December 9, 2020

How to Measure Online Disciple Making – Episode 172 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

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Building a Successful Digital Ministry Strategy (Part 2)

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We’re diving into part 2 of this series on Building a Successful Digital Ministry Strategy. In Part 1 of this conversation last week, we dug into the 5 stages of the spiritual journey and how to structure your communication for both outsiders and insiders.

One of the biggest questions we’ve been asked since the pandemic hit is: What should we be measuring now?

So this week we’re going to walk through what to measure and what matters in the world of online disciple making.

I’ve heard from a lot of church leaders, especially early in the pandemic, but even last week I was in a conversation with a church and they were talking about how they’re trying to figure out what to measure for online engagement.

In the past, they had been trying to take the number of viewers over a certain amount of time and then multiply it by a certain formula to determine what their equivalent attendance number was. And I just don’t think church leaders need to be jumping through all those hoops.

So this week, Amy and I dig into the practical strategies and questions you can ask to monitor and measure your online discipleship.

This week, we dig into…

  • Practical ways you can identify big steps and small steps
  • 6 Key questions to ask to determine what you need to measure
  • The principle that needs to guide all your metrics
We have to be careful not to make something important because we can measure it. We need to measure things that actually are important. #unstuckchurch [episode 172] Click to Tweet Everything you measure should help you make better decisions. #unstuckchurch [episode 172] Click to Tweet Don't test-drive your digital strategies until you know you can measure whether it helped someone take a first step or a next step on the Spiritual Journey. #unstuckchurch [episode 172] Click to Tweet

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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. Anytime you change something, you experience both excitement and anxiety. There’s the anticipation of what will be better because of the change and the fear of what could go wrong. Without a proper way to measure and monitor whether the change is producing positive results, you just end up guessing. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series on effective digital strategy with a conversation on how to measure people’s spiritual movement online. Before you listen today, though, make sure you subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with each week’s episode, including the leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive, and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.

Amy (00:55):

Well Tony, last week we started a new series of conversations with the focus on helping churches continue to develop their digital strategy. And you talked through some of the foundational concepts that go into building an effective digital strategy. So before we start this week’s conversation, can you just catch us up to speed from last week?

Tony (01:14):

Yeah. So last week we started the conversation where every church really needs to return to if they’re going to have an effective digital strategy, and that’s back to the basic questions of what’s the mission, why do we exist as a church and who are we trying to reach based on what our community looks like and the people in our community? And it’s crucial to have a defined mission field to lead a growing church. You can’t have enough effective ministry strategy without knowing who you’re trying to reach. And you certainly can’t expand your church’s digital front door if you don’t know who you’re trying to reach. The second key thing we talked about last week was about the five key stages of a person’s spiritual journey and how we need to begin with the end in mind as we’re shaping our ministry strategies, including our digital discipleship strategies. Ultimately the win isn’t about having a digital strategy, the win is making new disciples and helping them become disciple makers. And we do that by helping people move from being “not interested” to “spiritually curious,” to becoming a believer in Jesus, to “being discipled” and finally becoming a “disciple maker,” and our digital strategy needs to help people take a step forward, no matter where they are in their journey. Here was the key thought. 85% of churches indicated they were stuck before the pandemic. So just putting a version of that ministry strategy online is not going to help your church get unstuck. And so related to that, we almost have to back and look at the foundations of who we are as a church and how we carry out our ministry strategy before we start to talk about an effective digital strategy.

Amy (03:11):

You know, Tony, the question that we’ve heard probably more than any other since maybe we all pivoted during Easter last year to going online. The biggest question since the pandemic hit is what should we be measuring now? So many conversations around that. And I thought maybe it would be good for us to spend some time on the podcast today helping leaders understand that question, because it’s been something that we’ve been heads down on for a few months. So to get us started, we shared some data in the most recent Unstuck Church Report that was a bit concerning when it came to measuring digital engagement. Can you share a bit about what we learned?

Tony (03:47):

Yeah. So, before I respond to that. I may have shared this on a podcast. I can’t recall, but I was actually having this same conversation with a church that I was engaged with this past week, Amy, and they were talking about how they’re trying to figure out how to measure online engagement. And because in the past, they had been trying to take the number of use over a certain amount of time and then multiply it by a certain formula to determine what their equivalent attendance number was. And I was just expressing to them. I’m not sure why you’re jumping through all those hoops. And I likened it to, it would be as if on Sundays, the NFL would try to estimate based on the number of television viewers or online viewers, what their attendance was at football games on Sunday. You know, there were, I think, four of us watching the Cleveland Browns win this past week, Amy. So should the NFL’s formula be one TV viewer, times 4.3 potential viewers to get what their equivalent attendance would be. It’s a fruitless exercise. And actually what we’re seeing is this is, it’s just a big question, a big challenge for churches. As you mentioned, we surveyed 261 churches in late September of this year. And by the way, these were both large and small churches. The average pre-COVID attendance was 961 people, but of those 260-some churches, 34 of those churches were under a hundred in attendance and exactly 34 churches were also mega-churches. So we didn’t plan it like that, but it actually, I think, ended up being a good representation of all the churches and hopefully all your churches, all of you that are listening today. These were some of the key findings. So from that survey, of the churches that we surveyed, only 21% agreed that they had a well-defined digital ministry strategy to engage with people who are outside the church and outside the faith. Secondly, only about a quarter of churches are using online platforms to engage people early on in their spiritual journey. And then this third tidbit here, less than 10% agreed that they have metrics in place to measure how the digital ministry strategy is helping people move from “not interested” to being “spiritually curious,” and then eventually becoming a believer or a “Christ follower.” And I think those 10%, most of them were lying, Amy.

Amy (06:44):

I do too. At least from my seat.

Tony (06:48):

But remember, these aren’t just small tech technology, challenged churches. These are churches of all sizes, including some very large churches who don’t yet have clarity around not only their strategy, but how they’re measuring the effectiveness of that strategy.

Amy (07:06):

Maybe I should warn our listeners right now. Like there’s not a simple solution. Right? Just to, you know, take your pen and pencil out. There’s going to be a lot of words coming. Cause I know we’ve talked about this, but Tony, let’s say I’m a leader, and I need a way to know if my digital strategy is effective, where do I begin?

Tony (07:24):

There’s a lot of details in this podcast. I hope everybody’s with us by the end. But, let’s start with what’s driving what you track. Everything you measure should help you make better decisions and refine your strategies for reaching people and helping them take their next steps toward Jesus. It can be tempting to measure what we, actually Tiffany was the first person I heard from our team. She mentioned vanity metrics because on online platforms, it’s pretty easy to see the number of views or the number of likes or things like that. I mean, there are hundreds of those types of metrics online. And by the way, I always assume they’re somewhat inflated because the larger those numbers are, the more money that Twitter makes, that Facebook makes, that YouTube makes. So they want us to think we’re winning with those vanity metrics, but we have to be careful not to make something important because we can measure it. We need to measure the things that actually are important.

Amy (08:31):

And that’s really good, Tony.

Tony (08:33):

Yeah, and because it’s people that are important, we need to focus on measuring people’s steps on their spiritual journey. That’s the big win for us. Those vanity metrics don’t really matter. We need to go back to those five stages of the spiritual journey that we talked about last week, and our metrics need to help us determine if what we’re doing as a church is helping people take steps to actually see movement forward in who they are spiritually. We have to move from measuring attendance to measuring movement. When someone takes a step, we need to know that, and we need to be able to track that they’re actually taking that step. So because of that, we need to acknowledge that there are two kinds of steps that people take, and we need to recognize the difference. There are baby steps and there are big steps. And most likely people will start by taking those smaller steps. And we need to determine what the big steps are, which those small steps will help us get them to. And we need to know how to measure both of them.

Amy (09:38):

Tony, can you give us some examples of what are some big steps and what are some small steps?

Tony (09:44):

Yeah. Amy, let me start with the big steps. And I think these are important because what they do is they help us identify people moving from one stage in the spiritual journey to the next. So an example of a big step is becoming known to your church for the very first time. In other words, now we have a name. Now we have some contact information so that we can continue to develop relationship. Another big step attending, an online or an in-person service. And by the way, that is a big step. I think sometimes we think of watching an online service as being, Oh, that’s easy. Normal people don’t sit down for an hour and watch a church service. That is not normal. So that that’s a big step. The obvious big step, the one that we’re all praying people will experience is actually putting their faith in Jesus. Other big steps include taking steps on your church’s discipleship path, or think of your spiritual growth track. Another big step – sharing our faith with someone outside the church. And, I’m a paid pastor. I’m a paid ministry professional, Amy, but that’s even a big step for me. So we have to acknowledge these are big steps that people are taking in their faith journey. On the other hand, here are some small baby steps that may help them get to the bigger steps we want people to take. Engaging your digital content around life issues. That’s a key baby step. Subscribing to a channel. That’s important because if they subscribe, now they’re not just engaging with one piece of content from your church. Hopefully over weeks and months, they’ll be engaging with your content. Actually submitting a prayer request or asking for help. And this sounds again, as churches, we think this is just something everybody does.But encouraging people at the front end of that spiritual journey to reach out for help or to request prayer, I think, is a very important way to encourage them to begin to take some steps to connect with your church and then to connect to faith. And then another example is engaging your digital content around spiritual questions. And I really do believe that most people, when they get right down to it, they, when they’re wrestling with questions of life, the underlying questions that they’re wrestling with are really spiritual questions. And so I don’t think churches should shy away from providing content that addresses those basic, foundational, spiritual questions that people ask. So, Amy, determining those small steps that you can strategically use to help people take the bigger steps will help you uncover specifically what you need to measure and you just want to be careful here that you’re not offering too many steps and encouraging people to take too many of these steps, because the more steps you offer, the more confusing it will get for them.

Amy (13:01):

Yeah. Tony, I know you like practicality. So let’s get super practical here. With the foundation of what you just shared in mind, what metrics, I know this is what pastors are thinking, what metric should leaders be looking at specifically?

Tony (13:16):

Yeah. And I asked my team for some help here because usually I’m the content creator. I have other people on my team that are tracking the metrics. I would get too consumed by it, Amy, because you know I’m a numbers person. So I’ve learned I need to discipline myself to kind of let them report to me what’s happening in our ministry, but I’m going to share some specifics of what you should be looking at. But you also need to determine exactly what you’re monitoring for your church based on your unique ministry strategy. So just because I mentioned these, doesn’t mean it’s going to be right for you. And remember, everything you measure should help you make better decisions and refine your strategies for reaching people and helping them take their next steps in their faith. But with that in mind, here are the questions that your metrics need to help you answer. And then maybe a few data points that will also help you make sure that you’re actually, you have the answers for these key questions. So the first one is, are we reaching new people? And what I want to clarify here is a new versus returning or new versus people that are already a part of your church. And so there are ways, through analytics, to look at is it a new visitor to your website or a returning visitor to your website? Is it a new follower on social media or somebody that’s been following you on social media. How many new contacts are you adding your database? Amy, one great example of this, just in the last couple of weeks, working with a church in Florida. And we started engaging with this church a few years ago and they had the data to show how many new people were connecting to their church the few years before they started doing engage with The Unstuck Group. And it was a straight line decline over several years. We engaged with them. We talked about not only the importance of how to have a clear discipleship strategy for people that are already a part of your church, but we talked about the importance of tracking brand new people as well. And so they got really intentional about doing this, and they were able to show us the data for the increasing number of new people that were connecting to their church. And lo and behold, Amy, that also meant their attendance, overall attendance, started to increase as well. There’s a correlation. All of this because they were measuring the things that would help them make better decisions about their ministry strategy and how they were helping people take next steps toward Jesus. A second question that you need to have answers for is how many people are taking those first steps? So some things that you might measure here. How many new email addresses do we have this month? How many new phone numbers do we have this month? How many new downloads or comments are we seeing? So these are some ways to just track those baby steps that we talked about earlier. How did they take those first steps? That’s also important. So did they engage a specific content series? Did they complete a form to join a specific group? Was there a new app account created? It’s just important to look at how people are engaging our content as well. And Amy, we just had this conversation recently. I mean, and now if I mentioned this, all of our listeners are going to go look for it on our website. So this is a little podcasting trick here that I’ve got here, but one of the most read articles on our website for a number of years have been around the core issues facing churches. And because of that, we know we need to continue to develop more content around those core issues. It drives what we do in our podcasts. It certainly helps us think about how we’re engaging our strategy with helping churches get unstuck. But again, it’s because we know not only are they taking first baby steps, but what types of steps are people taking as they engage with our ministry? Another key question that we need to have answers to. How are people finding us when they take a next step? Is it an online search? Is it a Facebook ad? Is it a friend sharing a direct link? Again, once we know how they’re taking steps, it helps us think about what our strategy needs to look like. And then another key question. Which strategies are converting people from first steps, those baby steps, to the bigger next steps? And here, it’s just the, I mean, the key thing you need to track is how many people are engaged in that call to action. How many people are responding to the specific call to action? So let me give you an example. Let’s say you want new people to sign up for a first steps class. You create some lower barrier call to actions, like sign up for this free email series or take a poll. These are baby steps to try to elevate interest in the key call to action that you want to make. These steps are easier for people to take. And after they take them, you can point them to the bigger step that you want people to engage.

Amy (18:58):

Yeah. You know what I hear from you through this whole thing, I heard you have to measure things that help you make decisions. And now you’ve listed through a handful of questions, you know, are we reaching new people? Are people taking their first steps? How did they take it? How are they finding us? It’s good to write down those questions, I think, Tony, because again, you had mentioned earlier, there’s so many metrics we could be tracking. It’s going to be so easy to track the wrong ones if we don’t link them to these questions. And the second thing I heard from you is just, we have to actually get into the details of the data. We have to look deeper so that we’re actually measuring the things again that loop us back to those, those big questions. So, Tony, is there anything else that we should be measuring?

Tony (19:42):

Yeah. So we also, another key question are we actually connecting with our primary audience and you’re going to have to develop ways to learn more about the people that you’re trying to reach. One of the best ways is to have segmented email lists that allow you to communicate strategically with different subsets of the people in your congregation and in your community. And a simple way to do this is to ask strategic questions on your connection forms. For example, you could start an opt-in email video series to encourage young moms, and you can be pretty confident most people who opt into that are actually young moms. I’m not going to opt into that one, Amy. That’s not me. Even if you’ve never asked them specifically, are you a young mom? You know, now you have a segment that you can communicate in different ways around content that’s going to address questions that they have. That series can be a first step to help you tailor your messaging to that group of people about what their next steps need to look like. And I’ll say it again, not all of these metrics may be the right measurements for your unique digital strategy. But the questions that we’re asking around these measurement should be answered by what you’re tracking. And Amy, I just, I know as I went through all of that, I can already hear it. And the voices of pastors and church leaders. Why does it have to be so complicated? Why do there have to be so many questions? How come we can’t just measure attendance to know whether our church is healthy. And the reality is churches were hoping just measuring attendance before the pandemic could give them an indication of whether or not their church was healthy. And, Amy, you and I both know there are churches that were growing in numbers that were not healthy. They were not healthy ministries. And so there’s not just one measure that you can point to for online engagement to tell you whether or not your digital ministry strategy is actually working. Instead, you need to go through the hard work of trying to find how are we going to get the answers to these key questions instead?

Amy (22:00):

Yeah. And it just reminds me, Tony, of something we were talking about the other day. We have to understand these metrics because in the new digital ministry phase, we are going to have to try a lot of things, aren’t we? And so talk about how that measurement and the ability to test things are related.

Tony (22:20):

Yeah. Amy, and this can be a little bit frustrating for someone wired up like me, because I do like to initiate change, but I like to do it right from the very beginning. But that doesn’t work, especially around digital strategy. And I’ve certainly learned this firsthand at The Unstuck Group. Some things that I thought were going to be a sure fire hit to engage with church leaders, they just failed miserably, and other things that I just, I didn’t think it was going to work, ended up being a hit. And you’re going to find the same thing as you’re trying to engage with people in your community, the people you’re trying to reach as well. And so you’re going to have to begin to think about kind of this rhythm. We’re going to test some things we’re going to measure to see if they work. We’re probably going to change how we do it. And then we’re going to continue that cycle again, measuring, testing, measuring, testing. And as we do, we’re going to continue to revise our digital ministry strategies. And that’s a good thing too, because the things that you do that really work today, that you confirm through your measurements, may not always work too. I mean, there are things that I was doing 10 years ago when it came to my online platform that today just they fail miserably because how people engage online content has changed dramatically over last 10 years. So, again, we need to test some things out. We need to measure. We need to rethink. We need to revise,’and we need to test again.

Amy (23:56):

Definitely. All right. Well that was a lot to cover today. Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (24:03):

Yeah. So digital strategy for churches, it’s not necessarily new. I mean, many churches have successfully leveraged this tool for reaching new people, building community and engaging younger audiences over the last several years. But the widespread focus we see now across churches of all sizes and locations due to the inability to safely gather in large groups, this is new, and your church’s digital presence and online experience are more important than ever. It is the way to reach new people outside the church and the method for connecting with and continuing to foster relationships with your congregation as well. And you don’t need to do this alone. In fact, for the pastors that are listening, this is probably something that you don’t need to jump in and fix, but you do need someone on your team and a team of people to engage, build, and engage the strategy that we’re talking about. But since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve helped dozens of churches. And we have a couple of ways that we can help you as well. If you’d like to learn more about how we can partner with you to create a digital strategy that really engages your mission field, please go to

Sean (25:22):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony mentioned, if you feeling like you need a clear plan and digital strategy to reach new people and help everyone grows disciples, we can help. We’ve partnered with dozens of churches over this past year to help them clarify their plan. If you’re interested in learning more about how your church can thrive online, visit us at Next week, we’re back with part three of our series on aligning your staff around your digital strategies. Until then, have a great week.

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