Your Church's Digital Presence (Why, Who, What)
The digital presence of a church is almost as important, if not more so, than their physical presence in their community. How can we make the most of it?
Back in November, I attended the Digital Church Summit – a gathering of church and ministry communications people to learn from each other and share experiences, run by the team at Digital Church Toolkit.
The speakers and panels covered topics from practical tips for church communications to what the future might hold, and everything in between.
The pandemic exposed the fact that the church is often behind the curve when it comes to technology. Much work was done to understand how digital could be used for church ministry but, with the urgency of lockdowns dissipating, digital is falling down the priority list.
This is understandable: it can feel like an unnecessary addition to an already busy workload, it takes time and resources to implement, and it’s such a fast-paced area that it’s hard to keep up.
But if we want to reach people where they are in a way they can relate to, digital communication is key. It’s not the answer to all of church ministry, but – just as was the printing press in the 16th century - digital is a tool God has given to us to minister with.
What is a digital presence?
Every church has a ‘digital presence’, whether you know it or not.
Just as your church has a physical presence through a building or notices at a hired venue, it also has a digital presence online as people search on Google, use online maps, or scroll through their social media feeds.
A natural way to think about your digital presence is to make it a digital noticeboard, as you might do outside a church building. It’s useful for people to know what’s happening, of course.
But, the online world and digital communications have so much more opportunities than that. People don’t go online simply for information but to learn new things, to get answers to questions, and to connect.
So, if you want to make your digital presence more impactful, here are three questions to ask.
Why do you have a digital presence?
If every church has a digital presence, we need to decide what we are going to do with it. What do we want it to achieve?
For your church’s digital presence to be effective, you need to know its purpose. Then you can look back to see if it has achieved what you set out to do and adapt accordingly.
This big picture also gives motivation to work on digital ministry rather than just leaving it to run itself. If there is a purpose, it will draw you and your team into putting the effort in to make it happen.
Understanding the answer to this will involve linking with the overall vision for your church. If outreach is a priority for your church, the purpose of your online communications will look different as opposed to if church discipleship is a priority.
Who is your digital presence for?
When you’ve understood the purpose of your digital presence, get to know who your audience is.
Maybe your initial reaction is that you want to reach everyone! It’s true: the gospel is for everyone. But trying to reach everyone as a church could end with you resounding with none of them.
Everyone is different and will engage in different ways – only by knowing your audience and their needs can you reach them effectively.
Looking to reach the members of your church will be different to looking to reach your local community. Both in terms of format (a public Instagram account, church website, or private Facebook group) and content (a Bible devotional, blog post, or a video answering a common question).
You should think about the location of the people you want to reach, the demographic (age, background, class), and the stage of faith (believers or unbelievers or agnostic). This will help you decide what content you could use and where it should go online to achieve your purpose effectively.
What content will resound with your ‘who’?
Once you’ve considered the purpose of being online and who you want to reach, you will be in a position to plan what content will help you achieve it.
The key here is to think about your audience and understand their needs. Do they need to be spurred on in the faith? Do they need to be pointed to Jesus, the hope of the nations (Matthew 12:21)? Do they need answers to big questions? What questions are they asking?
What is going to serve them and resound with them the most?
This can be overwhelming, to be honest. How will I produce all of this – written material, videos, photography, podcasts? It’s a daunting prospect. But one source of content you already have (if you record them) is the Sunday sermon.
Your sermon each week can serve multiple purposes in this area:
- It gives a glimpse into what your church is like.
- It offers hope to the searching and the suffering.
- It spurs on believers to perseverance.
- It gives wisdom and advice.
Consider how you could use words from the sermon to achieve your purpose. And it doesn’t end there – maybe a reflection or deeper dive on the passage or topic could work too.
Another opportunity is to share stories from those in your church of how their life has been changed by Jesus and how their faith makes a difference in their life. Or even a piece straight to camera to answer one of those big questions.
Resist the temptation to make your digital presence a noticeboard – there are better ways to keep members up to date with what’s on. View it as an outworking of your wider church ministry: to build up the body and to share the gospel with the world.