June 14, 2023

Pressing Questions: Digital Strategy & Volunteer Engagement – Episode 300 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

church digital strategy and volunteer engagement

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Pressing Questions for Pastors in 2023 (Part 2)

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It’s our 300th episode, and with now over 1.5 million downloads, we’re grateful for the opportunity to continue the conversation about growing healthy churches every single week!

From the very start, our goal for The Unstuck Church Podcast is to answer the most pressing and relevant questions that pastors are asking. That’s why we’re dedicating a whole series to “Pressing Questions for Pastors in 2023.”


The first episodes of this series are answering some of the known questions pastors are wondering about in this season (based on our experience serving hundreds of churches):

Then we opened things up to our listeners for the final episode of the series:

In this week’s podcast, we continue our series by answering key questions around digital strategy and volunteer engagement. Join us as we discuss:

  • The real win for a digital strategy
  • How to create and measure your digital strategy
  • The value of serving others
  • The real way to encourage volunteer engagement

How to Re-Engage Your Church in the Mission

Your congregation today is not your pre-pandemic congregation. And your mission is more than just a statement on your wall. In this webinar, Tony Morgan & Amy Anderson will teach you the practical strategies needed to reignite your church’s passion and purpose for living on mission in this season.

We need to decide whether the primary objective of our digital strategy is to be an online church or to help point people to faith and church. [episode 300] #unstuckchurch Share on X Everything you measure for your digital strategy should help you make better decisions and refine your strategies for reaching people and helping them take next steps in their faith journey. [episode 300] #unstuckchurch Share on X There’s a big difference in the language and heart behind talking about a volunteer as fulfilling a need WE have in our ministry vs. them fulfilling THEIR calling as the body of Christ. [episode 300] #unstuckchurch Share on X The majority of the time, people don’t volunteer because we don’t take time to explain WHY we are asking people to serve—and not just how them serving helps others, but how serving can change them, too. [episode 300] #unstuckchurch Share on X

This Episode Is Sponsored by PlainJoe Studios:

plainjoe endorsed logo color rgb

PlainJoe: A Storyland Studio partners with churches, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and educational environments to create unforgettable strategic, digital, and spatial stories that lift the Spirit. Their team of talented designers, architects, and specialists can assist you with services such as brand development, building projects, custom web development, and more. Their approach to designing custom experiences is both fun-loving and professional, enabling pastors and leaders to enjoy the process while advancing their ministry. 

And here’s some exciting news – PlainJoe is hosting the PlainJoe Design Intervention giveaway, where one winner will receive the grand prize: 200 hours of design services from PlainJoe, for free! Visit plainjoestudios.com for more information. And if you’re ready to rethink your buildings, logos, or website experience to take your organization to the next level, consider PlainJoe.

Leader Conversation Guide

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Share Your Thoughts and Questions on Social Media

We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Today, we hit a new milestone on the podcast. It’s our 300th episode, and with now over one and a half million downloads, we’re grateful for the opportunity to continue the conversation about growing healthy churches. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series answering some of the most pressing questions we hear from church leaders with a conversation on digital strategy and volunteer engagement. If you’re new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, before you listen, stop and go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe to get the episode show notes in your email. Each week, you’re gonna get resources to support that week’s episode, as well as access to the resources from all of our past episodes. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before this week’s conversation, here’s Tony.

Tony (01:00):

PlainJoe, a Storyland Studio, partners with churches, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and educational environments to create unforgettable, strategic, digital and spatial stories that lift the spirit. Their team of talented designers, architects and specialists can assist you with services such as brand development, building projects, custom web development and more. Their approach to designing custom experiences is both fun-loving and professional, enabling pastors and leaders to enjoy the process while also advancing their ministry. Now, here’s some exciting news. PlainJoe is hosting the PlainJoe Design Intervention Giveaway, where one winner will receive the grand prize: 200 hours of design services from PlainJoe for free. So visit plainjoestudios.com for more information, and if you’re ready to rethink your buildings, logos or website experience to take your organization to the next level, consider PlainJoe.

Amy (02:06):

Well, Tony, at least for us doing the podcast, this is kind of a landmark podcast for us.

Tony (02:12):

That’s right, Amy. 300 episodes: can you believe it?

Amy (02:16):

No, no. I mean, sometimes, I can.

Tony (02:18):

I thought you were about ready to say, I kinda can’t, I kind of can believe it.

Amy (02:21):

I would’ve believed 200, but 300? Although, I wasn’t in the opening podcast run of The Unstuck Podcast.

Tony (02:27):

That’s right.

Amy (02:28):

So I’m probably more around 240 or something like that.

Tony (02:31):

Probably something like that. But it’s just fun. I’m constantly hearing feedback, and I know you are as well, especially when we’re on the ground working with churches, of how many church leaders are listening to the content, which I hope you continue to find helpful, practical, very specific to the needs of your leadership and your ministry at the churches that you’re serving. It must be resonating in a way because, Amy, I just found this morning that we have nearly 7,000 church leaders now that are subscribed to our weekly show notes for the podcast.

Amy (03:05):


Tony (03:05):

And based on the download numbers I’m seeing, I, it seems that there are far more leaders that are actually listening to the podcast. So that’s, that’s encouraging; it makes me feel like this is a wise investment of our time, Amy. So thank you for joining me and just making all of this content available to the great church leaders that we get to serve.

Amy (03:28):

Yeah, I just wanna echo that we pray all the time before we hit record, that this would be helpful and would help the churches across the country or countries be more effective with their mission. So today’s episode, Tony, we’re gonna be diving into two more pressing questions that pastors are asking in this season and also discussing the questions that they should be asking instead. And just as a reminder, if you want to submit a question for our Q and A episode at the end of this series, you can do so by tagging us on social media, which is @UnstuckGroup, or you can email us, email us your question to tony@theunstuckgroup.com. Notice how I didn’t say Amy there, Tony?

Tony (04:07):

I noticed that.

Amy (04:08):

I’ll let you go through them. All right. All right. Well, Tony, let’s dive in. What’s the first question we’re gonna be discussing today?

Tony (04:14):

Well, the first question that I’m hearing still at this point is, how do we get people to stop just watching online and come back to church?

Amy (04:24):

Now, you said stop watching online. You mean after all the time and effort churches have been putting into their online presence, they want people to stop watching?

Tony (04:33):

Well, I think it’s less that they really want people to stop watching and more that they would rather have people coming in person than just watching online. And a lot of pastors will see their online services and their in-person weekend services as being kind of in competition with one another. And that’s why I think the question pastors really need to focus on is this one: what’s the real win for our online strategy? And by that, I mean, we need to decide whether or not the primary objective of the digital strategy is to be an online church or is it to help people take a step towards faith and take a step towards connecting with the church—your church. And those two objectives require very different strategies, and they lead to very different wins. So it’s important not to confuse the two. By the way, my personal bias is that most churches should not be trying to become an online church, which would be similar to my advice 15 years ago that most churches should not be pursuing a television ministry, as an example. But that’s just me, and we’ll probably dive into that in just a little bit.

Amy (05:47):

Well, I, I agree. But let’s talk about this idea of being an online church anyways. What would be the strategies and wins a church might engage if their goal was truly to be an online church?

Tony (05:58):

Yeah, so, I think the challenge is for churches that are trying to be the online church, their, their focus is really just on the Sunday service experience itself. And so how do, how can we make a captivating weekend service experience that really is focused on people that are watching online? And because of that, I mean, especially early in Covid, Amy, we talked about some of how that experience online might need to look different than just streaming the service from the room on Sunday morning. However, if you’re gonna be an online church, you gotta be thinking far beyond just streaming your services or just showing an online version of your services. And really, what you need to be thinking about is every next step that you’re encouraging people to take that are engaging the services from your physical locations. And so whether that’s connecting into a group or connecting into a serving opportunity or engaging some other aspect of whatever that spiritual formation strategy looks like for your church, you need to be offering ways for people that are engaging online to take all those steps in their lives, whether that’s online or wherever they may be watching the services from. But I would argue, too, the, the bigger challenge if you really want to become an online church is how do we respond when a crisis hits in the life of the person that’s watching the services online? Because if you’re really trying to be an online church, whatever, whenever that crisis hits in somebody’s life, they will be turning to their church. And the question is, can, are we in a position that we can respond to whatever that crisis is, no matter where people live? Or are we really, again, this kind of goes to the other side of the equation, are we really trying to leverage our digital ministry strategies to connect people to the local church so that when the crisis hits, we’re able to serve them face-to-face?

Amy (08:06):

All right. So you said that your bias would be to not recommend that strategy but rather then the primary objective of digital strategy should be to point people to faith and to the church. So what does that objective look like when it’s played out?

Tony (08:19):

Right. So because of that, then we would want to be in, with the end in mind, which is, I think, helping point people to faith and connection to a local church. And notice that this paints digital ministry as more of a reach strategy than a discipleship and spiritual formation strategy, although it can be both depending on your goals. So a digital strategy that’s focused on those outside the faith and outside the church might look like this. First, we need to be thinking about who’s the audience that we’re trying to connect with. We really kind of, of need to understand the persona of that person. And to get rather specific, hopefully your church has already defined your mission field, but if you haven’t yet, this may be a good time to do that as you’re thinking about what your digital strategy needs to look like. And then, you need to pick digital strategies that actually reach those people, both the right channels and the right types of content. For example, if your hope is to reach people in your community who fall into the kind of that not spiritually interested category, at least at this point, our strong encouragement is that you build your content strategy around helping just answer kind of questions about living life and addressing the opportunities and challenges that they’re facing in their daily lives. Questions around maybe relationships and parenting, emotional and mental health, kind of purpose, financial health and different topics like that. But as you’re doing that, you really need to think local, and design your content and your strategies to reach that specific person in your community and show how your church is really for the community as well. And this is an important one, don’t put insider messages into outsider spaces. Your church’s digital platforms shouldn’t just be a place to put your announcements: the things that you’re promoting at your church. You need to filter everything you share through the lens of that person that you’re trying to reach in your mission field. And we recommend that you have one person on your team who oversees the alignment of these digital strategies to your ministry strategy across all ministry areas. You may have a number of people that are investing in and a part of the team that’s, that’s engaging in digital ministry, but you need to have a champion: somebody that’s thinking about the strategy and making sure that you’re executing the strategy and it’s delivering the results that you want. And when you do that, by the way, what that’s gonna create is a leader that wakes up every day thinking about strategy, evaluating the strategy, figuring out what’s working, what’s not working and then kind of doubling down on the things that are really helping the church accomplish its mission. And then abandoning and maybe reinventing the areas that, that are not. But you need a person that’s waking up every day thinking about that in order to be effective in this area of your ministry.

Amy (11:29):

Yeah, I love that, Tony. You know, our online presence isn’t just a bulletin board, right? It’s just like, we should design our weekend messages to speak to the needs of the people that we’re trying to reach. We should do the same for our digital content. So you said the end win for this is helping point people to faith in church. So how, how do we go about measuring that in a tangible way?

Tony (11:49):

Yeah. When it comes to how we measure the wins, our take on metrics is that everything you measure should help you make better decisions and then refine your strategies for reaching people and helping them take next steps in their faith journey. So, at a minimum, your team needs to be monitoring some of these things so that they can help you decide which things are working to help people take their first steps and then their next steps of faith and connection to the church. So things like this, are we reaching new people? And this can be tracked by measuring new versus returning visitors to your website or measuring new followers on social media. So in, in areas like this, obviously, we should, should be seeing over time a trend of increase in the metrics in these areas. Another question, how many people are taking their first steps? And as an example, this could be tracked by measuring the first time they give you their email address or their phone number or their name so that you can begin to maybe offer some more focused content for them and encourage them to take steps beyond that. And then, how did they take their first step? And this can be tracked by measuring whether they came through a content series, a specific form, a new app account or, or a variety of different things like that. So just kind of monitoring where are we getting traction when it comes to engaging with new people and how can we continue to pour our energy and focus into those parts of our digital strategy so that we can help people take those first steps towards faith in the church.

Amy (13:31):

You know, as you’re sharing that, Tony, it just reminds me, it sounds a lot of like how our marketing team does things at The Unstuck Group. You know, rather than sharing a story of how churches are engaging in this area, because there really is no copy-and-paste strategy here, maybe you could explain a little bit about how we approach it.

Tony (13:48):

Yeah, absolutely. And if you’re listening to this, you know that we have a podcast, we also have weekly blogs and emails. We have YouTube videos. There’s, there’s monthly online webinars that we offer. But despite all of these things we offer online, our end goal is not to provide a purely online solution for helping churches get unstuck. Rather, we’re creating content with the purpose of reaching new church leaders with the goal of eventually engaging them in our Unstuck Process, which happens in person on the ground at the church, helping them work through that entire process. So for example, we know it’s a lot more likely that a struggling pastor is going to go on Google and search, “How do I restructure my staff” rather than searching for “Church staff structure consulting.” Does that make sense, Amy?

Amy (14:44):

It does.

Tony (14:44):

So, yeah. So we’re, we try to meet pastors where they are online by creating content that answers questions that they’re asking. And then, from there, we want to nurture that into a more long-term relationship, and we want them to take baby steps through email, reports, podcasts, webinars, so that eventually we can help them through an onsite coaching and consulting experience.

Amy (15:10):

And I love the heart behind that. That’s really what we wanna do. We wanna help them lead a church that’s unstuck, just like all of our pastors out there want people to live life with Jesus, not without Jesus. And you know, I think our strategy, Tony, it’s working pretty well. I think, if I’ve got the numbers right, almost 70% of our consulting engagements last year came as a result of our content marketing efforts.

Tony (15:31):

Yeah. And that’s why, Amy, I just think this digital ministry strategy and this key question of “What’s the win? Is it to be an online church or is it to help people take steps towards faith in church?” That’s a key question that we need to be wrestling with because I think the potential for the local church is they could be leveraging digital strategies to reach new people in their community in a, in the very same way that we’re trying to connect with new church leaders to engage with The Unstuck Group.

Amy (16:04):

Yeah. Three years ago, it was all about do we have our services online for reasons that we know. We all had to switch if we weren’t there already. And I would guess that most churches are ready for this next step of how do we take our digital strategy to the next step? Because as I see, it’s very easy these days to access any church online. But this other side of it, it’s still, we’re still waiting for the, for the leaders to emerge with digital strategy. And like you said, digital strategy, it’s a huge topic, but let’s leave it there for now. What’s the second question you wanna address today, Tony?

Tony (16:37):

The second question that we’re hearing is how do we get more people to volunteer?

Amy (16:42):

Oh yeah.

Tony (16:42):

And we’re hearing it often, Amy, don’t you agree?

Amy (16:45):

Yeah, I think that’s definitely a question we’re hearing a lot right now. You know, I do a lot of staffing and structures, and numbers are lower, so it’s a fair question. But what do you think or or why do you think there’s a better question they should be asking?

Tony (16:59):

Yeah, I think there’s a better question because I think there’s more opportunity that’s untapped out there to actually help people step into serving. And because of that, I think the better question we need to be asking in this season is, how do we help more people understand the value of serving others? And here’s why: volunteering should be more about what we want for people than what we want from people.

Amy (17:22):

Yeah. That’s such an important distinction, Tony. We absolutely understand that churches need volunteers to keep their doors open; at least healthy churches do that, right? They’re giving ministry away to their body. But there’s a big difference in the language and heart behind talking about a volunteer as fulfilling a need we have in our ministry versus them fulfilling their calling as the body of Christ.

Tony (17:44):

That’s right, Amy. I mean, volunteering is a key part of the spiritual journey of believers, but I don’t think that we always represent it that way.

Amy (17:53):

I know. Right.

Tony (17:53):

We can talk about the logistics and strategies for recruiting new volunteers, but in our experience, we really just need to focus on the why. The majority of time, people don’t volunteer because we don’t take the time to explain why we are asking people to serve and not just how them serving helps others but also how serving can change them too. After all, joining a volunteer team gives people the opportunity to do something meaningful with their lives when they may not get that feeling from their job or their everyday life. I mean, most people do not volunteer because they dream of managing administrative details but rather because they wanna make a difference in people’s lives.

Amy (18:38):

You know, Tony, in preparation for this episode, I was looking back at our past content on this topic, and there was an article you wrote last year called “There’s More to Serving Than Serving.” And in that article, you said a few things that stood out for me. First of all, you said, “When I’m serving other people, I’m worrying less about the challenges I’m facing in my life.” You said, “When I’m serving other people, I feel more connected to the body of Christ and the mission God has given the church. When I’m serving other people, I can’t help but experience a sense of fulfillment that I’m making a difference in someone’s life. When I’m serving other people, I pray more because I want people to experience God’s love through me. And lastly, when I’m serving other people, it stretches my faith as I trust God to do it only he can do.” You know, I think if we ask the people in our church, “Do you wanna worry less? Do you wanna feel more connected and fulfilled? Do you wanna pray more? Do you wanna stretch your faith?” The answer would probably be yes. And we need to connect how serving can help people do those things.

Tony (19:35):

Yeah. And another good question to ask would be, “Do you want to make new friends and meet people who are on a similar journey?” Because, in my opinion, it’s much, much less intimidating to join a volunteer team than it is to show up to a stranger’s house as an example and talk about your feelings and the Bible through a small group. Now, I’m a part of a small group.

Amy (19:57):


Tony (19:57):

Small groups are important to the faith journey as well. But when it comes to quickly meeting new people, our volunteer teams are a great way to help people connect and build meaningful relationships, which we know so many people are looking for, especially on this side of the pandemic. And we also know that that relational connection is really important to keep people connected to the church for the long run.

Amy (20:25):

It’s so true. You know, Tony, that was, I’ve shared it before, but that was mine and my husband’s experience. You know, when we started attending our church, it was a big church. It was like, I don’t know, 1,500 people, or at least it felt like that. It was very crowded. And we got invited to serve in children’s ministry, and we had three kids under five. So we kind of felt like that would be fair because we’re dropping our kids off every weekend. But that was completely where we met other people when we served in those rooms. I can’t say that either of us feel like we had the spiritual gifts that, you know, compelled us and drew us to children’s, but that’s where we started. And I’ll tell you what, it was about four weeks ago, Tony, I was flying to go work with one of our churches in Ohio. And the gal in the Delta Club who greeted me, I met her in our children’s ministry in 1998 when we started serving. I mean, remembered her name, her kids’ names. It was just such an important part of funneling us into the community of the church. And I still know some of those people today, so.

Tony (21:21):

That’s pretty fun. Yeah. Serving is, I’ve talked about it before. It’s been transformative in my life and my spiritual journey, and I just so much want for people to experience what I experienced. But too many times, we’re just so focused on the logistics of trying to get people to serve more that we, we maybe neglect really explaining the impact that serving others could have on their lives. And I think the key takeaway for answering the question, “How do we help more people understand the value of serving others” is that we need to regularly cast vision around what it means to the body of Christ and the importance for every person to recognize that they’re a part of the body and have a role to play. So, don’t just focus on what you want from people, but what you want for them and how serving can play a key role on that. And if there are stories of people in your church who have been impacted by serving, like the story Amy just shared, tell those stories and share them regularly.

Amy (22:23):


Tony (22:23):

And just to encourage you in this area, I I wanna share a little bit about a church that we’ve been able to serve through our Unstuck Process. In fact, Amy, you and I both, I think had a chance to work with this church a few years ago; it’s Preston Trail Community Church. They’re a great megachurch in Frisco, Texas, kind of in that Dallas-Fort Worth area, or as my friends in Fort Worth like to refer to it as the Fort Worth-Dallas area. But they, they recently shared that over 70% of their adults and students are volunteering on a regular basis. And I, I love that because a lot of times what I hear, especially from larger churches is, “Well, the larger we get, the harder it’s going to be to mobilize more people into serving opportunities. And because of that, that’s gonna impact our percentages. And it’s just harder because we’re a larger church.” Well, here’s an example of a very large church that is seeing the vast majority of their adults and students volunteering on a regular basis. And if you’re curious, you can go to their website prestontrail.org/serve to learn a little bit more about how they’re helping people take those next steps toward a serving opportunity in their churches.

Amy (23:43):

Yeah, it’s a great church and a great team. And, Tony, just as you were talking about the larger you get, the harder it is to engage people. That completely contradicts what we’ve seen in multisite churching for the last 15 years.

Tony (23:54):

That’s right.

Amy (23:54):

It engages so many more people as you replicate your church.

Tony (23:57):

That’s right.

Amy (23:58):

All right, well, we’ve covered two big important topics today: digital ministry and volunteering, and hopefully, this conversation provided some important perspectives on these two common pain points for churches. But, Tony, any other final thoughts as we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (24:13):

Well, first of all, I just wanna say that these are both two key areas that we help churches work through in our consulting process. So if you want to explore that further, you can reach out to us at theunstuckgroup.com. But secondly, I want to invite you to join me on June 29th for a free webinar on how to reengage your church in the mission. At this one-hour live event, we’ll teach you the practical strategies needed to equip people to become more like Christ and live out their purpose as part of the body of Christ through giving, serving and living in community with others. So, especially if your church is struggling around this volunteer/serving issue, I encourage you to register for that through the link in your show notes.

Sean (24:58):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Like Tony mentioned, we’d love to have you join us on our upcoming webinar on June 29th. To register, download the show notes theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new conversation. So until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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