Pastors have been through a lot this year. And I’d be willing to bet that back in January, most never would’ve anticipated a “pandemic” that would impact church attendance, contribute to church decline, force them to grapple with livestream technology, and even cause their own congregants to question the importance of church like COVID-19 did. And yet, here we are, with 2021 just three months away and some churches still meeting only online. Indeed, the need for community engagement has never been greater. And, to be clear, I’m not talking about digital engagement — although that’s an equally high priority as I’ve mentioned in several previous blog posts. In fact, digital engagement became even more necessary and critical because of COVID’s effects on attendance. I’m referring here though to physical engagement in the local community surrounding your church. This more closely aligns with your church’s brand, which I discuss in-depth in this post and in this episode of Rescuing Churches.
If you’ve regathered for in-person worship — and many churches have — then it’s time to start thinking about your town, your city, your surrounding neighborhoods, their demographics, the kind of people who live and work there, and the traits that make them unique. These are the people you’re trying to reach in a post-COVID world where the very notion of attending church either conjures up emotions of hesitancy or indifference in many people, including former loyal attendees.
Here are a few simple ways to start making your church an integral part of the local community, rather than expecting the local community to come running to your church begging to become an integral part of your fellowship.
1. Get your foot in the door at local rehab centers.
Pastors and church leaders: I’ve personally seen and experienced the fruit that can come from this effort as I’ve watched my dad build local connections. If your town or city has any faith-based drug/alcohol/relational rehabs, you should not only be well-acquainted with their names and locations, but with the leaders who work there. These places are full of men and women who have battled addictions, abuse, neglect and other difficult circumstances. Ask to be on the chapel speaker rotation and begin forming relationships. Many of these folks are desperately craving the eternal hope, comfort, peace, and salvation that Jesus alone provides. And they could be right around the corner or within a few minutes of your church.
Does it matter that some of them won’t be able to physically attend your church? No. That’s not why you’re there. Don’t go in with a recruitment mindset. You’re there to represent Christ and His Church. Let Him do the rest of the work and trust Him for what it will look like.
2. Open your church’s gymnasium and property up to local youth athletic, homeschool, and/or park sports leagues.
You might be shocked at how many basketball, soccer, football, or baseball kids leagues are in or around your neighboring community. And some of them might be without a place to practice during the week. Whether it’s a homeschool co-op league or a park league, your church can host these teams — free of charge — and slowly begin to build meaningful relationships with parents and coaches. Be sure to occasionally provide snacks and drinks for the kids. Side note: Yes, you’ll probably get burned a few times. Coaches will forget to clean up, trash will be left out, field lights will be left on, keys will wander off, and doors will be left unlocked. But don’t let these issues dissuade you from continuing to work with and love on these people. Who knows? After a few months, some of them may start asking about what you guys do inside that churchy building on Sundays.
Big shoutout here to parents who are volunteering to run the concessions stand at their child's sporting events. Whether your kid plays on the team or marches in the band, this is a phenomenal opportunity to build relationships with other parents, school faculty, and to represent Christ in and to your local community.
3. Free Community Car Wash
Church car washes are nothing new. For decades they’ve been used as a means to raise money for everything from the upcoming Honduras missions trip to fixing that leaky corner of the sanctuary ceiling. But a free church car wash is something else entirely. Round up some happy teens and/or students from your youth and/or college ministries and organize the event on a Saturday when most of them are off work and free from classes. Make sure they dress appropriately and modestly (church logo t-shirts if possible). If you make roadside signs, be sure to emphasize the “free” aspect of the car wash. If a driver happens to ask what church you’re with and where you’re located, be ready to hand them a little invite card. Otherwise, you’re just there to love on the community without expecting anything in return.
4. Network the nursing homes and assisted living centers.
This is a great way to not only bless and minister to the elderly who are lonely and in need of prayer and company, but to gradually build authentic and long-lasting relationships with nurses, staff, and even the family members of the residents. If you’re a pastor, you might be able to speak one evening or even bring in some of your singers and musicians to minister through song. And you never know how it could connect your church to someone in that nursing home. The next time you pray over the elderly lady in room 301 who has terminal cancer, her daughter might inquire about your church and confess that she hasn’t darkened the doors of a church in ages. Or the doctor who felt blessed by your worship singers may want to know when he can hear some more of that great praise music.
5. Fall festivals, Easter egg hunts, and community cookouts
There are plenty of seasonal events that your church can host for the local community and surrounding neighborhoods. Provide all of the food and fun — from bounce houses to face-painting to games, prizes, and giveaways — all free of charge. There’s nothing parents like more than being able to take their kids somewhere that’s both fun and free (especially if there’s a meal involved for their kids.) A few ideas for giveaways:
6. Emergency food distribution after a natural disaster.
I live on the Alabama Gulf Coast and hurricane season can be intense here. Just recently, Hurricane Sally impacted several homes, businesses, and churches in and around our area, leaving many of them without power for a long time. If your church is located in an area prone to natural disasters, then you have an opportunity (and I would argue a responsibility) to not only care for your own sheep, but for the surrounding community as well. So after the storm has blown through and you’ve checked on and cared for your own congregants, mobilize a team that can network with local Emergency Management Officials, food distribution centers, and other nonprofits to help get groceries and supplies to those in need. Start with the neighborhood(s) closest to your church’s physical location so that they know you’re there and that you care.
Ultimately, the overarching goal here is for your church to create successful methodologies for interacting with your specific and unique local community. Remember: your community is special and one-of-a-kind. Some of your attempts at engagement will be trial and error. They will be hit and miss. It will be a learning process. What works for a neighborhood in rural small town Georgia may not (and likely won’t) work for a suburb in California. And when something doesn’t work, it’s ok to toss that event idea out the window and move on to the next one. But don’t stop trying. Don’t stop engaging. You’re in that community for a reason. You have a purpose there. And you can engage if you’ll be proactive about it now, even in a post-COVID world; even in a world of social distancing and masks.
I’m sure I left something out. What ideas do you have? How is your church physically engaging and re-engaging with the local community? What’s been successful for you in a post-COVID world? What hasn’t? If you aren't engaging at all, why is that the case? Leave a comment below or send me a message and we might even discuss it on an upcoming episode of Rescuing Churches.
Need help with all this digital and social media stuff? Not sure how to implement marketing and community relations as a church? Stuck on a project and can’t move forward? Book me for a coaching session.
When Jesus was walking the earth over 2,000 years ago — teaching and preaching to the masses — there was no need to improve upon His sermons or His delivery methodologies. In fact, He knew one of the best ways to connect with the people was to be among them. He didn’t stay cooped up in the Temple or the synagogues like an old fuddy-duddy. The Pharisees were great at that. But, not Jesus. He went to where the people were so that they could hear what He had to say. And, more often than not, they hung on His every word.
Not a lot has changed since then. A great sermon is still a great sermon. What has changed is our attention spans and how we broadcast the sermon beyond the physical walls of the church building. It’s not uncommon for a pastor to struggle with holding congregational attention for a full 30 minutes on a Sunday morning. My dad is a pastor. Believe me, it happens. And it’s not necessarily because his message content sucks or his illustrations aren’t engaging, relevant, and funny. It’s just because modern human nature in 2020 is such that we are easily distracted by the most absurd and altogether ridiculous things like our iPhones, our growling stomachs, or the lady on the adjoining pew who brought her pampered Chihuahua into the service.
Anyway, this is why we often feel that we require visual stimuli in order to engage with the message. That’s where digital media enhancement comes in. Of course, once we’ve heard this great sermon, we’re supposed to share it with our friends, family, and co-workers, right? In Jesus’ day, that meant verbally telling someone about it. And you can still do that today. But, thanks to social media, we can broadcast sermons to hundreds of thousands of people every week — including friends who live thousands of miles away — and share them with a much larger audience.
Here are some tools and ideas you should consider implementing to both enhance your pastor’s sermons while seeking to increase audience reach:
#1. On-Screen Sermon Graphic Design
If your church has the hardware and software means to project on-screen visuals, you should be doing it. PERIOD. This is 2020 folks. Time to stop living like neanderthals relying on cave paintings and smoke signals.
I know some of you are thinking: “Well, we just don’t really have anyone in our church with a talent for graphic design.” That may be true. But this excuse doesn’t fly in 2020 either. Have you ever heard of the Internet? There’s this fairly new website out there called Google. It’s a search engine. And if you search for “free worship backgrounds,” you’d be surprised at how many resources are available. Same goes for sermon graphics and social media graphics. Check out CreationSwap and Church Motion Graphics for starters.
#2. Social Media Graphics & Posts During The Week
And speaking of social media, you should be keeping your pastor’s sermon theme fresh across your platforms throughout the week via quotes, graphics, engagement questions, videos, etc — whatever you have the means to do. This way, the sermon doesn’t die between one Sunday and the next Sunday. This approach is particularly helpful when your pastor is preaching through a long series. Perhaps he’s going to take several months to exegete the book of 1st Timothy. This is going to feel like an eternity, but it doesn’t have to if you keep things fresh and engaging across the church’s social platforms.
Use design programs like Canva, Affinity Designer, InDesign, etc. to create social media graphics that feature a compelling quote by your pastor from the message. Maybe even use a hi-res photo of him teaching on stage as the graphic. Ask your Page followers what they thought about Sunday’s message. I bet you’d be surprised at the feedback you’ll get in the comment threads.
If your church has the means to shoot quality videography packages, you could shoot or livestream a short midweek interview with your pastor asking him to challenge the congregation with something from Sunday’s message. Post these videos to your Facebook, Instagram, and/or YouTube channels and encourage folks to share them with friends. Make sure that something in the video encourages or prompts discussion. When it comes to social media engagement, video is king. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these stats from Wyzowl.com:
Takeaway? Video holds our attention longer, is more engaging, and more preferred by the majority of people online. If you can use the medium of digital video to help your people connect with the sermon throughout the week — even if it’s just a simple bumper video — this is where you’ll see a difference.
#4. Sermon Audio and Podcasts
Of course, no church website is complete without a sermon audio page and corresponding podcast. Just because video rules and reigns across social media doesn’t mean audio-only mediums are to be abandoned. In fact, here are some mind-blowing stats to consider from Edison Research and Triton Digital via their annual study known as The Infinite Dial:
For all you podcast junkies out there — and you know who you are — these numbers should inspire you to churn out the best quality sermon audio possible with your church’s technology. Podcast popularity has nearly tripled over the last ten years. Remember that podcasts are popular because they’re convenient and portable. People listen to them from their smartphones, iPods, and tablets while they’re doing other activities like working out, washing the dishes, or picking their kids up from school. If your sermon audio is available across popular podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneIn, and others, you’ll have a much better chance of increasing your online reach and expanding your audience. And you’ll be getting the Gospel out there as well, which is the ultimate end goal anyway.
#5. Your Church App
If your church doesn’t have a smartphone app, it’s worth looking into acquiring one. After all, there’s over 2.7 billion smartphone users in the world. If your church has an official app sitting in those app stores across iOS and Android devices, that’s a lot of potential audience reach. There’s also about 1.35 billion tablet users in the world, a number which has nearly doubled over the last six years. Make sure that your app offers some things that can’t be found on your website so that folks have an incentive to install the app on their device. Weekly sermon notes, videos, short blogs from the pastor, etc. are all great ideas that will keep people coming back to your app on a regular basis for content. Of course, make sure they can do all the standard things like tithe, listen to sermons, and sign up for events as well.
I'm sure I left something out. What ideas do you have? How are you digitally enhancing your pastor’s sermons and increasing online reach for sermon content? What's been successful for you? What hasn’t? Leave some comments below or send me a message and we may discuss it on an upcoming episode of Rescuing Churches.
Need help with all of this digital and social media? Stuck on a project and can't move forward? Book me for a coaching session.
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In case you haven’t noticed, 2020 has been a rather, well, freaking insane year. Between political upheaval, riots in the streets, something called COVID-19, increased racial and religious tension, Australian bush fires, earthquakes in Turkey, locust swarms in India, the sudden death of Kobe & Gigi Bryant, the postponement of the Olympics, pepperoni shortages, and those pesky murder hornet rumors, I’m thinking Christ’s return is probably happening any day now. (Read your Bible. It might be tomorrow.) Oh and, by the way, we’re only in August.
But, don’t worry. I’m not going to launch into a sermon. That’s my dad’s domain. I only point these cultural things out to say that church leaders — including communicators — have been faced with a whole new set of challenges, many of which we’ve never encountered. And frankly, it’s left a lot of us wondering: Is what I do even important anymore? Does social media and all the marketing and branding that goes with it really matter right now in the midst of a national pandemic? Do people even care?
The answer to each of these questions, as far as I’m concerned, is unequivocally and overwhelmingly yes.
COVID-19 Proved Social Media Managers To Be Indispensable.
I get it. We’re not nurses, doctors, EMTs, policemen, firemen, or even elementary teachers (unless you’re bi-vocational, in which case I tip my hat to you, Superman.) But, generally speaking, we are not on the frontlines battling against killer viruses or falling into life-threatening situations. In fact, most of our friends and family members enjoy joking about how nice it must be to get paid to play around on Facebook and Instagram all day. Am I right?
I’ll be the first to agree that working full-time in the social media world can have its perks and even occasionally be fun. But it can also be, and often is, incredibly time-consuming, stressful, annoying, tedious, exhausting, and utterly maddening. Social media managers are much more than people who sit at their laptops sharing photos, commenting on threads, and laughing hysterically at stupid memes. We are copywriters, graphic designers, marketing strategists, digital strategists, brand developers, content creators, data analysts, demographic researchers, community gatekeepers and audience peacemakers. And, within the sphere of Church Communications, everything we do is meant to support the overall mission of the church, which hopefully includes reaching and ministering to the lost — even the lost on the Internet.
Now think back to March (I know, it was a nightmare): When your church had to shut down temporarily for COVID, where did the majority of your congregants flock for the sermon every week? Probably the church Facebook Page. Maybe you were even live-streaming a Sunday morning and evening service, a midweek service, and a Bible study or two in between. And if you’re the social media manager, you know that one of your major responsibilities is not only to ensure that the Livestream is up and functioning — working in tandem with your video production team — but to also respond to comments in the chat and engage with virtual viewers and visitors as often as possible. Why? Because they matter just as much as a person who walks into your church’s physical building. Moreover, good online engagement can result in an in-person visit.
Social Media Managers Are Responsible For First Impressions And Digital Ambiance.
About 1.73 billion people check Facebook every day and are considered to be daily active users. So the odds of a seeker running across your Page are pretty high, particularly at a time when many folks are itching to get plugged back into a local church. (Remember: people use Facebook as a search engine like Google.) Page managers know firsthand that they alone bear the burden of handling how the church will be perceived by the public via high-quality posts, photos, videos, graphics, etc. All of this digital content must reflect the real ambience of the church so that the correlation feels right when a visitor makes that transition from connecting with you online to showing up in person. Side note: Great church social media managers are keeping things positive, joyful, and hopeful on their platforms during these uncertain times.
Social Media Managers Are The “Digital Gatekeepers” of The Church.
This is one that I personally take very seriously. If you’re married to or live with a social media manager, then you probably know just how much time we spend on our devices. (Somewhere a wife is jabbing a husband in his ribcage.) But this is because — unlike other various forms of digital management — social media managers interact with their audience on a regular, usually daily, basis. It’s how we increase our audience size and our Page’s general public visibility. And it’s also just good ministry and communication methodology.
However, good church social media managers know that — beyond the marketing aspect — they also must faithfully protect the church’s digital territory. So when that disgruntled ex-member who despises the pastor fires off a profanity-laced comment on your latest live-stream video (not that this would ever happen, right?), you must immediately be on the receiving end of that notification, check it, delete it, and ban said user from the Page or at least hide the comment from public view and send the person a private message.
Obviously that’s an extreme example, but believe me, I could enthrall you with hours of stories from my own personal experience and those of fellow Church Comms leaders about the bizarre, silly, gross, and altogether ridiculous things that people post to church Facebook Pages. For some additional info on types of trolls and how to deal with them, check out this excellent blog post by my buddy and renowned Troll Slaying Extraordinaire Seth Muse: Types of Trolls and the Spells that Kill Them.
Culture Is Shaped And Influenced By Social Media.
This has definitely been the year for things to go viral, many of which have inspired some of the greatest memes ever to grace the Internet. Whether it was news stories, politics, tech humor, or silly commercials, people have paid attention as social media amplified these issues and topics to insane levels.
The same power of influence rests with church social media managers and their audience, which includes the church’s digital followers, the physical church family, and the surrounding local community as well. We’re called to influence those inside and outside of the Church for the sake of the Gospel and to encourage those in need of hope and help. That's ministry. That's being the hands and feet of Jesus in the digital sphere. And the need for this has never been greater as 2020 rolls on, leaving so much turmoil, chaos, anxiety, and unpredictability in its wake.
Church social media manager: You are indeed essential. What you do is important. Hang in there. And know that I’m rooting for you.
Long before the COVID crisis sent pastors and small group teachers into a frenzied scramble to master platforms like Zoom, GoToMeeting, or Google Hangouts, a whole lot of folks in the business world were already video conferencing on a daily basis. I personally know several individuals — including my little brother — who weren’t phased at all by the national shift towards these tools. Of course there were the seasoned techies like myself who had only ever utilized platforms like FaceTime or Skype and now found ourselves asking, “What black magic sorcery is this?”
Anyway, video conferencing is great. I serve on staff at a church that implemented Zoom and most folks found it useful, particularly during our brief COVID shutdown. My dad, the lead pastor, continues to use it regularly throughout the week to meet with local and non-local pastors and church leaders and to participate in prayer groups that include people who are spread across multiple cities and states. Our church has regathered for in-person fellowship, but Zoom remains valuable for a few of our small groups and for ministry-to-ministry communication in general.
I’m not ignorant though. Not everyone is like my little brother or my dad. One was already well-acquainted with the tech, and the other adapted quickly and stuck with it. Unfortunately, many pastors, elders, volunteers, and small group leaders need training on how to use video conferencing platforms as well as on proper digital meeting etiquette. But, rather than drone on endlessly about HOW to use Zoom, HangOuts or GoToMeeting (Google and YouTube are your best friends for tutorials), I thought I would simply pass along a few tidbits of advice from my own unique experiences and observations. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Please introduce everyone before you start.
There’s truly nothing more awkward than being in a meeting — real or virtual — where someone is a total stranger. If you were having the meeting in-person, and you knew that there were some folks who had never previously met, you would naturally extend the courtesy of introducing them before getting down to business. Do the same thing over your digital platform. It will make everyone feel comfortable and welcomed.
2. Be mindful of your personal attire and background view.
If you’re going to be video conferencing with your pastor — or even your small group — you probably shouldn’t be wearing your pajamas. Also, before you turn on your camera, look around your office or your room and see if it’s neat and free of distractions. You don’t want to be “that guy” everyone talks about afterwards. There should be little to no background noise and no sudden movements. Yes, this might mean you have to send the kids and pets out of the room.
3. If you're the leader, have an agenda.
What’s the point of this meeting? Why are we all here? What topics need to be covered and discussed and in what order? These are all questions you should have worked out long before everyone arrives on their cameras. Hopefully you would do the same thing if you were meeting in a physical conference room.
4. Look directly into the camera when speaking.
In order to best simulate eye contact with the individual(s) on the conference call, you will need to look straight into your device’s camera rather than at your own live playback video. Viewing yourself will give off an overall impression of distractedness because your eyes will be fixated on a random section of your screen. Not cool. Remember: as leader or facilitator of the meeting, you want everyone to feel engaged and included in the conversation. Eye contact is one of the best ways to make sure that happens. Or, in this case, the illusion of eye contact.
5. Don't eat anything during the meeting.
This should really go without saying, but apparently it must be said. It’s kind of disgusting to watch other people eat their food live on a webcam and it’s especially unpleasant to listen to them chew. (There are mute and video-off options for a reason, folks.) As a general rule, don’t do it. No one needs to see you scarfing down that Chalupa Supreme you grabbed from Taco Bell on the way home. If you’re starving and can’t wait, turn off your camera and mute your audio.
6. Do a test-run before the meeting.
Make sure your camera is functioning properly and that all of the meeting settings are to your liking. Zoom even allows you to take the meeting for a spin before going live with it. Familiarize yourself with all of the options at your disposal.
There’s a dozen other things I could rant and rave about, but I’ll cut it here for now and give you all a chance to drop some thoughts, tips, and suggestions into the comments! What have your experiences with video conferencing been like? What did I miss or leave out? Let me know and I may add them in a follow-up post. Thanks for reading.
The old adage ‘everybody loves a happy ending’ isn’t just a cliché phrase or a cheesy album by a British pop-rock band, it really is true. Human nature hasn’t changed as much as we might like to think. In fact, even more than that, people love a good story — the story that leads them to that happy ending. I was recently reminded of this as I watched Tom Hanks’ “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” for the first time and found myself emotionally overwhelmed by the tale of journalist Lloyd Vogel and his real-life encounter and subsequent friendship with Fred Rogers. Director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster did an outstanding job bringing viewers into the confrontation — er, I mean, interview — between Rogers and Vogel, carefully retelling every moment of the poignant and sentimental narrative, history, and background. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Hanks’ Oscar-worthy performance front-and-center either, but I digress.
Anyway, the art of storytelling has been around for centuries. Jesus Himself was a master storyteller in the form of parables. Only within the last several decades has America, specifically Hollywood, perfected it as a cinematic and digital art form in order to stir our thoughts and lead us into glorious escapism from our mundane and trivial lives. (COVID quarantine movie nights, anyone?)
The Church, however, needs storytellers just as much —if not more — than Hollywood needs them. Yes, even small churches. Stories are personal and when they’re properly and correctly told, they can communicate the truth, goodnesses, beauty, wonder, and splendor of God on levels that impact and influence people to their very core. They can provide a transparent view of the inside culture of your church in a way that causes people to take notice. As a Church Communications professional, it’s your job to use the art of storytelling to reach your church body and the surrounding community in a deeply intimate, specific, and special way.
So, when, where, and how does this all happen? What does it look like in a practical sense? Allow me to break it down and to start with a quick caveat:
Always remember that the subject of your story is JESUS. I can’t overemphasize this. Your church should be striving to continually and consistently tell the story of Jesus — His grace, redemption, and eternal promise of salvation — in and through everything that it posts, designs, markets, films, and/or produces. Regardless of how advanced your tech is or how fancy your media may be or not be, He has be in the spotlight. After all, if it doesn’t move people’s attention and hearts toward Christ, then what’s the point?
One of the best ways to communicate with your people is through your digital and social media platforms. (If you’re a small church struggling to understand, manage, and implement sites like Facebook and Instagram, you can see some of my previous posts or reach out to us at 6.14 Ministries for help.) The majority of your attendees and visitors will have access to web-based content and smartphone apps, which means you can place your unique stories into their hands quickly and conveniently. In doing so, you’ll increase connectivity and engagement with your congregation. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
1. Post photos and videos that tell meaningful stories.
We are living in the Golden Age of visual media and, when it comes to stories, people are more drawn to pictures and videos than words of text or lengthy paragraphs. At its core, the art of storytelling is nothing more than an attempt to form a significant and substantial connection with a human audience. If you want your stories to resonate, utilize photos and videos.
2. Use your website as a storytelling platform.
If I don’t feel or see a sense of connection, belonging, or engagement via the ministries on your website, there’s little chance I will visit your church. Your job as the Communications professional is to brand the site with graphics, videos, and/or photos — accompanied by text — in such a way that causes people to be drawn to your church and to want to learn more. The staff page is a great place to tell some unique stories through their bios and goes back to that transparency aspect I mentioned earlier.
God is telling a unique and powerful story in and through your church and it involves the people who are there every single week. They ARE the church. What are those stories? Which ones need to be told? Where and how do they need to be told? In a Facebook post? An Instagram video? An e-mail newsletter? A photo accompanied by an interview style write-up? A full production video to be shown on your multimedia screens during the morning worship service? These are all options to consider. Telling stories through your digital venues will allow your church to impact current attendees and to reach potential ones, while encouraging everyone and bringing the message of Jesus and the hope of the Gospel to each demographic. And that’s what ultimately matters.
There are several other digital storytelling methodologies for churches. What are you doing? What have you seen be successful? What did I miss or leave out? Sound off in the comments on this post and let me hear from you!