July 22, 2020

The Key to Reaching NEW People in a Digital World – Episode 152 | The Unstuck Church Podcast


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Unpacking the Principle of “Carriage” and How to Leverage It

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Over the past four months, churches have navigated many shifting priorities. First, for many churches, it was about pivoting to—or improving—online services.

And then next it was about caring for and connecting with the people who had been attending the church.

And then most churches took a look at their financial health and worked through plans to stabilize.

Most recently, many churches have been giving a lot of energy to re-opening in-person church services (and some have unfortunately also had to give attention to shutting them back down again).

But now the headline conversation we’re having with pastors is all about developing a strategy to reach new people.

Because here’s what many of you are telling me you’ve started to realize:

New people are probably not going to come to our physical locations to try out church.

Not for a long time.

Even if we take all the precautions and follow the federal and local guidelines… that’s going to be a big challenge going forward.

So, that begs the question: How will churches reach new people in a digital world? And that’s what this episode is all about.

In this conversation, Amy and I discussed…

  • The evolution of “carriage” as a principle (credit to Seth Godin), and why the way most churches think about the Internet as a tool for ministry is all wrong
  • A practical way to execute a digital strategy that reaches new people—and why it’s probably not going to be about doing a good job with your online service
  • Why your PEOPLE—the ones already connected to your church—are the essential component of reaching NEW people online
  • 3 questions to process with your team to rebuild your online experience for engaging with new people
  • And… Why I believe you CAN do this, and why I have hope for where our churches will be on the other side of the pandemic
To reach and engage NEW online viewers, you need to design online experiences for NEW people. #unstuckchurch [episode 152] Click to Tweet If your digital experience works in-person, it's probably not the right digital experience—and vice versa. #unstuckchurch [episode 152] Share on X

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Your weekend experience is no longer the front door of your church—

digital ministry is.

It’s time to shift away from defining your digital ministry strategies as putting your services online and to start thinking about how to really connect with people outside the church and the faith, and how to better engage with people who are already connected to your church. We can help. Let’s talk.

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Links & Resources from the Episode

Many pastors have reached out to us and mentioned noticing both declining numbers in their current congregation and the lack of new people engaging. We cannot wait and hope for things to “go back to normal” or think that in-person services will bring people flocking back.

We need to shift our strategies to meet people where they are: online.

Our Shift from Analog to Digital session in the last masterclass resonated with hundreds of church leaders around the globe. It’s time to dig deeper and really unpack the 4 keys to growing your digital front door. 

Join us for this exclusive Masterclass—4 Keys to Expanding Your Church’s Front Door with Digital Strategies—with Tony Morgan, the Unstuck team and special guests and you’ll walk away with:

  • Clarity around how your digital ministry strategy needs to change to thrive in the post-pandemic world
  • The specific skills and practical next steps for the 4  keys to growing your digital front door: 
    • Foundations: Clarifying Who You Are Trying to Reach
    • Creating an Effective Digital Engagement Strategy 
    • Putting Your Digital Engagement Strategy in Action
    • How to Structure Your Team to Support the Digital Strategy

Today, churches must focus on growing their digital front door—or they won’t survive. Register now and be equipped to grow your church’s digital front door and build a healthy digital ministry strategy.

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Sean (00:02): Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. In the last few months, the majority of churches around the world have shifted to holding services online. There are literally hundreds of thousands of choices when it comes to online church, along with all the other distractions the internet brings. So how can you watch her stand out and reach new people who are outside of the faith? In today’s podcast, Tony and Amy will tell you how. Before today’s episode, you should know that churches who’ve reopened are seeing at best 20 to 30% of their previous normal attendance return. Now there’s a growing concern that many people may be drifting away from church for good. If you’re unsure of what your ministry needs to look like to reach more people in the next normal, I would invite you to join us for a brand new Masterclass designed to help you reach more people online and lead a thriving church. It happens July 30th, and Tony and our team will teach you the skills you need to lead through some of the biggest shifts churches have ever had to make. To learn more and sign up today, go to theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.

Amy (01:08): Well, welcome to our listeners. Today, we’re going to dive into what I believe is a key reality we need to understand and leverage when it comes to executing a digital strategy that is reaching new people.

Tony (01:19): That’s right, Amy. And over the past four months, churches have navigated many shifting priorities. First for many churches, it was about pivoting to or improving online services. And then next it was caring for and connecting with the people who attend their church. And then I think most churches took a look at their financial health and worked through those plans. But most recently, many churches, they’ve been giving a lot of energy to relaunching in-person services, or I guess now we’re finding, shutting them down again. Right? But now the headline conversations we’re having, it’s all about a strategy to reach new people. And I think reality is setting in that new people are probably not going to be coming to our physical locations to try out church. And even if we take all the precautions and follow the federal and local guidelines, that’s going to be a big challenge going forward, at least in the next number of months.

Amy (02:14): Yeah, I agree. And so I think that begs the question. How will churches reach people in a digital world? Right?

Tony (02:21): Well, that’s certainly the question of the hour, Amy. I think many church leaders hope and believe that if they do a good job with their online church experience, people will find their message, and new people will be reached. And while this may randomly happen once in a while, the vast majority of online viewers are people that are already connected to their church. And in other words, they’re not connecting with those new people that we just mentioned. And we’re hearing from churches all the time that they’re trying all types of new digital next step strategies, like digital connect cards to help people get connected to their church. And the stories I’m hearing is that very few people are responding to those. So the problem may not be their strategy to connect people. It may be that they’re not actually engaging new viewers. So we need to get the cart before the horse apparently. Right? So today Amy, I wanted to share with our listeners the conversation that we’ve been having at The Unstuck Group. And we’ve been talking about this topic quite a bit, and mainly because the churches we’re working with are talking about it quite a bit, and you’ve actually started putting language to this a few months back. And you said one of the keys to reaching new people is all about understanding our carriage. What did you mean by that?

Amy (03:40): Yeah, it’s a weird word. Isn’t it? Carriage, but hopefully it’s not weird for long. And this comes from last fall. I was on a walk, listening to a podcast by Seth Godin called “Akimbo,” and his podcast was “First Comes Carriage.” And I thought, what is he talking about? But carriage, by definition, you know, is used to transport items from one point to another. So first, you know, a literal carriage right? Back in the day, used to carry products from point A to B. And so he talked about that. And, and then, you know, you think about it went from carriages to trains, to planes, but then he really honed in on the digital age. And he was talking about the carriage that was provided. And he started with TV networks, that networks provided carriage, right, to advertisers to reach millions of people, provided carriage to entertainers like Carol Burnett to get their product or message across to others. But carriage was really limited back then because there were only three networks, right? So a show like Carol Burnett, man, that would reach 10 million people at one time.

Tony (04:44): I’m probably showing my age here, but I remember as a kid watching the Carol Burnett show, Amy. That’s awful, isn’t it? But again, you just mentioned, there were only three networks. I only had three options. Don’t hate me for that.

Amy (04:58): Well, and then there came cable TV, right? And suddenly we went from three channels to a hundred. And in this, in the world of carriage, was a game changer because there was a lot more carriage now for advertisers and people to get products out to the people. But of course the downside was our attention began to get divided because we had a lot more choices. And today we have thousands of cable channels. And the point that Seth was tying to make is that when there’s channels to carry products, it also makes it harder and harder for creatives, for marketers, to get a slice of that, what we call carriage now. So, and then came the internet, right? And now there’s 2 billion websites on the internet. It’s a very crowded space. So carriage carrying products is very diverse, but it’s very hard to reach people because of all of that, all of those options out there. And so here’s my point, or at least one of them, I think if we’re relying on the internet to be our quote carriage, to reach new people, I think we have a failed strategy because the internet, while it does carry our digital experience, it’s carriage in that sense, but it’s not going to get our product, our message, our online experience in front of the people we’re trying to reach if our strategy ends there. Does all that make sense?

Tony (06:19): It does. It does. And it’s kind of like with websites. If we continue to treat our websites like they’re billboards, so come, come look at us. We’re just down the street, come look at us. There’s no way among the 2 billion websites that people are ever going to find us. Are there really only 2 billion websites?

Amy (06:41): Yeah. There is over 2 billion, but only 400 million are active.

Tony (06:44): Okay. Well then it’s okay. So we understand this carriage principle now, but how does that play into a church’s strategy to reach new people?

Amy (06:56): Right. Right. Well, this is so basic, but here it is your people, you know, senior pastors, your people, the people are already connected to your church are actually your carriage. They are going to be the ones who transport your digital products, like your weekend experience, to the people that they are connected with. This is the new way people will experience your church. And, you know, in some ways, Tony, it’s no different than it was in the past. I remember at my former church, over 90% of the people told us that they started attending because someone invited them and going forward, I think this number will probably be closer to a hundred percent with the transition from gatherings and buildings to reaching people digitally online. Because again, like you said, people aren’t just going to like go out searching and find your website and find your message. There needs to be some carriage to bring it to them. So more than ever before, Tony, I think a church needs to understand that their congregation needs to be on mission with them to reach people for the gospel. They have to understand, the congregation that is, what their role is in spreading the gospel and how the church can come alongside them with great digital teaching experiences to share that with people in life. But they have a role to play in that. Do you agree?

Tony (08:17): Yeah. And it makes a lot of sense. But as I was listening, I think this really exposes a gap that many churches have had for a long time. Amy, this isn’t a new challenge. I think this has been around for awhile. And as I’ve mentioned before, we’ve actually had over 15,000 churches now that have taken our free Unstuck Church Assessment. If you haven’t taken it before, and I’d encourage you to do it, but if we look at the results from those 15,000 churches, 60% of them, they self identified, we didn’t tell them, they through the series of questions, put themselves in the maintenance phase as a church. So there’s these seven stages of a life cycle, and of the 15,000 churches, 60% identified they were in the maintenance phase. And actually, if you look at everything, that’s on the declining side of the life-cycle, including maintenance and preservation and life support. That’s a total of 85% of churches. And so this means these churches probably were not growing. And if they were, they were growing at a very slow rate. And then more importantly for our mission as churches, there’s probably little life change happening, unfortunately, in those churches. And for many of these churches that are in maintenance or preservation or life support, their focus has been on keeping people, not reaching people. And this may have not been intentional, but if you look at where they were investing energy and resources, it was primarily about people already connected with the church. And so while your point sounds simple, Amy, I think it’s going to be a challenge for many churches. If your people weren’t actively building relationships with people outside the faith and praying for opportunities to invite them to church, I don’t know how we’re going to make this shift and to really encourage people to engage in digital social circles.

Amy (10:22): Exactly. They aren’t just going to start suddenly doing that. Right? Right. And so pastors and online service hosts can say, you know, air quotes, invite your friends to join us. You know, they can say that every week, but I think it’s going to take more than that. I think congregations need to be inspired to do that. They need fresh vision from their leaders around the purpose of the church. And the congregation needs to understand, again, their role in helping people far from faith and far from the church take their next steps towards Jesus. So it’s some work to do.

Tony (10:54): Yes. I certainly agree. I mean, I’m just thinking about even how Twitter and Facebook and social media apps like that are structured right now. I mean, you just can’t like a churches will put out promotion for people to share on social media, but when people just share those promotional things, they’re getting lost in the newsfeeds anyways. So it’s not connecting with the people that we’re trying to reach. Amy, you mentioned you might have another point when it comes to reaching people in a digital world though. Could you share that?

Amy (11:27): Of course I do. No. Yeah. And this is inspired by Seth as well. I think if churches are looking at their online weekend experience, if they’ve made this decision, their online weekend experience is probably now the main strategy to reach new people for Christ. I think there’s a few things, Tony, they have to pay attention to if they’re actually going to leverage their carriage, the people who are already connected to their church that will actually share experience. First, I think the experience that we should be putting out there is probably different from what churches are currently putting online. Most churches each week that I’m observing are still putting out a 50 to 70 minute digital version of their in-person weekend experience or what at least it used to look like. So there’s music and worship, and then there’s announcements. Then there’s a message or a sermon. And while I think churches can still have this available, by the way, you know, for their regular attenders who maybe miss a weekend and they want to find the full service, I think that’s new. But I’m suggesting that churches create something specific that is designed for the new person. When we talk about an online weekend experience.

Tony (12:39): Absolutely. And Amy, I’m just thinking, I shared in an article just this past week actually about, we were catching some churches doing some great things. And a good example, if you’re looking for an example of a church that has made the shift, is Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and they’ve completely redesigned their online service experience. In fact, they’re not even calling them services, they’re calling them episodes because they recognize the person that they’re targeting is not thinking in terms of attending a service. They’re thinking more in terms of watching an episode like we would on Netflix or Hulu or whatever your favorite streaming service is, but Crossroads has done a phenomenal job of following through with what you’re suggesting here is if we’re going to reach new online viewers, we have to intentionally design those experiences for those online viewers.

Amy (13:33): Right? That’s right. Second. I think what, you know, churches do create, they need to be designed for those they are trying to reach, and you were just kind of leading us there, right? So it’s probably different from what we currently put online, and it needs to be designed for those we’re trying to reach. So a couple things that I think about in this space, you know, it needs to, you know, we often say we need to be welcoming. I would just shift that to say it has to have targeted voicing to new people. If you know, you just say, we welcome everyone that’s here. That doesn’t engage me. But if you speak to me and you target it towards new people, I think that’s more effective. You have to introduce yourself. I don’t know who you are. You need to greet new viewers and give them a clue what’s going to happen. Put me at ease, engage me, make eye contact with the camera. That’s what happens in everything else I watch online. Second, it probably sounds basic again, but it has to be engaging. You know, as we mentioned the digital world, it makes it so easy to exit what you’re watching and move on. And so, you know, if you’re still starting your digital experience with 15 minutes of music that new people don’t know, there is very little chance that they will stay even to minute three. They’re probably one of those one to three second views. So you’ve got to think about engagement and then relevance, Tony. We talk about this a lot. Whatever you put out there, it really needs to speak to a real need in their life. Carey Neuhoff just put out an article, and I thought he said it really good. He said, “People may not be looking for church, but they are looking for answers.” And I guess that’s what I’m saying there. Whatever we take time with, it has to apply to a real need in their life. And so how we say it is when you evaluate your digital experience, there’s a bottom line question for us and that’s did the overall experience compel your viewers to come back again and would they share it with someone else? And the reason I like that as a litmus test, Tony, is that people, you know, think about behaviors on social media. They only share things they like, right? They only share things that they think are worthy of being shared. And so I think it’s a positive indicator when people share your digital experience with others. It communicates, you know, this is worthy of being shared. I’m actually attaching my name to this endorsement. I’m endorsing this experience. People don’t share things that are good. They don’t. They share things they find remarkably helpful, remarkably relevant to their lives and remarkably engaging. So, for me, again, I engage with a lot of online services right now. And while as a believer, I might take in those experiences and find some benefits from them for the most part, honestly, Tony, I won’t share them with my friends. If I’m going to take one shot at inviting my friend, you know quote, check this out, it’s got to really hit the mark. So, I mean, am I alone here?

Tony (16:20): No, you’re right on spot here, Amy. And actually, you’re just talking about the things that I’m seeing as well. I mean, I have an opportunity to review a lot of church services online because of what I do professionally. And what I’m seeing is there’s a lot of teaching to an empty room or broadcasting the live stream of the in-person service, which in these days, is largely to an empty room. I mean, social distancing and everything like that. And so that’s not engaging. Many of the services that I’m seeing online are still starting with 10 to 15 minutes of music. And especially for somebody that’s just kind of checking out that episode or that service online, that’s just not going to grab them. And then I’m still seeing teaching, 35 to 45 minutes with little creative content to engage viewers. And I think we just assumed, this is the sad part, I think we just assumed as pastors, when everybody was in the room and we were teaching 35 to 40 minutes that people were actually staying engaged in our message the entire time. The fact is we had them captured. They couldn’t leave if they started to disengage with the message, but online, people have a choice. It’s an easy choice. And I’m saying, I mean, if I’m watching some of these and it’s just hard for me. I’m being paid to watch these messages online, but the people that have the choice, Amy, I can’t imagine they’re sticking with those entire 40 minute messages.

Amy (17:56): Right. Well, this was titled “The Key to Reaching New People in a Digital World.” So here’s my coaching to churches. If, pastors, your primary new strategy to reach new people is through your online church experience. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to pause. I want you to gather a team and rebuild that experience. And, you know, I know it probably feels overwhelming to go well, that means I’ve got to create two experiences, you know, one to the room when people are gathered and one online. And yeah, yeah, it is. I mean, I think you still work with the same basic things of your message, but you design them differently when you go online. So get a blank sheet of paper. If you can actually be in a room, get a blank whiteboard, and I want you to work through three questions. The first question is, Who are you trying to reach? And I would get really specific here. You know, when we go through this exercise, Tony and I, when we work with churches, we have them narrow their focus to a specific persona, which by the way, is very parallel to what people do in the digital world, in the sales and marketing world. They think through who is it we’re trying to reach. And they know they can’t reach everyone. And when we try to reach everyone, we’re not very effective. But when we really pick that persona, who are we trying to reach, it helps us and helps, you know, proven in that world, be more effective. So what age are you going after? What season of life are they in? What’s their spiritual condition? Have a conversation around the people in your community that you’re trying to reach and draw it out a little bit. The second question is What content should go into an online service? So instead of retrofitting everything you used to do in the weekend service into an online service, think through what content is relevant for that experience. And the third question I would say is How do you now build a continuously engaging online experience with that content? So like you just said, Tony, when people are in front of a screen, it really does take an intentionally designed experience to keep your attention, and shorter is better. Think Ted talks again, you know, those are 18 minute teaching contents, but become a student of the digital world. See what people are watching, see how they, you know, grab your attention, how they keep your attention and start to apply some of those learnings. And I could go on and on, but I want you to start there with at least those three questions. And the point is you have to do the hard work. You know, it just like you did with in-person gatherings, you know, when they were your primary strategy to reach new people, you had to figure out that experience. Now we’re just saying, make your online experience one that people love to share with the people in their life.

Tony (20:36): Yeah. I think the good news here, Amy is if, as a church you decide we are only going to do church in our building we’re not going to worry about doing church online. Then the good news is you don’t have to change a thing. So you can just stick with what you’ve always been doing. But if you and your leadership team believe no, going forward, we’re going to be doing church in a building, but we also have to engage church online and whatever format that looks like. I think the bottom line here is we have to think differently about how we do the church online, what those experiences look like. And it’s only if we do that, that we’re actually going to be able to not only create shareable experiences for our people so that they become the carriage that you described. But also then it’s going to be our key to reaching new people and being really intentional about connecting with the person we’re hoping eventually will begin to not only connect with our church but take their next steps toward Jesus.

Amy (21:39): I don’t know. Maybe this is off the cuff, but if you’re in-person room experience works for people online, you probably have the wrong in-person experience. Likewise, if your digital experience works in an in-person room, you probably have the wrong digital one, right? We’re talking about two separate experiences. All right, Tony, one of the things that we like to do is bring some hope. So I’m going to toss it over to you for today’s message.

Tony (22:02): I think it’s funny that you’re asking me to bring hope, Amy. This is your strength and not mine. So we’re certainly switching roles today. But yeah, I think I can help here. I mean, I will acknowledge this is hard work, but you can do this. I really do believe you can do this. God’s been building his church for thousands of years, and the COVID disruption is not going to stop that work. It’s just not going to stop it. And I believe this certainly has challenged the church to rethink how we’re sharing the gospel and how we’re discipling people, but it’s not stopping the church or the movement is still moving forward. And I believe it’s actually going to spur on the church to reach more people for Jesus. But remember this is hard work, and hard work, it requires some risk and trying new things, and you have to push through any fears you might have. And you’re going to have to give some new things a try. And as you try those new things, you’ll learn some new things, which will be fun too. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. And eventually you’ll figure out what’s going to produce the results that you’re striving for. So the goal here is not perfection. Don’t try to get it perfect before you launch it. Perfection-minded thinking can be very paralyzing. But pastors, I hope you’ll take the one step that Amy outlined today. Get some people around you and walk through these questions that Amy mentioned. And let me review them for you again, who are you specifically trying to reach? How do you need to redesign your online experience? What is the core content that needs to be in that service and what needs to be taken out? And how do you build a continuously engaging experience for those who are outside your church? So I hope you’ll, again, pull that team together, engage those conversations. But Amy, let me close with this. What we’ve been talking about today is something we’ve been talking about for the past several months with almost every pastor we’re working with. And most pastors, they have been feeling a little paralyzed by all the change that’s required in this new reality. So if you need some help and support making changes, like we’ve talked about today, I want to invite you to join The Unstuck Group on Thursday, July 30th, for a Masterclass on how to lead change and reach new people. And I think there’s no doubt this topic, it’s more important than ever before. And because of that, we’ve actually created an entire one-day experience. You’ll walk away with practical strategies, like the ones that we’ve covered today, to lead four key shifts in your church. The shift from analog to digital, which we’ve unpacked a little bit today, from gathering to connecting, the shift from teaching to equipping, and finally from global to local, and you can register or find out more information at theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass.

Sean (25:08): Well, thank you so much for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony said, don’t forget to register for the Beyond Coping Masterclass, coming up on July 30th. You can find all of the information you need at theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast, we would love your help in getting the content out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review there and telling somebody else about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.

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