Reaching New People (Part 2)
Our research has found that an insider-focus is one of the key indicators that a church has begun to decline. That’s why this new podcast series is all about helping your church reach new people.
In Part 1, Amy Anderson and I sat down with Chad Moore and Paul Alexander from Sun Valley Community Church to discuss the uncommon results they’ve been seeing in their efforts to reach new people. (Part 3 on reaching new people through weekend services is now available).
REACHING NEW PEOPLE: DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES
We’ve seen many churches take big steps forward with their online service experience in the last few years—and that’s a great start. But most churches are still missing the huge opportunity to reach new people through digital and online methods. So this week, in Part 2 of our series, we’re diving into how your church can reach new people using digital strategies.
To hear from an expert in this area, Amy sat down with Katie Allred, Co-Founder of Church Communications, to discuss four super practical ways that church leaders can shift their mindset and begin reaching outward with their digital strategies. Tune in as Sean and Amy walk through these insights:
- The digital missionary mindset
- How to generate relevant and shareable content ideas
- Leveraging digital spaces for relationships
- Leading a “digital missions trip”
EVENT REPLAY: 3 Strategies for Reaching New People
Rather than focusing on who left, we need to get refocused on the true mission of the Church: reaching the lost people in our communities. In this free webinar, hear from leading church voices Dave Ferguson, Chris Hodges, and Jerry Sen and continue this conversation on how you can reach new people in 2022 using practical strategies.
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. My name is Sean, and I’m here with Amy Anderson, and we’re continuing our series on reaching new people today with a conversation about how churches can increase their reach digitally. Before we go there, though, if you’re new to the podcast, head over to the unstuckgroup.com/podcast, and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’re gonna get resources to go along with each week’s episode, including our leader conversation guide, bonus resources, as well as access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. So, Amy, today we’re continuing our podcast series, which is focusing on reaching new people with the gospel. Last week we had a great conversation with Chad Moore and Paul Alexander from Sun Valley Community Church. And we heard how they’ve had some very uncommon results in reaching new people since the onset of the pandemic. If you missed that episode, listeners, I’d encourage you guys to go back and listen to it. It’s really, really good. This week, we’re gonna talk about how to reach new people with digital engagement strategies.
Yes we are. And I’m excited about this week’s topic. I mean, two years into the pandemic, we’ve seen most churches take huge steps forward with their online service experience. And that’s been a great option for church attenders, you know, to stay connected when they can’t attend in person. And that’s a good thing. And we know many new people also may watch those messages before they come. But the challenge is, Sean, I think most churches are still missing the opportunity to reach new people through other digital and online methods. Before the pandemic hit, most church leaders were really relying on their weekend services to be the big front door for people outside the church and outside the faith to come and bring their questions and explore faith. In fact, I heard one church leader say this week that suddenly we were playing chess without our most powerful piece, you know, the queen, or in this case, our weekend service. But when that door closed for a season, we all realized that not having weekend services didn’t give us a pass on our mission. We’re still called to share the gospel with new people and make disciples. So we all had to begin thinking about evangelism strategy shifts, and it seemed obvious where we needed to begin fishing. Everyone we’re trying to reach are actively engaged in digital spaces, and I’m probably preaching to the choir, but some Pew Research – in 2008, Sean, 10% of Americans had a social media account. And now 79% do. Today, 88% of 18 to 29 year olds have a social media account, 78% of 30 to 49 year olds. And 74% of people use Facebook every day. 72% use YouTube every day. 63% are on Instagram every day. So again, everyone we’re trying to reach is engaged in digital and social platforms.
Yeah. You know, what’s interesting is those are huge numbers, but I’m actually surprised they’re not even bigger than that.
Me too. Yes.
Right? I mean, that’s just kind of our, I would assume that they were. And so, if we’re honest, I think many churches, they would admit that they were using their weekend service as the only front door prior to the pandemic. And then they were seeing diminishing results from that. They weren’t seeing as many new people. They were seeing slowly declining attendance. Then the pandemic accelerated that trend that was already there, which it may end up being a good thing for many churches, I think. So with that as a backdrop, I think we all realize that digital engagement is important, but with the pastors that we’re talking with, it still feels just enormously overwhelming to get a start on a new digital evangelism strategy. So today I thought it would be helpful if we shared some new ideas on how we can get this flywheel kind of moving.
Yeah, definitely. I agree with all of that. You know, a few weeks ago, Sean, I had the opportunity to sit down with Katie Allred. She’s the founder of churchcommunications.com, and Church Communications is an online community for church leaders. And their focus is to work with nonprofits and churches to help increase their reach through websites, social media and online marketing. And she’s also an Assistant Professor of Marketing and Software Development at the University of Mobile, where she teaches students to do the same. And so I thought I would share from that conversation four ways that she and I talked about, you know, regarding how church leaders can think differently about reaching and connecting with people through digital environments.
I love it, Amy. It’s a great topic. Sounds great. So what would you say then is the first way a church can think differently about reaching and connecting with these people through digital environments?
Yeah, the first way is to envision your congregation to see themselves as digital missionaries. And here’s what I mean. When missionaries go into the field, right? They seek to understand who lives there. They study the culture, and then they leverage that knowledge to communicate with them about the timeless message of the gospel. Church members now need to be envisioned by their leaders that while the church has a and a mission field to reach, they too have a personal mission field to reach. God has positioned them on purpose for a purpose. And when they see their digital spaces and connections as a specific place where they can be missionaries, they might just be inspired to take a more active role in being what we call digital missionaries. The key here, and Katie really emphasized this when we talked, is that people need to know the “why” first. They need to understand how they fit into the mission of the “big C” church, their local church, and then their personal mission field. People, in other words, they don’t just need to know what. Don’t just tell them what to do. Like, you know, what they should be sharing or putting on social media. Rather than need to be envisioned on the why. Katie’s pastor, she’s at Brentwood Church in Nashville. Mike Glenn, there, is the senior pastor, and he once said the first Reformation was about giving the word back to the people. But the second reformation will be about giving the ministry back to the people. And this is that envisioning that I’m talking about. You know, early in the pandemic, Sean, you’re probably tired of hearing about this, but I shared a concept that I learned from Seth Godin about, you know, carriage. He’s a marketer. So he was talking about how products get carried to the end user and how that has changed from the time of the steam engine to TV, to cable, and now the internet. And translating that to the mission of the church. I made the point that our people, the people in our congregations, they’re the church’s carriage to build relationships and provide help and resources that the church and Jesus has to offer. So our people really are our digital engagement carriage. So the first way that we can think differently about reaching and connecting with people digitally is to envision our congregations to see themselves as digital missionaries.
Yeah. So, Amy, as you’re sharing this, here’s where my mind goes. We all learned during the pandemic that we just can’t be fostering Sunday Only Christians, right? You know, where everybody comes to our build once a week or now more like once a month or once every couple of months maybe, and they consume some teaching and then they go back to their everyday life. Most of those people, honestly, have left our churches, and they haven’t returned. A lot of pastors are feeling that right now. They’re surprised by the number of people who are so loosely connected to the church.
But as you talk about giving ministry back to the people, you’re talking about helping every believer understand that they are the church, right? The building is not the church. And as church leaders, we know this, but we may need to do a better job of helping our congregants, the people in our church, understand it, right? As you said, envision them so that they see themselves as missionaries in spaces God’s placed them.
Yeah, that’s right. And I’ve shared this before too, but many years ago at a conference, Sean, I heard T.D. Jakes preach on the fish and the loaves. And he challenged us, those who were attending as church leaders, to help our congregations see themselves as the disciples in that teaching, not the crowd. Right. And it’s so easy, when you’re in church and you are the crowd, you think that the people on the platform are feeding you, but really you should be the disciples that go out and feed other people. And so, in a sense, this is what I’m saying here. We need to re-envision our people to see themselves as the disciples who are to go and feed the crowds in our spaces.
Excellent. Yeah. All right. So I feel like we’re getting the flywheel turning here on the podcast. So what’s the second way a church can take a next step in reaching people through their digital environments?
Yeah. This is probably one we’ve talked about the most, but equip your congregation, your carriage, with relevant content that’s shareable. And now this is where everyone seems to lock up, Sean. This is where I think it can feel so overwhelming. I just want to say to our listeners, you don’t have to have a five year strategy on this. Start small. See what works. What content can you create in the next three months that would be relevant and easily shareable by your congregation? Here’s how you can start. Start by asking, based on where God has placed our church and based on who we’re trying to reach, what issues are people dealing with right now? What encouragement or resources could we create that our people would love to share with others? You want to create content that meets people, of course, right where they’re at. And I’m a marketer by education. That was my major. And I remember learning that people need seven exposures to a product or an organization before they try it. So this easily shareable content, Sean, that’s just an exposure piece to your church, right? Here’s some examples. You could actually provide a resource on how to pray. When I was talking to Katie, she pointed me to, I think it’s trends.google.com. It could be google.trends.com. It’s one of those, but she just, you know, kind of typed in at the beginning of the pandemic, the word prayer. And she said there was a major spike that people were searching that. And so a lot of people, they don’t know how to pray, put a resource out there, right? A lot of people are spiritual seekers and they just need some guidance. Another idea, put together something that is like three things you can do today to combat anxiety, right? A lot of people facing that or combat loneliness. Yeah. Look at Buzzfeed. I mean, they’re a master at creating content that people click on, so obviously the content would be a little different, but look at what they’re putting out there. Let it inspire you to better ideas. Cause we got some great, great words from Jesus that can help others.
I get so frustrated sometimes when Buzzfeed tricks me by their cleverly worded headline and then I’m there reading something and I’m like, why am I reading this?
And we’re down the rabbit hole, right? Maybe there’s a short clip from a recent message that would have broad appeal. Use that. And by the way as you create this content, get it on your webpage somewhere. So that it’s searchable. I learned from Katie, Sean, that when people do Google searches, Google actually wants to point people to local solutions. And so that’s a good reason even to put up transcripts from your messages as well. I don’t totally understand SEO, but there are people who do in your congregation, and things like that will help people find you. Couple more ideas. You can even create scripture cards that people can post on their site. Now just make sure, how do I say this, Sean? Don’t make it too churchy. Don’t make it too, you all know what that is, right? The things that you just pass on by. But you guys see, you know, Facebook feeds. Keep it relevant. Look at the feeds. Look at the things that you wanna click on. Keep it relevant. Something that someone might post and add a comment that says I just needed to be reminded of this today. So things that bring hope to our world.
That’s good, Amy. I don’t have data off just off the top of my head on this, but I have seen, and listeners can Google this if they’re interested in it, the difference in the number of likes or clicks or whatever an image gets, and specifically, you know, some of these images that are just an image of scripture, you know, the number of likes that those and/or engagement that those images get is huge. So I think that’s a great idea for churches to dive into that and utilize that as a tool.
Yeah. And bottom line, you wanna create something that your congregation, again, your carriage, would love to share with their circle, something that they feel represents them. And again, you aren’t trying to lead new people to Jesus in one fell swoop. You’re trying to build connection and exposure. And by the way, if you’re struggling to figure out the needs in your mission field, look at the latest census data, it’s coming out, or go to that trends.google.com and see what people in general are searching for. Sean, anything you’d add?
Well, one thing our listeners might be asking that you didn’t mention is does their weekend service or their message count as relevant, shareable content? And Amy, you and I have talked about this, but in general, a full online service with music and a message is not really an effective content piece to share. It’s just too long. Right? 30 minutes of that. We recognize that a 30 minute video is something that few people are gonna watch all the way through. The length alone might deter people from even clicking on it. Instead, maybe short clips would be a better option. You know, there is research out there about the duration of time that people watch YouTube videos. I think that’s a great place for us to kind of learn from. I read recently that half of the shows watched on Netflix last year were not even watched halfway through. I remember Katie saying that, you know, we should go watch a Jimmy Fallon clip, paying attention to kind of how that’s cut and edited. This is the way that culture is consuming video right now. It’s short format. It’s continuously engaging. So I think something else for our listeners to consider as part of their strategy.
So Amy, what’s the third way? We’re on a roll now. What’s the third way that can take a next step in reaching people through digital environments?
Well, in my conversation with Katie, this next way drew out a lot of passion from her. The third way is to leverage digital spaces to start building relationships. The last point we covered is all about sharing resources, and content obviously can be helpful, but Katie was quick to point out that sharing the gospel, you know getting to that point, begins by building relationships.
Yeah, that’s good.
This is the way the world works these days. I mean, think about dating. Now, I expected this number to be higher too, Sean, but it said that 40% of couples have met online. I was thinking that would, maybe it is higher now. That was probably from 2019. But when Nona Jones, of Meta, joined us for one of our masterclasses this past year, she made a compelling case just for how Facebook groups are so effective in connecting people. Katie, I think said it this way. She said, just broadcasting your message is kind of one to many, right? And she said, we got lost somewhere thinking that we’re creating relationships by broadcasting, TV, radio, posting online services. But when we do that, there’s no way to connect. There’s no way to start a relationship. But on the internet, we can create community. You know, we can get to know one another. So as churches, how can we do that in a meaningful way? What opportunities can we create to connect online? Here’s one idea that Katie shared. Create some online affinity-based groups, right? We used to do this in church. I remember back in the day we had like our motorcycle riding group. We had our scrapbooking group. There was a basketball group. We found things that…
Church softball team, right?
Church softball team. We just did it in person. And so people have these affinities, things that they’re interested in, and you can just find the right people in your church to create those groups. It’s a great new volunteer role, right? So Sean, if it was you, what’s something you like to do? Find nine or 10 other people who like it, and together start a Facebook group, and then invite others from your social circles to join it. And again, this creates a lot of new volunteer roles in that digital space for hosting groups and to communicate and connect with the people who join in there.
Yeah, you know that’s interesting because now that you say that, I think about some of the facebook groups that I’ve been a part of or seen, and they really are based around affinity. And even not just on the Facebook platform, but, you know, on Twitch or other platforms like that, the community is really happening. It’s happening digitally, but it’s based around a shared affinity, whether it’s video games or whether it’s gardening or whatever it might be. So that really is interesting. That’s already happening.
We should put Nona’s resource on our show notes for this episode, because her book gives a lot more detail into how churches can begin to leverage that space.
Absolutely. Absolutely. All right, Amy, what’s the fourth way that a church can take a next step in reaching people through digital environments?
Yeah. This final way. Let me just say we started the podcast talking about how we need to envision our people to see themselves is digital missionaries. This fourth and final way really builds off the foundation. And that is as a church, go on a digital missions trip together. This would be an initiative that would train your people on how they can leverage their digital spaces. So I just like that concept. That was from Katie. Absolutely. A digital missions trip. Tony was brainstorming this idea with a few of us, and he quickly came up, he’s such an inventor, came up with an idea like a four week kindness project, right? This would be where the church, in tandem with a great message series maybe, organizes what people could be doing over the next four weeks to be a digital missionary under this umbrella of kindness. And the key is that the church is specifically walking through actions every attender would love to do for the next four weeks. So this is a little bit more prescribed, right? So an example. Week one, the church might challenge everyone in their congregation to reach out to four people, four friends on Facebook, and ask, how can I pray for you this week? And then if/when they respond, use messenger, a private messenger, and actually write out of prayer for them. This was something that Katie leaned in on heavy. So many of us say, I’ll pray for you. I’m praying for you, right? But what if we took that next personal step of care and actually wrote out a prayer for somebody, you know, four people on your Facebook? Week two, maybe you could share a content resource, you know, on the appropriate social media platform that meets one of those needs we talked about a few weeks ago. Week three, maybe you challenge your congregation to do something in your community, right? Give blood. Donate to a food shelter. Remember we have this umbrella of kindness, right? Volunteer at a non-profit. And then challenge your people, take a picture of it, share it on social media and encourage others to join you. Again, we’re not trying to lead them to Jesus in this moment. We’re just trying to leverage digital spaces to begin building relationships and exposure. Week four, challenge your congregation, send three $5 electronic gift cards to three friends that need a boost along with a nice note that affirms or encourages them. Other ideas we had – post a short clip from the message at church that has a broad appeal on serving or being kind to others. Or I remember I went to a church in Athens, Georgia, and this was part of a campaign that they had going on, but they were, basically, the church was giving money and then they were going and blessing organizations in their community. And the weekend that I was there, they were giving a van to this nonprofit. And so in the service, they told the story and live, we got to see them give this van to people. That would be a great clip, right? Bring some joy. Share something like that on the page. The point is you wanna rally your local body of Christ, and give them practical ways, you’re training them now, on how to engage with people outside the church or faith, meeting people where they’re at and exposing them to gospel inspired, love and kindness. And what I just went through is just the start of an idea. You know, I would challenge our listeners. This is where instead of getting overwhelmed, schedule a meeting, get a team of people together, staff/volunteers. And I bet in 60 minutes you would come up with some way better ideas than I just laid out there.
That’s really good. Well, Amy, you know, I think that gives church leaders some really practical ideas and an idea starter on how they can take a next step in helping their church reach more people through digital engagement strategies. And what’s interesting about all the things that you just outlined is that these aren’t massive shifts in what we do or how we do it, right? I think sometimes we kind of get paralyzed by thinking through, my goodness, we have to change so dramatically, but we don’t. We’ve got to just shift our thinking, you know, how can we be missionaries in the digital space and digital environment? So I love that. It’s really helpful. Any final thoughts from you before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Yeah. First again, I just wanna give credit to Katie. She, you know, spurred a lot of these thoughts as we talked, but I just have two quick things. First one of the things in my time with Katie that stood out was she shared most churches, they don’t have a webpage about Jesus on their website. And that really struck me. And you know what? I think she’s right. I secret shop a lot of websites. We have pages that outline our core beliefs. We have membership information. We have weekend service information. But how many of us as churches have a page that’s focused on Jesus, and going back to how Google points people to local answers. I wonder how many people actually look for information on Jesus? Do we have an answer to that question, “Who is Jesus?” And lastly, I began this podcast by saying that building digital reach strategies can feel very overwhelming to pastors. And because of that, many churches aren’t doing my much more than posting their services online. And when I was talking to Tony about this, Sean, he said here’s how he’s been coaching pastors. First off, we all know that ministry is all about people, right? Ministry is not, for example, about buildings. Buildings are a tool to accomplish ministry. When we build our buildings, we give input to the professionals about the ministry we want to do and the functionality maybe that we want to get out of the building, but then we let the professionals build it. And digital ministry is not that much different. As pastors, you need to focus on the people and the ministry that you wanna accomplish, and then bring in an expert to build your digital strategies. And you might not have this person on your team right now, but adding this leader could be a game changer in helping you reach more new people through digital engagement.
That’s really good. And Amy, of the pastors that I’ve talked to who are navigating that same exact idea. I mean, the encouragement, I think, is the hard part of what you have to do isn’t designing a digital strategy. It’s finding the right leader, right? That’s the hard work that you’ve gotta commit to. Well, thanks so much, Amy. This has been really good. This current podcast series is all about reaching new people, and we want to continue that conversation even further. So on February 17th, Jerry Sen from onechurch.to up in Toronto, will be a part of our webinar called “Three Strategies to Reach New People,” sharing how their church specifically has pivoted in this area of digital ministry. Jerry is an expert here, so you’ll want to hear what he has to say. Jerry’s gonna be joined by Dave Ferguson and Chris Hodges. And of course, Tony and yourself, Amy. I can’t wait for this. It’s gonna be great to listen to. And pastors are going to walk away with a lot of practical ideas here. So you can register for this event with the link in the show notes. Well, thanks for joining us this week for this conversation on the podcast. And if this podcast has been helpful to you in some way, or maybe past episodes have been helpful to you, we’d love your help in getting the content out farther. And you can do that by hitting subscribe on whatever podcast platform you listen on, telling somebody else about the podcast and giving us a review. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we really hope you have a great week.