactly breaking news, Josh."
You're right. It's not. And don't panic, I'm not going to waste endless hours dredging up old memories or rehashing past stories about the nightmare of the COVID pandemic and its effect on the Local Church. Besides, most churches have been forced to adapt in new and innovative ways like never before. Others have undergone transformations they couldn't have predicted and are still trying to sail the treacherous waters of confusion, uncertainty, and change.
But whichever the situation, the simple reality is that pressures and tensions have been high for those of us tasked with managing our church's communications, public relations, marketing, and media. We're juggling all of our usual deadlines, design projects, meetings, and answering to our superiors, while simultaneously engaging in crisis management. No wonder we're utterly exhausted.
Under the weight of potential burnout, it can be easy to want to throw in the towel and quit. But take heart! We are literally "surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses" and through God's grace and help can "run with endurance the race that is set before us." (Hebrews 12:1 ESV)
I want you to close your eyes for a moment and summon up your imagination's superpowers. You're a Church Communicator with top-level design skills, right? Using your imagination shouldn't be asking too much. Feeling charged and ready? Alright. Now I want you to picture in your mind's eye the champions of the Christian faith standing as spectators in Heaven. All of the biblical greats are there: Moses, Elijah, Abraham, King David, Ruth, Noah, Jonah, Esther, the Apostle Paul, John the Baptist, Barnabas, Timothy. Of course they're standing shoulder-to-shoulder with guys like Billy Graham, A.W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, and others. If ever there was a Hall of Faith moment in one succinct line-up, this is it.
But, they're not just standing motionless and stoic. David isn't moseying around with his hands in pockets. Paul isn't moping down the streets of gold. Do you know what these amazing men and women of God are doing? They are cheering at the top of their lungs — like an audience at an athletic competition — for you. Yes, you. They are shaking the realms of Heaven with deafening, thunderous applause as you emerge victorious over discouragement, stress, doubt, and defeat! You are an overcomer (1 John 5:4) and you have supporters in the spiritual realm. I won't get bogged down in the theological debate over whether or not people in Heaven can physically see what is happening on Earth, but I believe that we should — at the very least — be encouraged to know we are surrounded by those who have gone on before us in the faith!
Above all else, never forget that, though many here on Earth may not notice you or your efforts for the Kingdom — even people in your own church — God does notice. You are seen by Him and He will continue to use your faithfulness, dedication, and work to affect people for eternity. Your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Everything you do is a blessing. From the endless hours of graphic design to the late night audio/video editing sessions, you are a blessing. For all the research, marketing, analyzing, and community outreach/relations strategizing, you are a blessing.
You are truly a blessing to the very Bride of Christ — The Local Church At Large.
I know some days are harder than others. And some days the temptation to quit is more real than you care to admit. But don't quit. You're far more needed and far more valuable than you realize. And if even just one soul comes to know Christ through your tireless efforts, it was and is worth it in the end.
I'm Here For You.
Need help overhauling your church website? Stuck on how to design or develop better social media graphics? Need help establishing your social media presence? Want some effective strategies on church marketing? Community relations? Book me for a coaching session or request me to come speak at your church about these issues.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS WEIRD.
I think George Takei said it best: "Social media is like ancient Egypt, writing things on walls and worshipping cats."
Followers. Likes. Selfies. Pet selfies. Food selfies. Coded emoji hieroglyphic languages. Memes. Bible verses. Bible memes. A false sense of belonging. Mob mentalities. Trolls. Celebrities. Pastors. Celebrity pastors. Condemnation. Vilification. Praise. Adulation. Profiles. Pages. Profiles that act like Pages. Distorted realities and ritualistic dependencies.
I'm convinced that somewhere in the vast expanse of the cosmos — at this very moment — little green men are nestled in their cozy research laboratories studying the effects of social media on the human species. Frankly I feel sorry for those poor Martians and hope that they never have to land on our soil. I'm sure their planets are far more civilized and less confusing.
Anyway, sites like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have basically become the modern day office water coolers or the 21st-century versions of the town square. People, friends, coworkers, and strangers from all walks of life huddle up to gossip and converse about the latest TV shows, problems at their jobs, dates that didn't go well, church activities, family drama, sermons they loved, and everything in-between. And it's not just a handful of people, mind you. No, it's a lot. Facebook alone boasts 2.8 billion active monthly users. Entire herds of human beings assemble within these digital spheres to participate in events and activities. See? Town square.
Don't get me wrong. These platforms present phenomenal opportunities to form relationships with real people and to engage the community. And we should be doing that. But just like the three-dimensional world, social media can be fraught with dangers. Every time you tweet, publish, upload, post, respond, message, like, or react, you run the risk of upsetting, offending, confusing, or separating yourself out from the very people you're trying to engage or even creating a different mess altogether. This is why, particularly as a pastor, you have to tread as cautiously as possible on social media, while still coming across as real and approachable. It's a delicate balancing act that requires patience, time, and attention. It's also why some pastors have entire teams who manage their social media for them.
Here are ten ways you can obliterate your reputation through social media without even realizing it:
#1. Portraying yourself and/or your life as flawless.
I think we can all agree that Jesus was the only perfect person to walk the Earth. If you try to come off as perfect in your posts, videos, and content, you'll just wind up being seen as inauthentic and phony. (This will damage your ministry in much larger ways than you can imagine.) Never be afraid to be real and relatable. (James 4:6; James 4:10; Proverbs 11:2)
#2. Failing to monitor and manage photos, statuses, or content in which you've been tagged.
When you're tagged in a photo or graphic, it gives the impression that you approve of being associated with that particular photo or graphic — even if you never authorized the individual to tag you in the first place. Do you have a friend or church member who's notorious for tagging you in inappropriate memes or photos? Do you even monitor your notifications enough to know if or when you've been tagged in something? In your privacy settings, you can manage tagging. Don't resort to unfriending or blocking someone until it's necessary. If the tagging persists, consider sending a private message to the individual politely asking him or her to stop. If you've been tagged in something inappropriate for several weeks and its just hanging out there in Facebook cyberspace without your knowledge, it can smear, tarnish, or even ruin your reputation altogether.
#3. Ignoring messages and comments.
Obviously you can't personally respond to everyone who writes on your Facebook wall or sends you a DM on Instagram. You would be overwhelmed. You have meetings, counseling appointments, sermon prep, family time, and countless other tasks. But the occasional interaction is critical. After all, you don't want to come off as a social media jerk. Do your best to monitor your inboxes and comments. Follow up and reply when you can. It shows that you care and that you're engaged. Treat your Facebook inbox with the same prioritization as you would treat your e-mail inbox, physical mailbox at home or church, or even the inbox on your office door.
#4. Blasting another local church or fellow pastor.
Don’t start theological comment wars with other ministers or churches. It’s a bad look and you’ll risk losing the respect of your own flock. If you have a problem with something a pastor said or did, send him a private message and request an in-person meeting to have a civil discussion over a cup of coffee. In other words, be a mature adult human being. Otherwise, just don’t worry about it. Every church is different. Every pastor is different.
#5. Assuming the role of theology police.
This one piggybacks off of number four. Don’t go around policing everyone’s spiritual posts. That’s not your job as the pastor and it makes you come off as an arrogant, annoying, pompous know-it-all. It also makes you look pretty silly and childish. If someone in your church is listening to a false teacher, have a one-on-one conversation with that individual and address it privately. Don’t post public comments on their social media profile about it. That’s simply not the place. It gives the impression you're intentionally trying to embarrass that individual. It also gives the impression that you want everyone around you to think you're some sort of theological genius, which just winds up making you look really insecure at the end of the day.
#6. Insulting or degrading people.
If you've got a beef with a friend, fellow staff member, or congregant, don't resort to petty name-calling, personal attacks, exclamation points, angry emojis, or overheated zingers on Facebook. It's not Christlike and you know better. Be aware: As your social media influence widens and your friend count increases, you'll probably be attacked or criticized more often. That comes with the territory. But the last thing you need to do is publicly lash out at someone who criticizes you. One of the many beauties of Facebook is that you can delete comments and block people. If you need to address the person in private, then do so discreetly and lovingly.
#7. Neglecting to promote, highlight, and share your church's Page and its other digital content.
I'm the son of a pastor, so I know how busy you guys stay. Most of the time, you don't even think about reposting or retweeting your own sermons or your church's events. It's just not on your mind or on your schedule. (That's what the Comms Director and Technical Assistants are for, right?)
You're doing pretty good if you can check Facebook a few times a week, upload a devotional video or two, and respond to some comments here and there. But, whether your team does it for you or you do it yourself, sharing some occasional content from your church's Facebook Page is critical. It tells this generation that you actually care about the things at the very church God has called you to shepherd; the very things you seem excited about from the pulpit every week. They need to see you caring in their language. And their language is Facebook.
#8. Oversharing content from your church's Page.
Believe it or not, there is a danger in oversharing. Try to strike a good balance between sharing content from your church's Page (sermons, events, verses, etc.) to sharing everyday personal moments from your own life through photos, videos, etc. This goes back to the whole "being authentic" thing. You might be a minister, but you're also a human being.
#9. Trying to be overly hip or relevant.
Ok, pastors. I'm not talking about skinny jeans here (although that may be another issue for another day.) I'm talking about posting personal commentary on cultural or political issues or jokes about current events in the news that could wind up being seen as distasteful or offensive. You might think you're just being innocently humorous and cool, but these sort of posts usually backfire and will come full circle to haunt you in some way. Even if you didn't mean to offend, it'll happen. Use caution and basic wisdom when it comes to politics or controversial cultural issues, except when addressing them through a biblical lens in your sermon or a devotional video where it applies to the context.
#10. Posting while you're mad.
If you ask me, Facebook isn't just like ancient Egypt. With all due respect to George Takei, it's also sort of like the wild west — full of gunslingers, desperados, bandits, and lawlessness. If you're not careful, you can get sucked into the vortex of folks who use Facebook as a platform for shooting from hip, venting about whatever or whoever they want whenever they want. Don't be like these people. Never post when your emotions are out of control. Never post out of sheer anger, rage, or from a place of hurt or retaliation. Take a deep breath, chill out for a while, and spend some time in the Word. Your church, your coworkers, family, friends, and your reputation will all thank you. (Psalm 37:8; Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 15:18; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8)
In my humble opinion, the best way to avoid utterly obliterating your reputation on Facebook — or any social media platform — is to just employ some good old fashioned common sense. Don't draw a line and treat these platforms as little private worlds without rules and consequences. They can easily devastate your reality if you're not careful. Act the same way on social media as you would act in public, in church, or with your family.
What am I leaving out? Are there any other social media errors, gaffes, or indiscretions you would recommend pastors avoid? Do you have advice, tips, or suggestions from your own personal experience? Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail!
The best leaders aren't just excellent influencers. They're not only servants and empathizers. They're not just amazing delegators, team-builders, and humble motivators.
They're also pressure-managers. They know how to operate and survive within the stress bubbles and chaos landscapes that occur within any leadership capacity. This trait is true of leaders at all levels, but particularly within the sphere of church ministry where pressure at various tiers is often a normal part of the weekly routine. Whether you're on the pastoral staff, the media & communications team, in the worship band, or just a volunteer, you should just naturally expect to encounter pressures and stresses. Don't be surprised by them. In fact, take the opportunity to learn from them.
So, as a Communications Minister, what are some of the pressures you might face? What might you be facing even now? Let's look at a few from my own personal experience and see what we can learn:
#1. Implementing new technology while being mindful of senior leadership approval and budget constraints.
Any Comms Minister worth his or her salt knows that digital modernization and alternations are key components of improvement. They're necessary. Let's just be real: You won't always be able to record your Sunday morning sermon audio to cassette tapes and CDs, right? I mean, eventually that technology will go the way of the dinosaur. Eventually there will be a demand for something different. You know, like those scary .mp3 files and podcasts that all the hip kids are raving about these days. Too many churches are still living by the "Well, this is how we've always done it" mantra and they're dying a slow death because of it.
But, at the same time, a great Comms Minister doesn't rush the process. Tech upgrades and installments cost money. They require time, effort, work, and careful planning. Sometimes they require pitches and persuasions. And any Comms Minister, particularly those at small churches, should have enormous respect for the senior staff, the budget, and its priorities. If your church has holes in the roof, cracks in the entryway floor, poorly paved parking lots, or bad paint in the nursery, then the last thing you need to worry about right now is whether or not you have a 2020 Apple iMac running ProPresenter 7 in the sanctuary. Meet with your senior pastor and/or board of elders and/or financial pastor and have a discussion about future upgrade possibilities, but don't go in with guns blazing. People are far more likely to get onboard with your ideas if you recognize, honor, and heed the more immediate and pressing needs of the church first.
#2. Leading a Church Comms change while keeping your eyes peeled for big issues.
No change will be perfect. Sometimes we get so excited that we've been given a green light to make a change — even a seemingly small one — that we fail to realize we're strolling right into a minefield. Before we know it, the entire thing has blown up in our face and we've offended a whole group of people we never dreamed or imagined would be bothered by something we assumed to be so small. Always know what you're changing, how you're changing it, why you're changing it, and clearly communicate those reasons to your church. And if/when they disagree about the change (some inevitably will), lovingly stick to your convictions while listening to their disagreements.
#3. Knowing the line between excellent Communications Management and the greater sake of the Gospel.
As a Comms Minister, part of your job is to maintain visual quality work on your church's website and social media platforms. Many of us place excessive pressure on ourselves in this area. You know good design, marketing, and branding when you see it. And you do your best to uphold those standards. But every so often you're asked to promote an outside event or ministry that doesn't meet such standards. The designer in you — who puts 40-plus hours a week into the digital and social media channels — doesn't want this cluttering up your picturesque landscape.
On the other hand, you know that the Gospel is far more important. Discipleship is more critical. And if promoting this event or ministry will advance those causes, then you have a responsibility to make it happen. You won't always have the time or resources to redesign and enhance every bit of content for every event or ministry with which your church forms partnerships. Learn to be ok with that.
#4. Making decisions that will inevitably be misinterpreted.
This goes for leadership in general, but as a Comms Minister you're going to run into folks who disagree with some of your decisions. Some of them may be church members. Some may even be fellow staff members or volunteers who you see on a regular basis. They don't understand why you did what you did the way you did. Oftentimes it's because they don't have all the information. They don't have the insider details you have or they can't see the big picture that you can. And honestly, they may not need to see it.
Don't fall victim to belief that you must give a detailed explanation to every single person who disagrees with your decision. This simply isn't true. Be as lovingly clear in your communications as possible and then accept the truth that there will always be people who still misjudge, misread, or misconstrue. It's all part of being a leader.
#5. Setting a healthy on-screen and off-screen schedule for yourself.
As Comms Minsters, it's hard to pull away from our screens. Even when we're not at our desks, we're often updating social media channels from our tablets or smartphones. Unfortunately, this can have detrimental effects on our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Not to mention the negative effects it can, and often does, have on our relationships with friends and family. Always know when to break away and be done for the day. If it helps to set a daily routine or task management schedule for yourself, then do it. Even if it's just a deadline for putting down your gadgets and gizmos by a certain time every night. Set that goal and stick to it.
I'm sure I left something out. What pressures have you experienced as a Communications Minister? What have you found to be helpful as you navigate those pressures? Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail!
I'm Here For You!