Ministry has been more hectic, chaotic, and wildly unpredictable than ever before as we emerge from COVID and still deal with its lingering ramifications over two years later.
Are you managing your church's digital and social media platforms on a regular basis? Whether you're the pastor, a lay leader, volunteer, or the full-time Communications Director, you've probably realized by now that simply posting once a day to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter isn't enough. After you take the time to write/proof/copy-edit your content, design your graphics, edit your audio/video content, define your target audience, develop your communications strategy, and implement your objectives, there's still a critical piece to the puzzle: Digital & Social Media Engagement.
Most churches didn't have a problem with this during the peak of the pandemic. People were responding to texts, social media comments and messages, e-mails, website contact forms, and even video call platforms like FaceTime and Zoom. And it made sense. These people were scared, uncertain, and many were desperately searching for some feeling of stability, some sense of community, and a silver lining in the midst of an otherwise bleak and frightening situation.
Now we're slowly returning to a sense of normalcy — or at least a new normalcy — and with it has come a dip in digital media engagement for most churches. Their e-mail conversations are few and far between. Direct messages on their website forms are almost nonexistent. And interactions across their social media platforms are waning.
What to do? What to do? Well, fear not. If you lost some of your online audience interaction after the COVID panic subsided, you can regain those people (or new people altogether.) Even if you think you've damaged your church's brand in the digital and/or local community — your reputation, name, etc. — in regards to engagement, you can still mend it.
It's all about making the engagement more relational. Jesus was relational and He calls us — His disciples, His Church — to follow Him. Here are a few tips and ideas on what that can and should look like:
#1. Speak to the Soul.
Do you know your online audience? Are you intimately acquainted with the type of content that inspires them? Moves them? Motivates them? The kind of colors, phrases, stories, Scripture, and photos that make them hit Like, Share, or Retweet every time? Have you realized that part — or even a lot — of your digital audience may not even be sitting in your church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings?
Everything that you write, compose, shoot, edit, design, export, post, and produce for your digital and social media platforms and channels should be done so with your audience in mind. Discover who that audience is and what speaks to their soul. Then craft those elements into your content.
There's a saying that those of us in the Church Communications world use a lot: You've got to stop the scroll. This is truer now than it's ever been. Your content quality matters because it needs to be seen, read, and heard by your specific niche target audience amongst a sea of other competing content. In other words: Your content may be getting lost in the noise.
The goal here is for your audience to feel as if you care about them and are speaking directly to them, regardless of whether or not they like or share your content.
#2. Create Conversation.
The best evidence of digital media engagement isn't the likes, shares, retweets, or even the comments. As great as those are, engagement truly blossoms relationally when someone is moved enough by your content to share it, thereby creating a chain reaction of re-shares, resulting in online conversations all centered around your original source material.
Whether it's a full-length sermon video or something as simple as a well-designed Scripture graphic, shared content has the ability to reach an audience much bigger than your original target audience. That's the sweet spot of relational digital ministry.
#3. Seek Out and Embrace Those Who Are Different.
One of the basic definitions of different is "not ordinary; unusual." You'll never be successful — scripturally or practically — with real relational engagement until you're passionate about reaching those who are different than you (and your church.)
Jesus hung out with, loved on, mingled with, and conversed with unusual, weird, strange, smelly, sick, hurting, broken, crazy, sinful, evil, and controversial people all the time. He talked with everyone from Pharisees and tax collectors to peasants and fishermen. In the midst of His own agony and suffering, He responded to the thief on the cross and welcomed him into Heaven.
If the Church is to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the digital sphere, we must follow His example and not only seek out those who are different, but embrace them and love them as He would. This means not shying away from e-mails, text messages, direct messages, comments, or social media interactions with people who do drugs, drink alcohol, spew profanity, have criminal histories, struggle with pornography, homosexuality, gender and identity confusion, or a host of other sins.
By bringing the love of Jesus and the light and hope of the Gospel to social media and the Internet, we create an opportunity to build bridges and relationships with men, women, and children from all walks of life who need Jesus and the Gospel. And that's what it's all about.
#4. Disciple Through Content.
Jesus' method of reaching people is the one we should truly mirror. As He walked this earth and rubbed shoulders with humanity, He did so as one who always had its best interests at heart. He was humble, compassionate, sensitive, encouraging, and consoling. He gained trust, healed pain and brokenness, confronted sin, calmed doubts and fears, and then simply said, "Follow Me."
The primary goal of relational digital engagement for the Local Church is to see an individual transform from an indifferent or apathetic consumer into a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. Believe it or not, our Savior's techniques from over 2,000 years ago are still just as relevant and applicable in this strange and complex era of TikTok, FaceTime, emojis, gifs, newsfeeds, and memes.
Through our presence on social media and the Internet, we have an opportunity — arguably a responsibility if you're familiar with the Great Commission — to encounter people where they are and invite them into a personal relationship with Jesus. And from there, we must cultivate healthy community, encourage the idea of doing life together, bring people into small groups, and build one-to-one relationships.
Discipleship isn't just a one-time thing. It's a lifelong process of continuous spiritual growth supported by and within a spiritual community (i.e. the Local Church) — and digital media engagement can and should bring people into this community.
Digital media engagement, especially for the Local Church, is not about how many likes your latest post will accumulate. It's not about how many followers you can gain on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. And it's not even about how many views your sermon livestream racks up. It's a continuous process that connects people to Jesus Christ and a personal relationship with Him while inviting them to partake in the greatest journey of their lives — the greatest journey of all time — a journey that will matter for eternity.
What does relational digital media engagement look like for your church? Want some coaching on how to improve your engagement? Is there something else you would add to my thoughts? Drop a comment below, shoot me a DM on social, or send me an e-mail and let's talk!