Remember when church communications was simply updating a clever sign, maintaining a yellow page or newspaper ad, and creating a weekly bulletin? Those were the good ol' days. Or were they?
Today, churches need websites, print materials, social media, advertising, email campaigns, signage and more! Times are changing quickly. In fact, churches find themselves in a cluttered communications world where everyone wants the attention of everyone. So, what should you do? How do you keep up with everything? Is it even possible?
Most churches can't compete with the huge budgets of the secular brands that are bombarding us with messaging. But, unlike the days gone by, we have digital tools that allow us to have access to a much larger community that we only once dreamed of. In fact, your small local worship community can now engage with people around the world. Thanks to the internet.
Effective church digital strategies protect your time and allow you to reach more people for Christ while doing it cost effectively! They keep you focused on goals, allow you to understand what success looks like, set priorities for your time, and help you weigh all the digital opportunities while determining which are right for you.
Ready to start? The first three help set the foundation of your strategies. You must:
1. Understand your audience. Ask questions like: What groups are you currently reaching? Would you like to reach more? Less? Looking at the groups, how do they like to receive communications? What do they want from you? Are you doing a good job now? How do you think you should improve?
2. Set some goals. In the wide-open digital world, we tend to work feverishly without feeling accomplishment. Or, if you're optimistic, you feel like you're doing a great job because you're working so hard. Both are defeating. Decide now to claim a timeframe and an outcome. It can be wildly wrong (especially in the beginning) but when the deadlines arrive check to see how close you are to the outcome you originally estimated.
3. Have outcome assessments. At the end of your goal's time period, assess what kept you from success. Then course correct. There are many ways to do things in the digital age, if you can't get it done with your time and talent, try something different. Our churches are doing things the same ways—with poor outcomes—but never changing. With the foundation complete, develop a practical digital strategy mechanism.
4. Target your audience. Stop "telling" information when very few are listening. Instead, engage with your audience. Ask them what they want. Listen to their answers and understand why they want things and how you can deliver. In the big digital world, you can't reach everyone, so clearly define and pinpoint who you actually can reach effectively. It's better to reach "some" really well, than to reach "all" very poorly. Master the communications of a core group before expanding your reach.
5. Focus and edit your materials. Churches have a lot to say! Almost every church we work with struggles with balancing ministry messages and where each message occurs. You can't possibly communicate everything that everyone wants and do it effectively.
Instead create a tiered communication system. Decide the most important messages based on what percentage of your overall targeted group the ministry event needs to reach. For example, if it's for the whole congregation (i.e. church-wide ice cream social, special church service, etc.) then it rises to the top tier. The more obscure announcements take a step or two down on the tiered system. Then determine what communication tool reaches the most and allow it to carry the messages in the top tier.
The only exceptions? A lower tier message that emphasizes what your church wants to be known for can rise to a higher tier. Once this tier system is determined, it must stay consistent. Also remember in the digital world, people don't have time to listen or read much; so edit all messages to be scannable. A web page gets about 10 seconds of attention (about 50 words) and a social media post gets 1-3 seconds. Videos? Less than 1-2 minutes will get viewed and shared more often.
6. Develop a digital hub. Web, social and email communications all need to work together as part of your strategy. Websites are the central core of this hub. Because most people won't stumble onto your website, rely on the other mediums in your hub to refer people to your website content. Search engines, your email campaigns, and social media posts should peek your audience's interest then simply point to the website for more details.
If you don't have a great website, stop investing time on the other things until you do. Also, remember that the digital world is tipping in favor of mobile devices now. More people check email on a mobile device than on a desktop (more than 60%). That's a great sign that mobile will eventually take over your digital strategy core. Everything you create needs to work effectively on a smaller screen. For example, responsive websites allow the screen size of the device to interpret and rearrange the design and content of your website.
7. Manage your Digital Strategy. Someone (a communication person preferably) needs to develop and maintain this strategy; then with a team, needs to create, collect, edit and post the content for each of the tools. They need to be committed to consistency and your church's vision.
Be careful since this communication's position can feel like a gate-keeper role that your ministries dread to deal with; so ensure that the person in charge is an encourager of ministry and not a negative referee who says "no" all the time. This one tip can liberate your ministries! "Let's see how we can get the message out effectively" should be your mantra, not "No, we can't do that".
One caveat: be careful in the digital world that you don't forget about the effective role of non-digital communications. Ensure that pulpit announcements, signage, and bulletins are used to enhance what you're doing online without repeating things. Just remember that print communication is declining everywhere. Magazines, newspapers and printers are all trying to reinvent their worlds to stay afloat.
The church, who tends to rely heavily on their print hub (with the bulletin in the center), has to start taming that beast. Print's role needs to be diminishing. Start shrinking your expensive printed pieces to a more economical size but only after you have your digital strategy working effectively.
What's the bonus for reducing print materials? You can use their budgets more effectively on your digital strategy in order to reach more people. And that's what it's all about.