The One Thing Churches Have To Do To Keep Their Congregation Engaged Online
Hint: It’s not more content
If you’ve done any amount of research on how to do social media or online engagement in the past year and, let’s be honest, we all have, then you’ve heard that creating content is the thing to do. And while that’s not wrong, it’s not what you should be putting all of your focus on right now.
In the wise words of the online church guru, Carey Nieuwhof,
Great messages that used to guarantee growth don’t any more. What used to attract people now gets a shrug of indifference instead.
Don’t get me wrong: Bad content (bad sermons, articles, talks or events) can still kill a mission. But great content (including great, faithful preaching), in and of itself, doesn’t naturally generate the kind of momentum it used to.
The question, of course, is why? And, what can you do about it?
Five years ago, heck, even two years ago, Churches and other organizations creating good online content was not common. But now, it’s everywhere. And churches are no longer competing with other churches or even other businesses. They’re competing with Netflix, Marvel, and Warner Brothers.
On December 13, 2020, The New York Times published an article titled, “Warner Bros. Says All 2021 Films Will Be Streamed Right Away” (source). At that very moment, they became direct competitors with churches, YouTubers, businesses, and anyone else that was creating on-demand content.
Instead of New Hope Faith Church in Tennessee competing with First Baptist Church of Christ in Alabama for views on their sermons or Bible studies, they’re both directly competing with Wonder Woman 1984, Matrix 4, and The Suicide Squad.
I don’t know about you, but I’m choosing either one of those to entertain me at home over my pastor on stage in an awkwardly lit room.
So what are churches to do about that?
Well, I’m glad you asked H2 heading. Let’s get into it.
Before you can create an action plan and assign staff to do anything online, you have to ask yourself and your church what they want to accomplish online.
For example, creating an incredible online community where members of the congregation are engaged and meeting weekly is a great goal. But that action plan will be different than if your church wants to become the #1 online digital resource for people to learn about the Christian faith (which no one is doing well) or the #1 resource for apologetics and Christian philosophy. There isn’t a right answer here, but you need to have an answer.
If you want to create a digital community of your current members, then staff should be spending less time developing social media content and more time creating ways to engage your already bought-in members.
I know firsthand how hard it can be to identify goals, and once they’re identified, actually stick to them, but here’s the hard truth: most churches don’t have enough budget to do more than one thing online well.
Identify your goal and stick with it.
This is the good stuff.
With enough content out there to last us until the Second Coming, you have to engage your church in different ways online. Don’t get me wrong, creating fun carousels and cutting clips from your church's sermon is important, and people want to see that, but that shouldn’t be the only thing you’re doing.
What’s going to differentiate yourself from Marvel and Netflix is the personality your church and its staff have online.
Your church’s social media account should not sound like a robot, a corporate company, or a spammy infomercial. Dial-up the fun and dial-down the khakis. Make jokes with people in the comments, capitalize on cultural memes and trends appropriately, and try something new. If it lands, people are going to love it. If it doesn’t, no one is going to remember it in 24 hours.
Also, don’t be afraid to show your face. The pastors don’t need to be the only people on camera.
As far as your staff goes, give them a platform to talk about what they do at the church and how they get it done. Encourage them to interact with the congregation on social, be vulnerable about what they’re dealing with and how they're handling the pandemic. This will make your whole staff feel more “real” online and encourage the congregation to open up and do the same.
What’s the one thing?
Be social and create community. I’m sorry, but no one needs more content, Zoom calls, or webinars. It’s just not the right move to do this far into the pandemic.
People are craving community, human interaction, and real-life friends to talk to.
If you really want to create content, I love what The Village Church out of Canada has been doing with the “Pastor Mark Reacts”. I also think a church needs to create an incredible morning show. If you build it, let me know.