Beyond the Front Door: Engaging Church Members Online

As we’ve stated countless times at ThomRainer.com, your church’s website is the front door to your church. I’ve written about why your website needs to be guest friendly, but I haven’t written much about how it should interface with your members.

Needless to say, your church’s website should serve your members as well.

The problem is that too many church websites don’t. Some churches put so much effort into guest information, that they overlook information and features that would appeal to members and have them use the site more. These are the seven most common reasons church members don’t use your church’s website:

  1. You don’t have a church calendar. Almost every church management software includes a church calendar in its functionality. You can embed it on your website or use another calendar tool to keep event information in front of your members. Google Calendar or a calendar plugin on your website are the most common alternate methods churches use to place event information and schedules online.
  2. You’re not using social media well. Your members are the ones who are most likely to engage with your church on social media. If you’re not using social media well, you’re not going to engage your members well. When you provide sharable content on social media, you will draw members and guests alike to your church’s website.
  3. You don’t provide media to consume. Church members miss services from time to time. Many want to catch up on what they missed. Therefore, if you don’t have sermon videos or sermon podcasts on your church’s site, they can’t watch or listen to what they miss. A full media offering will draw more members to your website, and is a great resource for guests wanting to get to know more about your church.
  4. You don’t have online giving or online registration. Both of these tools allow members to make easy payments on your site. Obviously, online giving is much more than a payment, but if you don’t offer it, that is just one fewer reason for members to visit your site. Online registration for upcoming events and the ability to pay for any associated costs is also simple to install and helpful to members.
  5. You don’t publicize your church website. When you have information, event registration, and church-related media on your website, it will lead you to talk more about it. If every event you host requires (or strongly encourages) online registration, your church members will use your website more than if the event registration is a clipboard in the fellowship hall.
  6. You don’t have a church website. There is really no excuse here. A Facebook page is not a substitute for a website.
  7. You don’t have analytics or stats to know if church members are using the site or not. If you don’t have data about what pages are being accessed on your site, you’ll never know who’s using it or what they’re using it for. You’ve got to have data to make informed decisions about what to emphasize.

Do your church members use your church’s website more or less than you would want? What would you add to this list?


Learn more about the effective use of your church website: Connect with an Auxano Navigator today.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Howe

Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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COMMENTS

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Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski) — 06/09/17 8:38 am

I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.

Recent Comments
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

A Simple Strategy for Church Communications: Inform

I’m currently in the middle of a series on church communications strategy. That may not sound like the most exciting topic, but it’s one that is grossly neglected in thousands of churches across the U.S. and Canada.

I previously wrote on the six keys to engaging your audience. So once you have them engaged, you need to keep them informed. These seven keys will help.

  1. Information isn’t just facts. Presenting information alone doesn’t get the job done. When people are inundated with data without context or a purpose, they ignore it. The information you decide to share needs a reason and a purpose.
  2. Consistency is key. Knowing when to expect information and how it will be presented helps in awareness and retention. Many churches have a template for their worship guides or bulletins. That’s because people want to look in the same spot each week to find similar information. If the information changes locations on the page every week, it makes it harder to find and fewer people will retain the information. Templates are a communicator’s best friends.
  3. Timing matters. When you decide to communicate information to your church or potential guests, having enough lead time is important. If you have an upcoming event and you would like to encourage members to invite friends, they need time to identify potential invitees. A week isn’t really enough time. A month might not be either. Inform your audience well enough in advance to act when you are encouraging them to do so.
  4. Calendars are helpful. Not only do calendars allow you to give enough lead time, they also help you to plan how often to communicate with your audience and in which ways to communicate. A variety of channels and messages help people retain and remember information. Use a calendar to eliminate message clutter and information overlap.
  5. Don’t major on the minors. It’s best to have a system to determine the importance of your messaging and decide what gets the most attention. A Christmas Eve service should be communicated much more than a room change for the decorating committee meeting. Knowing what is of most importance will keep you from cluttering your communications.
  6. Tailor your wording to the audience. I mentioned this in the engaging post as well. You need to use the right words for the audience. Acronyms often make little to no sense to church guests. Your message should always be geared to its desired audience.
  7. Use all the tools at your disposal. Don’t limit the methods in which you communicate. Your options are nearly limitless. Newsletters, bulletins, social media, texting, phone trees, mailings, and the church website only scratch the surface of the communications options churches have today. Use as many methods as possible to communicate as much information as possible.

When it comes to informing church members and guests, keep these seven keys in mind. What would you add to this list? What is your church’s greatest struggle in keeping members informed?


Connect with an Auxano Navigator to learn how your church can learn more about keeping members informed.


> Read more from Jonathan.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Howe

Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

A Simple Strategy for Church Communication

Most churches don’t think strategically about their communications efforts. Many times, communications practices are passed on from staffer to staffer without any regard to what is effective. And often, the responsible staff member or volunteer has other duties that take precedent in ministry.

Regardless of your staffing structure or size, church communications can be done effectively and strategically if you consider the perspective of your audience. Church communication isn’t for the benefit of the church; it’s for the benefit of members and guests. So when considering what to say, when to say it, and which channel to use, keep in mind these three essential elements:

  1. Engage the audience. Your church communications should be engaging. Putting out a tweet or Facebook post just so you can check that item off your to-do list is rarely going to engage your church members and potential guests. Content should be sharable, memorable, and relevant. The difference between engaging content and content that is not typically involves thinking through the messaging. Start with the goals of your communication in mind and work backwards: consider the desired result, decide the best platform to reach your goal, and word your message accordingly.
  2. Inform the audience. Once you’ve engaged your audience, keep them informed. Consistency with your communications is important. Try to plan out your church’s communications week by week and stick to the plan as best as possible. Once you have your weekly schedule set, then you can move to monthly, quarterly, and annual planning. By planning out what you want to communicate to members and guests on a consistent basis, you can more effectively integrate major church events into your communications plan.
  3. Inspire the audience. Informing and engaging your audience isn’t enough. They should be inspired to share. Graphics aid in this area more than words. People are more likely to share inspiring graphics than inspiring paragraphs. Both have value, but one appeals visually. The graphics you choose can be the difference in someone sharing your content and not sharing it.

Over the next few week’s, I’ll be digging deeper into these three elements. So if you have any questions about the specifics, share them in the comments section below, and I’ll be sure to touch on those items in future posts.

Does your church plan its communications strategically? Do you engage, inform, and inspire your church members and guests with your content?


Want to learn how to be strategic with your church communication? Contact an Auxano Navigator to start a conversation.


> Read more from Jonathan.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Howe

Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Don’t Lose Clarity in Your Church Communications

Clarity is the highest goal of all church communications. Our role is to cut through the clutter and deliver the message we are giving with as much precision as possible. In order to do that we employ a wide variety of tactics to persuade people towards the goals that we’ve set. In an effort to persuade our communications can slip to a place where they stop being clear and become just clever. We can become too self-impressed with how we’re communicating the message that the content of the message is lost.

Here are a handful of times that I’ve seen churches lose clarity when communicating with their community:

  • Family Ministry Environment Names // When a first time guest sees the names of your kid’s and student’s ministries do they make sense? If I have an infant do I take them to “WhizBangLand” or “GrowUpGang”? Too many churches employ clever ministry names that don’t make sense to people outside of the church. It’s the ultimate insider focused tactic to use names that are not self-evident to guests. Make sure people can clearly understand the signage and printed materials about your family ministry environments without having to interpret what they mean.
  • Campus Location Labeling // Too often churches attempt to be clever by naming campuses using relative locations to the original campus … Crossroads Church North, St. Paul’s East … the problem is that naming convention assumes that the new campus is a small satellite of something larger. Quickly after you launch people will attend the new location that have never been to the original campus … when you use a naming convention that points back to the first location it diminishes the work in the new campus. Pick an approach to labeling the new location that casts vision for the community for want to reach … Crossroad Church Essex County, St. Paul’s Uptown.
  • Graphic Design // Can I speak to the graphic designers for a minute? There is a difference between something looking amazing and it communicating clearly. Most of the great art I’ve ever seen is ambiguous and hard to understand what the artist is saying. The fact that I need to wrestle with the meaning of the piece is what makes it art. Your role as a graphic designer is to use elements of design to communicate a message. Communication leads … art follows. It would be prettier to have the super slender font on that flyer … but people wouldn’t understand that it’s talking about. This isn’t a tension to be managed … communication comes before beauty … function before form.
  • Next Steps // Once people start attending your church for a while they will be looking for their next steps to getting connected. Often I’ve seen churches call their first steps for new people some fancy name that just doesn’t make sense on the surface … Discovery Class, Engage, Connection. By definition, people who are new to your church don’t have any sense of your “integration process” and are just wondering what they should do first. At our church we call this environment First Step because we want it to be the first thing people who when they come to our church. This is also the case when you ask people to take any sort of “next step” in their spiritual journey. Make the right next step obvious and clear.
  • Financial Reporting // Report your finances in a way that can be easily understood by “non-financial” people. Use plain language, simple charts and clear commentary when talking about the financial state of the church. Financials are not self-evident to most people. We need to provide simple commentary that helps people benchmark what is happening in the life of the church. Bold clarity in this area will build trust with your donors and ultimately encourage them to give more to your ministry. If people don’t understand this part of what happens at your church they will be less likely to give. Active obfuscation of the truth is the shortest route to financial ruin of a church.
  • Online Calls to Action // Your church’s website probably has too many options on it. When people arrive at your site what do you want them to “do”? Are you focusing their attention on just a few next steps rather than a wide variety of options? Every ministry wants to be “featured” on your site … but if you “feature” them all you will just generate clutter and noise for your guests. Often we use our websites to move people to action in our church … asking them to donate, join a small group, volunteer for a team, connect with our team, etc … but when we pile on the “calls to action” each new ask erodes the impact of the last.

> Read more from Rich.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rich Birch

Rich Birch

Thanks so much for dropping by unseminary … I hope that your able to find some resources that help you lead your church better in the coming days! I’ve been involved in church leadership for over 15 years. Early on I had the privilege of leading in one of the very first multisite churches in North Amerca. I led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 4,000 people in 6 locations. (Today they are 13 locations with somewhere over 5,000 people attending.) In addition, I served on the leadership team of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. I currently serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. I have a dual vocational background that uniquely positions me for serving churches to multiply impact. While in the marketplace, I founded a dot-com with two partners in the late 90’s that worked to increase value for media firms and internet service providers. I’m married to Christine and we live in Scotch Plains, NJ with their two children and one dog.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

To Grow Disciples, Start by Rethinking Your Church Communication

Are you familiar with the well-known website, church marketing sucks? Or, if you’re put off, perhaps church marketing stinks? I’ve always loved the blunt challenge the domain presents against the dominant framework most local congregations bring to the idea of church communication. Like the site’s owners, I am against misunderstanding church communication as a mere tool to share information. I am very much for using church communication to strategically shape a church’s story and create a covenantal community.

Unfortunately, most churches define the role of communication as the tactical execution of messages designed by other church leaders. It is a support position, like clip art on a desktop publishing PC. A popular post defines it well, here.

There’s a reason for this poor understanding of church communication, and it is killing efforts to grow churches and make disciples of Jesus Christ.

20th century advertising was defined by “features and benefits,” or information about the attributes of a product. Features provided the point of view of the producer – what the product offers. Benefits provide the point of view of the customer – how the product helps their life. Both angles assume the person on the other end of the transaction is a consumer. This is precisely the problem with most communication in churches – it adopts a strategic assumption that is consumer-driven and transactional. It treats the “seeker”, or the person coming to church, as a consumer, to receive spiritual goods and services, and it makes the relationship transactional in nature, when biblically speaking it should be covenantal.

Now, I don’t think this is all the church’s fault. It is the default mode of our society, and the person coming to church will, without thinking, approach their spiritual life in the same way they approach everything else. We have to teach people what it means to be covenantal rather than transactional.

The newer advertising philosophy, which I have advocated in my ministry, is experiential. Rather than thinking about a product’s features and benefits, it attempts to create an environment for finding meaning. Most major campaigns now do this. Advertisers are exploring how to create what is essentially a more covenantal approach to their craft – they desire to create brand promises with their customers and forge long-term relationships. Of course their goal is still to sell products, but we can learn from this. Many church leaders still operate, I think by default, in a features and benefits mentality.

This gets at the heart of the dichotomy between “attractional” and “missional,” as I discussed earlier. The debate on whether a church should be “missional” or “attractional” is a false dichotomy. It is both/and, not either/or. As friend Mike Slaughter says, “The gospel is offensive. We’re just making sure you know you’ve been offended.”

Obviously, clear communication is vitally important. How a church presents its identity both in its core story and in its ongoing daily messages determines what audience it engages. A church that finds its core story in relating to people “burnt by church” is going to present itself, or tell its story, differently than a church of people who have found great personal benefit in the combination of church and society (like many of the churches in Dallas I used to work with). This also means you must know your audience, which is a future topic for this blog.

In the meantime, if you want to grow disciples in your church, re-thinking church communication is a great place to start.

Read more from Len here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Len Wilson

Len Wilson

I'm a storyteller and a strategist, which means I love to both tell stories and create an environment for telling stories. My day job is Creative | Communication Director at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. I also write, speak, and teach.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.