10 tips for your church's online presence

March 15th, 2016
  1. Know who you are trying to reach. You are probably trying to reach two interacting audiences. The first is those already there. They want to know what time the concert is or who is preaching. They also want something simple (with directions) that they might forward to friends and family. The second is those not there. They don’t want to know the concert time has changed so much as what the concert is and why you are the kind of church whose choir or organist or pianist gives a concert. The first audience wants to know what and how; the second audience wants to know who and why. Remember the interaction: you want to say things totally truthful to those inside and those outside. 
  2. Have an elevator speech readily displayed. DO NOT talk about how many years you have been in the community. The second audience doesn’t care. Both want to know why you are still around and what your future looks like. “We help people through rough times.” “We sing well together.” “We feed the homeless.” "We are friendly and intergenerational and like to cross what others think of as divides.” Make sure it’s the truth. DON’T say anything false. You’re better off saying "we have good coffee" than "we have a great mission," if what you have is good coffee and a mediocre mission. Social media allows for the maximum manipulation of the truth, but people don’t like churches that lie. 
  3. Update the site regularly. Spend money to hire someone to do it. Because the average church’s contributions increase when online giving is implemented, you can afford it. Don’t let anybody visit the site and see last year’s confirmation class being advertised if it is not still being held. Updating a simple site should take an hour a week. Hire a freelancer or get a volunteer, but under no circumstances should you fail to refresh the site. A dead site is worse than no site at all. 
  4. Be open and transparent. Have a button for online giving that allows the potential donator to see what the church budget is. Present simple facts: “It costs us $2400 a week to have our worship service.” “Our heating bill is $1900 a month in the winter.” “We give away 10% of our budget to the local homeless organization.” “Volunteer labor gives us 20% of our budget.” Have real places where people can offer volunteer work. Make sure that the “contact us” button is working and sends a direct email to someone who is sure to follow up. 
  5. Be consistent. Have the website, the church’s Facebook page and the church’s Twitter account all be managed by the same person with the same information. Once the content is there all it has to be is repeated, with regularity. 
  6. Ask for what you need. Don’t have the funds to create a site or to pay someone to maintain it? Someone who cares about your church probably does. Ask him or her to fund this ministry as a strategic investment. Without an online presence, gaining new members is almost impossible. Most churches have some funds hidden away for a rainy day; a church without a website is a church experiencing a flood.
  7. Meet people where they are. Have a long-range plan to live stream the worship service on the site, especially if it is a meaningful one. If the quality is right, upload the entire service. If not, upload in pieces; make available the prayers, scripture readings or sermons.  People can “come” to church the way we come to everything else: when we have the time and interest. The idea that traveling on a Sunday morning is a good idea is simply not a good idea. It is an old idea. Some of us will always want to worship in person. Others won’t or can’t.
  8. Know who's interested. Try to collect the contact information of everyone who visits the site. You will want to know why they came and how they came. Have them sign in or answer the question, "Would you like someone to call?" Studies show that people visit a site or a church within six months of some life difficulty or trauma. Try to find out what seekers are looking for without intervening too personally or too quickly.
  9. Be as visual as possible. Links to other open source materials are widely available if yours are not great yet. We did a video Q and A with 50 of our members, ‘Why I love Christmas at Judson” and got some hilarious answers. (“The cookies" was a popular one.) We put this short, unprofessional video up at Christmas time. It's accompanied by the hymn, “O Come All ye Faithful,” and it gets lots of love.
  10. Have fun. Don't panic if you're starting from scratch. Many small changes accumulate to a large change. There is somebody somewhere in your community who will gladly help you get started. Find him or her, reward them, compensate them, appreciate them….or let a little child lead you!
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