As you probably know by now, I am a relentless advocate for the role of social media in the life and ministry of the church.
But what we are dealing with today, is a massive shift to a digital age that is bigger than social media.
I have had some conversations with ELCA member and church digital consultant, Christopher Harris, who describes himself in a way many church leaders are going to need to be able to describe themselves, “I speak church and I speak Geek.”
With a foot in the church world and a foot in the digital business world, he sees that the church still has a way to go to be fluent in the culture that people are growing up in.
For better or worse the digital age is changing how we communicate and even think.
As missionaries have always done, we need to be sharing Jesus in the language of the culture.
I don’t mean to scare you but this is bigger than getting a Facebook page for your congregation. (Although that is a good start and call me if you need help doing that).
Harris believes a church digital strategy should begin and end with the website.
“The website is the central hub and the authoritative source of information for the organization. The other channels are used for their strengths, but we have no control over those channels. So we need folks to have a relationship with our website so they are not lost when Facebook changes the rules.”
For some basic suggestions for a good website see Ways to Improve Your Website.
If you are ready to take it a step further, Harris has some suggestions.
If you are working a long-term strategy with your website you will be indexed by Google and people will start coming to you on your website, notes Harris.
“Google is more powerful than social media and your strategy should be to get Google’s attention. If you are not adding content to your website, there is nothing for Google to index.
One of the most common searches on Sunday morning on Google in the US is, ‘church near me’ so you need to add information to your site that will have you in the top three results when someone puts that in the search box”, he advises.
What that means is that most of us need to be updating our website far more often than we are.
For example, if you have an event, don’t just announce it on Facebook. Put the event on your website and then link to that event on your website on your Facebook page. That will draw people to your website.
Many congregations have very basic do it yourself websites and this is a good start.
The cost of paying someone else to build and maintain a church website may seem prohibitive. There was a time when all the men in a community would come together and build the church or school house themselves. And the women would make pies.
Unless we are Amish, we don’t do that anymore. Now we save and budget and have capital campaigns to raise funds to pay architects and builders to construct the building that meets our mission needs.
Today a website is as important (if not more) to our mission as is the building.
Congregations need to plan and budget for their digital mission.
As Christopher Harris puts it,
“In the last century, the church had capital campaigns to build buildings. In this century, the church would be wise to adopt a capital mindset to digital ministry.”
Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson
Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA