Millenials are individuals born between 1977 and 2000 and comprise 25% of the U.S. population. As a tech-savvy generation, they live with technology. It organizes them, informs them, entertains them, and tracks their health. Through it, they communicate and even discover and nurture relationships. While foreign to those of the notes, letters and newspaper generation, it is their "normal." Reading an article about them, recently, made me think about my own experiences.
Joining the Baptist New Mexican team involved moving my family, my dog, and all of my belongings (even some plants) to a new home 200 miles distant. But, the biggest move, still in progress, was finding a new church family. The article helped me glean insight from my search. I needed a church that fit my wife, my Millenials and me. Digital presence influenced my family’s journey considerably. Every church has a digital presence.
I only lately began using the term “digital presence” in earnest. An inc.com article described an organization's website as "the core" of their digital presence." Bo Barron, on bobarron.com, described presence succinctly as "being known."
“Being known” happens when people don't have to ask simple questions about your organization, because they already know about you. Digital presence is being known through cloud resources. Insightfully, Barron calls digital presence "lubrication" because it "makes everything easier." Basic information about the organization is already available in the cloud. People who want to know no longer have to wait and ask. In fact, Tom Cochran, an entrepreneur.com contributor, observed, "If you don't have a digital presence today, you don't exist." Consider his claim; my family has not visited any churches about which we could not find online information - not one. These men are right... from a Millenial's perspective.
During my church search, I became become slightly Millenial (only slightly). I first experienced each new congregation through their digital presence, their combination (or lack of) social media, websites and other cloud resources. I wandered among them invisibly - virtually. Other family members did, too. What do I mean? Before visiting a church, I searched their website, visited their Facebook page, watched their videos, mapped their location, scrutinized their buildings and parking through Google Maps satellite images and read about their staff and programs.
Some churches still define a guest’s experience as perceptions and encounters guests have from the property line to the worship service, an old school approach. Today, many guests experience churches through their digital presence (like my family did) before they ever need guest parking or signage.
I discovered basic ingredients every church needs to craft a guest-oriented digital presence. They need a guest-oriented website, current and guest-oriented social media and multimedia that is done well. Their website should be integrate these resources to offer vital information tech-savvy guests need. When churches carefully craft their digital presence, they say, "We are expecting you," rather than, "Catch us if you can."
Promises. On your website’s home page, tell guests what they can expect (friendships, hope, direction for life, etc.) Your promises shape your digital presence. They make your first impression. Make them authentic, accurate and honest. Think this way - If you operate a grocery store, don’t lure people in by calling it a movie theater.
Location. Give guests the real address of your meeting place. Addresses are “gold.” GPS devices turn addresses into attendance. Provide an interactive map with a location pin, too. If guests can manipulate the map, they can navigate to your parking lot.
Programs. Describe what you offer - all of it - briefly (but not too briefly). Organize programs by age or affinity groups - teenagers, college students, adults, men, women, skateboarders or whatever. Make finding this information easy. Easy is good. Guests will read well-written descriptions. Include important details, like who, when, where and costs.
When. Tell guests precisely when you meet. Less traditional churches find this slightly complex - worship on Sunday, home groups on Monday, students on Wednesday and Friday, Men on Tuesday mornings and so on. Don’t let complexity stop you. Also, update the information when anything changes, even temporarily. Guests are not interested in what you “normally do.” Web visitors want to know about this Sunday and this week.
Who Are You? Tell guests about your church’s affiliations (denominations, partnerships, etc.). Summarize your beliefs. Describe the requirements for membership. Explain unique practices. But, remember that your internal vision, helpful to members, rarely helps guests.
Pictures. Include current, accurate photos of your staff (especially ministers), grounds, buildings, worship services and other activities.
Social Media. Establish the use of official, moderated Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and blogs. Link to them on a dedicated page of your website. Describe (very briefly) each one’s focus or purpose. Fill them with guest-oriented content. Create a creative hashtag for members to use in their own social media posts. Promote it. Invite guests to search for it. Craft your social media as if a guest were walking through your activities, listening and watching. Your social media becomes their eyes and ears as they virtually visit.
Multimedia. Focus on the prefix "multi." If possible, incorporate videos and recordings into your site, as well as photos. Produce them with quality in mind. A good audio recording trumps a bad video every time.
Responsive. Transition your website to responsive design. If you are unfamiliar with responsive design, hire a web developer. Your site must work well on phones and tablets in both horizontal and vertical orientations. Avoid checking your site from your laptop or desktop; that is old school, too.
Up-To-Date. Keep your site up-to-date, period - no exceptions. If you once used a free website, but stopped, it’s likely still there. You make an impression when guests Google your church and find a website five years old and obviously abandoned. Use it or remove it. If you provide a website calendar, maintain it.
Digital presence is a ministry. Like any ministry, it needs constant tending. My family's experience with each church’s digital presence weighed heavily on our decision to visit or not.
Digital presence matters. Tend to your guests before they arrive. They know when you do.
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
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