Churches unable to adapt to technology and the way people communicate today may be in trouble. We often hear about churches across Canada losing young people and closing their doors. I believe that a few low-cost, practical tips can help churches connect with their community, increase their reach, and ultimately turn this trend around.
I appreciate what the popular blog Church Marketing Sucks says about our ability to tell our story: “We’ve got the greatest story ever told, but we don’t know how to tell it. The church has a problem communicating, and it’s time to change.” Let’s face it, historically the church has been slow to move when it comes to embracing new technology. In some cases this is due to philosophical concerns, but nowadays my experience shows that it is more commonly tied to budgetary concerns.
I argue that we are nearing a tipping point, where over the next 5 to 10 years, a church’s ability to adapt to evolving technology will be the difference between their growth and their demise. With the rapid development of mobile devices, social networking, and the internet altogether, churches are at risk of being left behind when it comes to communication, particularly with anyone under the age of 40.
While there are many facets to a problem like this, it’s been interesting to observe a common trend for congregations that are actually growing during this season. Churches that make the effort to use technology, as well as put effort into the design and branding of their communication, will experience substantial and sustained growth.
A 2011 study by the Hartford Institute appears to confirm this. The study found that between 2005 and 2010, 31% of churches with high levels of technology usage grew their attendance over 10%. What is clear is that new technology is only beneficial for those communities who are open to change. As the author of the study, Scott Thumma, writes, “When technology is combined with a willingness to change…the growth potential of a faith community increases dramatically.”
An Opportunity to Tell Our Story
What I don’t want churches to miss out on is the amazing opportunity that technology presents for spreading the message of the gospel. We have such good news to share, so let’s continue to improve the media we use to tell it. Access to so many people has never been so easy and so instantaneous. One tweet can be seen by thousands within an hour and a YouTube video can be viewed by millions the day it was posted. That type of exposure to a message was unheard of even 15 years ago.
We need to grab hold of these technologies and use them to tell a better story. In fact, we need to use them to tell the greatest story.
Getting Past the Budget Concerns
As I mentioned, my experience tells me that cost is often a reason that churches hesitate to engage with technology, but thankfully the cost of the high-tech and online world is coming down every day. To help your church get the ball rolling, I will suggest three low-cost solutions that you may want to consider.
1) Set Up (and Use) Your Church Facebook Page
With over 1 billion active users and the average user spending 15 minutes on the site per day, there’s no denying that many eyes are on Facebook. And no matter how nice your website is, my guess is you don’t have quite that same level of visitor traffic.
When you have something exciting to communicate, while it makes perfect sense to post it on your website, it can be a wait-and-see game before people visit to see the news. However, if you create a post on Facebook you’re in luck, because the people in your community are likely already on the site and will know about the update almost instantly. So simple.
So, if you don’t have a Facebook page, this is a no-brainer. The cost to set up a Facebook page for your church is $0. And the cost to regularly update your page and keep people in the loop for your church events and news? Yup, $0.
It will take approximately 30 minutes to create your page and maybe 10-15 minutes per day to update it and engage others.
2) Create an Email Bulletin
In an era of eco-friendliness and social networks, an email bulletin has multiple benefits. Everyone has email and is comfortable with the idea of receiving updates in their inbox. Up to this point, the common solution for community updates has been to hand out a fresh piece of paper each week. But let’s be honest when we estimate how many of these hand-outs end up left in the pew or in the garbage bin on the way out.
Taking this a step further, think of how much more an email bulletin can do. Rather then just one sentence about your men’s retreat this week, an email bulletin can contain a link to an online registration form, allowing someone to sign up the moment they hear about the event. Or if you’re wanting to let everyone know what a success VBS was last week, you could link directly to a slideshow of photos. This is a much more engaging approach.
In other words, you can communicate much more than a single piece of paper can allow. In addition to the environmental and strategic benefits, I would be remiss not to mention the savings in the weekly cost of paper and ink.
3) Enable Wi-Fi at the Church
The heart behind each step here is to try and work with the trends of the culture, rather than fighting against them. I know to some it may seem crazy to encourage your community members to use their mobile devices during a service, but to many in your congregation, this process will actually help them engage. With so many people owning smartphones and tablets, wi-fi will be a huge help to Sunday morning attendees. Allowing visitors to tweet sermon notes or follow along in their Bible app, a wi-fi friendly church will encourage people to engage more with your message.
In an interview for a local newspaper, Norm Funk, the pastor of Westside Church in Vancouver, said, “If I’m dealing with predominantly 25 to 35 year-olds, most of them don’t open Bibles today, they go into their iPhone and they open up their Bible app,” Funk says. “If I don’t provide [wi-fi] . . . they’re going to look at me like, ‘You don’t understand my life right now.'”
A Responsibility to Change
As long as the gospel has been around, the technology used to communicate it has been changing. It just so happens that it’s now evolving at an exponential rate. I like the approach that pastor Todd Hahn took when asked about engaging social media. His response was, “It’s a huge responsibility of a church to leverage whatever’s going on in the broader culture, to connect people to God and to each other.”
Your church’s ability to communicate in a digital age will achieve many things: it will prove your credibility, create loyalty within your church, and connect people relationally. At the end of the day, there are some great new ways to reach more people for Jesus. If we’re going to reverse the national trend of a decline in church attendance, I’d strongly recommend that every church consider embracing new technologies.
Matt Morrison is a co-founder and developer at Church OS, a church website company based out of Vancouver, BC. You can see what Matt and his team at Church OS are up to by visiting www.ChurchOS.ca or following them on Twitter at @ChurchOS. In this article Matt discussed three easy things you could start implementing at your church this week. If you would like more tips, make sure you sign up for the Church OS monthly newsletter.