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Churches Face a Digital Dilemma

What's the best way to reach more people?

Churches Face a Digital Dilemma

What's the best way to reach more people?

Does your church have this problem? You place announcements and information in your weekly church bulletin that you know are relevant to your congregants. Say, for example, your church put together backpacks for the kids in your congregation as a back-to-school gift. Your entire team went shopping, filled the bags, and placed them on a table in the church hallway where congregants could swing by all week, including windows before and after work.

But at the end of the week, 31 of 40 bags remained.

You know the problem isn’t the ministry—parents have told your children’s pastor that they’re hurting financially and back-to-school shopping has been a stretch. The problem is that no one is reading your church bulletin. It’s time to modernize your church communications.

To meet a need, you must meet people where they are. Bulletin highlights and Sunday morning announcements no longer effectively communicate with your congregation. Until you master the hows and whys behind messaging your people, you’ll be left spinning your wheels, sitting on 31 packs of crayons and markers and tissues that your people need but don’t know exist.

A church's communications strategy is a key part of its ministry. In the digital age, this means churches have to determine how to use texting, email, and social media for effective church communications. For churches, the goal of any communication strategy should be to reach, engage, and attract more people while maintaining or even reducing work. To do that, it helps if you know which tools and channels can put your message in front of more eyes without increasing work or the number of tools you have to manage.

Church leaders want to engage their congregations with timely and meaningful messages, so it’s critical to develop a communication strategy that incorporates digital mediums. Devising a clear, targeted approach to text, email, and social media can help pastors reduce their frustration around technology and better connect with church members, attendees, and visitors. It all comes down to knowing when to post, when to email, and when to text.

Have Purpose in Posting

Most people spend their days tethered to laptops, cell phones, and tablets. And as social media dominates our usage, it’s easy for pastors to think that communicating through Facebook or Instagram should be their top priority for sharing pertinent information online. However, focusing solely on social media can lead to major communication gaps.

Often, social media is impossible to predict. And none of us is prepared to battle against Mark Zuckerberg’s ever-changing algorithms. Just because someone follows your church’s page or your personal account doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to see your post about Tuesday’s doughnuts and devotions. In fact, according to Hootsuite, Facebook pages with fewer than 10,000 fans see 0.52 percent engagement, and pages with more than 100,000 fans see only 0.10 percent engagement, since engagement decreases as page audience increases.

Before we give up on social media altogether, it’s important to note that there are ways to increase engagement on organic posts, such as posting captioned photos rather than just text posts, using the Facebook Live feature, and inviting discussion in the comments. Paid targeted ads can also do quite well, especially for churches. But it’s clear that social media isn’t useful as a comprehensive approach to sharing important information.

Think of social media as an ideal venue for:

Reminders: Don’t make your first, or only, announcement about upcoming events or urgent information on social media. But once you’ve shared with your congregation in another way, social media posts can be a great tool for reminding people about upcoming opportunities and fostering excitement around them.

Encouragement: Want to shout out the youth group for the great job they did on a recent service project? Feeling thankful for the way your congregation has been the hands and feet of Jesus in the aftermath of a hurricane? Social media is a great place to offer words of encouragement. You can also tag people involved in the announcement, which will increase visibility and may encourage those individuals to share the post themselves.

Inspiration: If you find a certain passage of Scripture, quotation from a book, or work of art to be especially powerful and think it may touch the hearts of others, a social media post with an image accompanied by a brief caption can be a meaningful way to reach others.

Be Encouraged to Email

There’s no doubt about it—email is a critical component of a comprehensive online communication strategy. Email allows you to cultivate a list of people who want to be contacted by your church, and typically, those members are the most invested and active people in your congregation. Pastors can personalize their email campaigns based on interests, demographics, and ministries. Perhaps most importantly, emails are free from the control of algorithms. Depending on the email marketing program, most software also provides church leaders with important data about user activity, including opening emails, clicking links, and registering for events.

Unlike social media, where clicking the like button on a page or post comes with little or no promise of future commitment, people who subscribe to an email list are signaling interest in ongoing communication and participation. Subscribing to an email list is like offering an open door to someone. That’s why it’s important to respect those who have said yes with emails that demonstrate you’re thankful for their invitation and investment.

Email can be especially useful for:

Information: If you’re hosting an event, kicking off a new sermon series, or asking people to volunteer, email is a great place to do it. Whether through one-off messages featuring a specific piece of information or a newsletter-style missive that lists several items, emails can prompt the reader with the opportunity to add events to their calendars. And, critically, emails stick around so that busy people can return to them for reference quickly.

Education: Go deeper into a sermon topic, share a devotional, or help your congregation learn about specific needs in your local community or global missions. The ability to read emails more than once, as well as forwarding them to friends or family who may be interested, makes inboxes an ideal place for educational messages.

Take the Time to Text

While social media provides an ideal platform for encouragement and inspiration, and email paves the way for information and education, text messaging is unparalleled when it comes to opportunities for dialogue and connection. Did you know that, according to marketing platform RedEye, about 99 percent of text messages are opened, and 97 percent are opened within 15 minutes of being delivered? Texting is characterized by quick, personal connection, which makes it a perfect medium for pastors who want to know and serve their people.

While some may delete social media apps from their phones or refuse to check email on weekends, the vast majority of people receive text notifications as they arrive. It takes approximately 90 minutes to get a response to an email. But texting? Responses average about 90 seconds. For congregants with immediate needs or volunteers with quick questions, texting is a great way to stay connected and communicate with clarity and efficiency.

Make the most of texting by using it for:

Two-way conversation: Want to hear from your members about your church's new mask mandate or invite feedback on a recent sermon? Try texting! It allows for immediate dialogue, which helps your congregants feel valued and heard as they share their opinions with you. Even a quick “Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, [FIRST NAME]. I really appreciate your feedback.” can strengthen your members’ sense of connection and value as a part of your congregation.

Connection: If you need to check on a family after a tragedy, haven’t seen a regular attendee in a while, or want to circle back with a member who had a new idea for a ministry, texting can be a great way to maintain and further connection. Let your congregants know that you’re thinking of them by showing up where you know they already are: on their texting apps.

Capturing prayer requests: Engage your people or first-time guests by asking how you can pray for them. Have them submit a prayer request to your unique church phone number just by using a smart keyword (such as “PRAYER”). Then, let them know they’ve been prayed for. (Bonus: add a note of encouragement!)

By mastering the why and how of communicating with your congregation, you’re less likely to invest in ministries they don’t need and more likely to meet each person with the ministry or opportunity that they desire most. Still unsure about texting’s ability to help your congregants feel known and heard? Thryve is a texting platform designed specifically for the needs of churches, and you can schedule a free tour today. Anything that creates deeper, more meaningful connections with your people is worth a shot, right?

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