“…See, what we have here is a failure to communicate!” -Major Payne (Click the link…trust me; it will be a 30 seconds WELL spent!)
I do not consider myself an expert in the art of online communication by any stretch of the imagination. I also do not consider myself an expert musician. Despite my lack of expertise in the musical arts, I do know when a note is off key or when a band’s rhythm might be off. The simple reason as to why is because I am always around and observing musicians in the midst of their environment in practices and performances/worship leading. In a similar way as my familiarity with right tone and rhythm in a musical setting, I can also decipher right “tone” and “rhythm” in online communications.
In their book Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission in Chapter 9 on “Effective Online Communications,” authors Holly Ross, Katrin Verclas and Allison Levine write, “Your communications plan relies heavily on your goals and strategies for achieving your mission, maintaining a healthy organization, raising money or awareness, educating, or any other core activities. Without these plans to strategically align communications, you are, as the saying goes, “planning to fail,” (Page 214).
In short, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.”
When I go to a church’s website that looks like 1997 clip art, I want to first scratch my nails on a chalk board, and then seek to connect them with my quality website designer friends. I have seen far too many websites which are a sad attempt to match an amazing mission. It’s not that these organizations don’t have amazing missions. They do. What lacks in some is the front porch or street appeal of the site to attract would be participants in said mission, all because their website did not match their mission. For our purposes today, we will mostly focus in the area of non-profit churches. While there may be some similarities between churches and other non-profits, the research and first hand analytics and observations of this writer are mostly contained within the realm of church non-profit organizations.
The following seven ways for churches to communicate better online will be based on my limited research, yet first hand observations.
- Without a VISION the People, and Websites, Perish…
There is a very popular Proverb found in the Bible in Proverbs 29:18 which states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” (KJV). Our previously referenced authors, Ross, Verclas and Levine, isolate this truth in their studies and observations. They state, “Without plans (vision), you are making your job much more difficult when it comes to designing your website and online communications…” (Page 215). When people come to your church website, they want and need to know you care about what you believe via clear and clean information displays, namely your vision for why you exist. If you cannot commit the resources for a quality, clean, and effective website, you might be better off not having a website and just rely on “old school” word of mouth.
2. Spice it Up!
While churches do exist to glorify Jesus, you can’t just put in plain text: “We exist to glorify Jesus.” While this is good vision from a theological and spiritual perspective, the audience you are targeting who might all not exist to glorify Jesus (at least that they know of), need to know why YOU exist in a clean and relevant way. Therefore, ask around and find the most tech/email/production/web savvy millennial-aged person you have in your church and ask them if they would be willing to help you navigate the field of creativity for your website and online outreach. If you have the resources, HIRE said tech/email/production/web savvy millennial-aged person! In this day and age, next to the church building itself, it might be the best investment you’ve ever made as a church!
3. Listen to the Critics
in Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission, Ross, Verclas and Levine write, “Obviously, you can’t control what others write (about you and your website), but you can certainly respond. You can only respond however if you are listening,” (Page 215).
My friend Scotty, who heads up a non-profit here in Washington, DC to help the mentally ill, was putting together a website that he thought was amazing…until he listened to his friends and close analysts. He said with dejection, “I thought the idea I had was pretty cool until everybody told me my website sucked!” His concept is not innovative, but it is thoughtful and in the right direction as far as wanting to engage the world via the internet. His website is www.ComputerChurch.org. There’s nothing “spicy” about that URL. It truly was a horrible website, but that’s beside the point, or rather from the last point (insert canned laughter…here).
He has since sought other developers. It still is lacking some of the newer buzz that church websites can and should possess, but he’s moving in the right direction and he’s “glorifying Jesus” while doing it!
4. Be Willing to Drive In Traffic
Everybody always complains about “LA traffic.” A few weeks ago I drove in LA traffic from Orange County to get to two Dodger games at Dodger Stadium, two days in a row. While driving in traffic is not fun all the time, the fact that there was traffic displayed that there was life in the city. People are going about their business to get from one important place and people to another. Driving in traffic is good.
Ross, Verclas and Levine write, “To attract prospects, organizations must drive traffic to their websites and attract new email subscribers,” (Page 217). In order to drive traffic, they go on to write:
• Have a distinct and succinct web address (URL).
• Promote your URL everywhere—in print, in person, and at events.
• Participate in online communities where you can recommend content on your site.
• Link to partners and appropriate outside content.
• Link back to your site in emails and enewsletters.
(Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission, Page 228)
In this regard, if you want to “glorify the name of Jesus” via your church website, you need to get the traffic to and through your website. How is this done? While there are many ways to accomplish this task, I think one of the most simplest ways is to utilize your personal relationships and contacts via social media to get the word out and traffic toward your website.
For example, if you would like to learn more about the synchronicity of the Bible, Politics, and Science I want to encourage you to go to one of my Twitter sites I have called “Grace and Truth Element“, and follow @ElementHope to build up my “traffic” or in Twitter terms, “followership”. I embedded the link to my Twitter account for you to follow and engage in “traffic” so I can continue to get the word out about my mission to make people think outside of the political box mainstream media has put them in.
5. C-4 Website Explosion!
Ross, Verclas and Levine offer four words beginning with the letter “C” as the “Four Cornerstones of Effective Websites.” They are credibility, cultivation, clickability, and content (Page 218). While I would like to unpack each of these components in more detail, the ultimate point is that there are effective formulas to effective online presence. If you want your church to thrive with new faces and people who have yet to come to know Jesus, then your website must show your credibility as an organization. It must also show you’re cultivating the site and updating the information, otherwise it looks like “nobody is home” and nobody cares about your church, so why should they? Clickability on your website is the same as interactiveness. In other words, are people able to navigate easily about your website to find what they need? Remember pastor, you’re not there to use your interpersonal gift of communication, so you’re completely dependent on the programming of your website to generate interest and an explosion of attendance at your church because of effective content (the last part of the four c’s).
6. Don’t Argue with People Online, That’s Just Stupid…Trust Me, I Know!
While there is a time and a place to stand for Truth on the internet and certainly in person, your church website may not be the best place. I do believe we live in a culture of abject depravity and the absence of absolute truth. As a result, some people may still come seeking truth online and via your website, but instead of compromising the simplicity of your website with various apologetics, perhaps provide links of interest that will satisfy that urge to engage in arguments online. Allow people to be attracted to your beautifully awesome website so they are willing to attend your church, whereby you can preach the Truth of God’s Word with Grace.
7. Let Somebody Who Knows What They’re Doing Do It!
As I previously stated, I am no internet/web specialist, but I can tell when something needs to be improved as far as website design and appeal. That said, I’m no Michelangelo when it comes to website design. I don’t know the right programs or code to write. But I know people who DO know how to design quality websites. In fact this present website is developed by one of my former students. It’s no “Apple.com”, but it will do for our purposes.
About 3 years ago, I thought I was a pretty good Instagrammer (person who posts Instagram posts). While I was utilizing the platform of social media to reach students for our student ministry, I lacked the ethical and quality that Instagram existed for, according to my Millennials. After being offended 3 different times because of the critique of people half my age, I decided to listen and handed over the chief operations of our Instagram account to some youth leaders that were just better than I was at it. Our Followers increased by 200% almost overnight and the pictures were so much better than I could have ever produced! Lesson? Let those who are better at, do it better than you and everybody wins!
In conclusion, as we seek to be better at communicating online as churches and leaders, we must ultimately stay true to our various visions and unified mission to glorify Jesus. If God is the most creative and thorough Being in the Universe, shouldn’t we, His followers at least be the best innovators and creators of content and technological information on this planet?