Should You Update Your Church’s Website and Social Media?
One type of company I’ve worked with is churches. Churches are unique. They are non-profit and vary in both size and leadership structure. You get everything from a megachurch with a giant operating budget to a small congregation in a rural area. Generally speaking, churches are led by a combination of business-minded and people who have only had religious training or education. This can create a gap in vision and purpose that doesn’t find a clear landing place in a digital world. Small churches, especially, may be populated with older attendees who aren’t as digitally engaged (although this isn’t always true; many older people are very digitally plugged in). Other dynamics, even including theological bent, impact whether or not a church invests in their website or social media. Many modern churches do.
Statistics About Church Online
There are a few initial considerations: Should your church pay someone to do its website?
- Should your church pay someone to do its website?
- Should your church practice marketing?
- Should your church have facebook?
- Should your church have instagram?
- Should your church have Twitter?
- Should your church livestream?
- Should your church pay for online ads?
There are a lot of elements in play here. In a church, stakeholders may or may not be on staff. The congregation has varying levels of buy-in and many may have strong feelings or opinions about engaging online in this way. In case you encounter opposition before you even get out of the starting gate, here are some unbiased statistics for your reflection:
More than four-in-ten Christians who do not attend religious services say they practice their faith in other ways. Among self-identified Christians, the predominant reason that non-churchgoers offer for not attending worship services is that they practice their faith in other ways. Upwards of four-in-ten (44%) say this is a very important reason for not going to church more often.Pew Research Center, August 2018
Church attendance has edged down in recent years. Gallup’s latest yearly update from its daily tracking survey shows that in 2017, 38% of adults said they attended religious services weekly or almost every week. When Gallup began asking this question in 2008, that figure was 42%.Gallup, September 7, 2018
“Technology allows a greater sense of community that doesn’t demand proximity. . . “[t]hrough social media, a new attendee can connect to other church members before he or she ever has a chance to meet at a church gathering or a small group.””Ed Stetzer in Christianity Today, October 27, 2014
84% of churches have a facebook page. A website and Facebook page are the most common online tools used by Protestant churches. Both are used for similar goals—to interact with the congregation and to reach outsiders. Among those with a website, 99 percent use their site to provide information to visitors, while 94 percent use it to inform the congregation. Seventy-one percent use their site to recruit volunteers or let people know about their ministries. Half (47 percent) let people register for events, while about a third (36 percent) let people give online. About a quarter (23 percent) have a secure, online church directory.Bob Smietana writing for Lifeway, January 9, 2018
In 2017, more than half of Bible readers used the internet (55%) or a smartphone (53%) to access biblical texts, a significant increase from 2011 (37%, 18% respectively).Barna Group
54% of Christian millennials watch online videos about faith or spirituality. A 2013 Barna survey found that more than half of Christian young people watch religious videos online. Among all U.S. millennials—Christian and non-Christian—the number was 31%.Barna Group
There are 30,000 searches every month related to online church and church services online.Google Analytics
In 2016, 2,778 houses of worship across 59 countries used Livestream to broadcast 166,700 events online.Vimeo Analytics
46% of U.S. adults have seen someone share their faith online. 20% of adults say they have shared their beliefs on social media.Pew Research Center, 2018
How to Modernize Your Church Online
So, based on the above statistics about church online, it could be argued that churches need to have a strong online presence. This includes a website and social media profiles. For people who continue to resist, let me re-frame the statistics above:
- People are looking for churches online
- People are having spiritual conversations online
- Some people consider their online community to be a primary social circle
- Online communities provide information, entertainment and real relationships for some people
- People are learning about new ideas and belief systems online
Many forms of truth are being put forward online… will your church’s voice be among them? If churches are serious-minded about their oft-stated purpose of reaching as many people as possible with the gospel, their online presence can no longer be ignored. It matters. It also matters that you have a scalable strategy that helps you “eat the elephant,” as it were. The magnitude of work that could be done may not be the same as the work that can be done.
Grow Your Church Website and Social Media
I’ve taken church leadership groups who are interested in marketing through this exercise. You have to start with three points of agreement before you can make a strategy. You have to agree that:
- Growth is necessary
- Growth is desirable
- Growth is achievable
As in many similar industries, churches are often lean in leadership and those at the top wear a lot of hats. The prospect of adding yet another task can feel impossible. And yet, without it, will your church survive in the digital age? Consider the cost of what you lose by not making this investment. It could be severe.
Here’s the reality: measurable growth is possible if you have a scalable marketing strategy. Let me break that down.
Measurable: you can track every dollar spent.
Growth: numerical growth that exceeds lost members, both in head count and dollars.
Scalable: a reasonable allocation of resources and manpower.
Marketing strategy: an articulated project plan that executes marketing activities for the highest ROI.
5 Ways To Grow Your Church’s Digital Presence
I’m not a huge fan of these lists but I do think that I leave this conversation with some sense that “there are actions you can take.” We’ve reviewed that you need to and outlined the kind of agreement you need to make among yourselves. Now, I want you to feel empowered to initiate some forward motion. First, a word about manpower. Churches are full of people with skills. Churches rely on volunteers for many tasks. Don’t rule out the fact that people may be willing to volunteer their time and expertise to help you with your website or social media. If you as a leadership team agree on some basic terms and goals, you can delegate many of these tasks to people in your congregation who may know what they’re doing. In the absence of skilled workers, consider hiring a freelancer.
- Improve the SEO on your website. Click Here for a lay-level blog to teach you how to do some basic things to increase traffic to your site. Also, if you are functioning on an outdated version of the site, there are numerous free online resources that can give you web templates that are literally drag and drop.
- Update your media. Even a camera phone may be good enough to get updated shots of people in your church. Get pictures of individual ministries, leadership, volunteers, youth groups, children’s ministry, nursery, etc. People are conditioned to be very visual online.
- Think about visitors. This may sound simple or even unrelated, but the reality is that you have to want to have more visitors to be motivated to invest in these things. Think about the kind of people who are searching for churches in your area: who are they, what do they want, what do they need? This is your mission! (In marketing, we call this a persona and defining it will help your messaging.)
- Create and manage social profiles. Look into free automation services for social posts (Later.com is one I like). Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube aren’t just about the content you put on them… they also help you rank in search and give you a larger digital footprint. Outsource post creation if you need to. Keep it consistent and reasonable (don’t post every day for a month and then take a six month break. Do what you can.).
- Ask for feedback. It may feel strange to ask people in your congregation to give your church five stars, but the reality is many young families and other people will want to vet you online before visiting. They may visit your site, social profiles and other places before they ever step foot in your door. Ask your congregation for positive feedback and testimonials that you can post, so people understand more about your church culture and ministries.
You will work on this strategy prayerfully, together as a leadership team, and thoughtfully move forward with the right process for you. The ultimate goal is to achieve your mission. Don’t miss out on people who are on the internet, waiting to be find you.