The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
How is your site interacting with Google searches?
Search Console is incredibly useful in a variety of ways. It’s like a peek under the hood to make sure everything is running properly. Not only will it show how Google is interacting with your site when it comes to searches, it can also notify you if the site has been hacked or if there are navigational errors.
Google Search Console Important Terms and Functions
Anchor text: Anchor text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. In modern browsers, it is often blue and underlined, such as this link to the moz homepage.
Crawl: The process of Googlebot discovering new and updated pages to add to the Google Index.
Google Index: In order for your site's contents to be included in the Google’s search results, it must be Google Indexed (think of a library!). Google Index lists all of the web pages it knows about. When Google visits your site, it detects new and updated pages and updates the Google Index.
Internal links: Links on one page on your website that links to another page on your website to provide reference information, guide the user through the intended content journey, or to lead them to action. Being strategic with internal linking provides different types of users with the proper pathways for finding what they want.
XML SiteMap: A file where you can list the web pages of your site in its hierarchical order to tell Google and other search engines about the organization of your site content. XML stands for “extensible markup language” schema, which is more precise than HTML (hyper-text markup language).
Search Console Home—Your Properties. (Are You Verified?)
After logging into your Google account and navigating to console home, you’ll see the Properties (websites) you selected to manage. If any of them say “Not verified” at the top left of the thumbnail, you’ll need to refer back to search console section for verification methods. Most of the Search Console functions will not be usable until the Property ownership is verified.
Once you click on the property/website, you’ll be directed to the Dashboard.
You’ll see three sections under Current Status in the lower half of your screen: Crawl Errors, Search Analytics, and Sitemaps.
Here you’ll be alerted if there are any immediate issues that need your attention in these areas. However, for the purpose of this lesson, we’ll take you through the top priority functions in the left side menu of Search Console as you start to get used to this tool.
Crawl (left menu)
If you have any crawl errors, you can click on Crawl > Crawl Errors in the left side menu to learn more about what’s causing these errors.
You’ll first want to see if your server is causing any crawl errors. If these errors persist, you may need to contact your hosting provider.
Being behind a firewall can also affect Googlebot’s ability to crawl your site. You may need to adjust your firewall settings.
Another common crawl error has to do with a robots.txt file, which tells Google which pages it can crawl and which pages you do not want it to crawl. In many cases, though, you want Google to crawl your entire site, and you don’t need a robots.txt file.
If you have any broken links, they will be listed under “URL Errors” below the line graph.
To help Google properly crawl your site with its Googlebot, you’ll want to submit a sitemap.xml.
If your website is on the AdventistChurchConnect platform, a sitemap has been created automatically. If you’re using WordPress, you’ll need a plugin to generate a sitemap.xml file.
(For additional guidance: What is a Wordpress Sitemap or How to Create a Wordpress Sitemap.)
At the top right you’ll see the red “Add/Test Sitemap” button. Clicking the button which will bring up a dialogue box with your website URL with a forward slash. Type in “sitemap” (ACC) or “sitemap.xml” (WordPress and some other CMSs), then submit.
(If your website is on another development platform, such as Wix, Squarespace, 1&1, etc., check with your technical documentation or ask support for information on sitemaps.)
Search Traffic (left menu)—Search Analytics
NOTE: If you just set up your Search Console account, Google may not have yet had a chance to crawl your site again and send back data. You may need to wait a few days.
This may be the most important tab for your website in Search Console, at least for now. You can gather a snapshot of how your website is doing in the midst of your SEO efforts.
Before selecting an option, make sure to check the boxes of Clicks, Impressions, CTR (click-through-rate) and Position. You’ll want to see all this information when you click on the various reports.
Right now we’ll look at the report that will be most immediately useful to you--Queries.
This lists search keywords and phrases that pull up your site in the search results. Ideally, these terms would match what you intend to rank for.
If you notice a discrepancy between how you wanted people to find you and how they actually ended up finding you, you might want to adjust your content to include different keywords, or better optimize your content for the keywords you want to rank for.
All in all, this gives you an insight into your audience’s preferences and goals, as compared to what your site offers. You’ll want to ask questions like:
Search Traffic (left menu)—Links to Your Site
This section shows you which outside websites have active links to your site (backlinks). If you just set up your Search Console account, there may not be any data here yet. If you have had Search Console set up for at least a few days and there still isn’t any data in this section, it could mean that you have no backlinks at this time.
Having other sites link to your site in a legitimate, true-referral manner (i.e., someone referencing your site in a blog post, social media post, etc.) can act as a significant SEO boost. It tells Google (and people) that other entities online recognize you as a credible authority for the given topic.
Examining your backlinks gives you another look at which content is most popular, by looking at the “Your most linked content” section. This is especially positive, meaning that, not only did this page get a lot of traffic, it was liked well enough to receive a link to it from an outside source. This is a better representation of content quality than page traffic alone.
Search Appearance (left menu)—HTML Improvements
Here you’ll look for any HTML errors, such as missing or duplicate title tags, or titles that are too long to be shown in their entirety. If any pages have duplicate or missing meta descriptions, you’ll want to craft a 162-character page description to encourage searchers to click through to your site!
Having duplicate or missing tags can affect how well Googlebot crawls your site. These can be simple fixes, especially if you run a WordPress plugin such as Yoast.
You’ll want to go to all the pages with either duplicate or missing content and replace with new titles and meta descriptions (learn more about meta descriptions in Section VI).
Google Index (left menu)—Index Status
Especially if you’ve just set up Search Console, you may have to wait for “Googlebot” to index your website. Once it’s indexed, you’ll be able to view Google’s last index in a line graph.
The blue line shows you how many pages were indexed, and the orange line (click on Advanced to view) shows how many pages were blocked (i.e., these pages will not show up in search results).
These introductory steps can keep you plenty busy. Especially if your website is large with several functions, you may find several areas to improve or optimize right away. If your website is still new and growing, this can give you direction for the site’s future development.
If you’d like to continue ahead into more advanced features of these tools, here are some recommended resources:
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
Helping you get the most out of viewing and interpreting this valuable data to most effectively optimize your website.
When you log in to Google Analytics or Search Console with no prior knowledge of these tools, it can seem overwhelming!
But soon you’ll discover just how much you can learn from this data, and how useful it can be in planning technical or content updates. It will become second nature with continued use.
In this section, you’ll learn how to quickly check for site errors that may affect search engine performance or user experience, and you’ll learn to interpret how effectively users are navigating your site. You’ll find out if any important pages are being missed, or if certain pages are causing a drop-off in traffic.
By tracking your audience’s patterns, you can better plan your content to match their preferences and behavior, which can dramatically improve engagement.
We’ll start with terms and basic functions, followed by a screenshot-assisted walk-through of each tool.
You will see these terms in the menus and reports of Google Analytics or in Search Console displays, so you’ll likely understand them even better when you see them in context. A technical vocabulary list can seem intimidating at first, but as you get to know and interact with the platform it will quickly start to make sense. (NOTE: Not all terms will be covered in these tutorials—only the most immediately necessary).
Google Analytics Terms and Functions
Terms change so if you run across a term in Google Analytics that you are unfamiliar with,
hover over it and a brief description pops up.
Average Session Duration: The average amount of time a visitor stayed on your website. Two to three minutes is favorable, while less than one minute implies that visitors didn’t find what they were looking for.
Behavior: This element measures how users interact with your site, or with applications on the website. Standard metrics include the number of users interacting with your application, the number of sessions those users create, and the screens or web pages they visit.
Bounce Rate: The percentage of users that come to the website and then click out immediately, signifying that they did not find what they were looking for. The lower the number, the better. When the number is higher, this tells Google the page isn’t relevant to the search terms being used to find it. NOTE: Don’t take this number too seriously—Google often considers it a “bounce” whenever someone hits the “back” button, which doesn’t always mean that the person didn’t find what they needed in the page content! It may be that they found what they needed on that one page and left.
Conversion: Completion of an activity that is important to the success of your business, such as a completed sign up for your email newsletter (a Goal conversion) or a purchase (a Transaction, sometimes called an Ecommerce conversion).
Direct Visitors: Direct visitors have come to your site by typing in your organization’s exact URL into the address bar in the their browser.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Measurable values that demonstrate how effectively your website is achieving its objectives, such as number of sessions, target bounce rate, number of returning visitors, demographics engagement, etc.
New User: A first-time visitor to the website (unique IP address)
Page/Session: This shows how much a visitor engaged on the website, such as how many pages they clicked on.
Referral Visitors: Visitors who visit the website because it was mentioned somewhere on another website or blog that they were visiting.
Sessions: A “set” of a user’s interactions within your website that take place within a given time frame (set to a default of 30 minutes). This can mean multiple page views, social commenting, or ecommerce transactions (for more information, try this Google support article).
Users: People who have started at least one session during the date range.
Navigating Your Google Analytics Dashboard
NOTE: If you just set up Google Analytics, we recommend letting it gather a month’s worth of data before making in-depth analyses. Otherwise you will not have enough data to truly determine usage patterns. Usage patterns fluctuate throughout the year and around holidays. Over time, you’ll become familiar with the regular patterns of visitors.
After logging in, you’ll immediately be taken to your Home area which provides a snapshot of (by default) the last seven days of activity on your website.
By selecting “28 days” in the drop-down menu on the bottom left of that box, you’ll get a more complete picture of average use patterns.
Other boxes on the Home screen show user trends, regions users are browsing from, and which devices are used for browsing (desktop, mobile, tablet).
It can also be helpful to scroll to the last box that displays which pages your users visit, with the most popular on top.
Got specific questions already?
A great place to start your Google Analytics journey is at the top left of the page, the Intelligence section.
This will guide you through Google Analytics by asking questions like “Where is my traffic coming from?” or “What were my most popular pages from July 1-24?”
This will also notify you of any inconsistencies in your data. These anomalies (the term Google uses) will be presented as insights.
Insights will explain opportunities, trends, or changes that can have an impact on your website. For example, it can show you that a certain landing page is getting more traffic than before or if the number of new users is dropping. The information presented here allows you to adjust accordingly.
You can find your insights on your Home page in the second row on the right.
With several reports to choose from, the most immediately helpful reports can be:
AUDIENCE—Overview (Who’s visiting?)
Above the line graph to the right, select “Month” to get a clearer average. This will give you a more in-depth look at how many users are coming to your site and how they spend their time.
Under Geo you can view the Language used by the viewer. If you see significant percentages in different languages, it could be a tip that a translated page could be helpful to your audience.
If you are a local organization that depends upon local traffic to your website, click Geo > Location > City to see if your target area is engaging with your site.
If your content is targeted to a certain age or gender, you’ll want to look here. You can view the age and gender (see arrow 2) of the users who visited in the last selected timeframe. At the top right you can customize the timeframe by date (arrow 3).
ACQUISITION—Overview (How are they getting here?)
With the default timeframe set to 3 months (found in the right corner of the page), view how people are getting to your site:
These visitors may have clicked to your site via:
Scroll down in the Overview window to Social Value. Unless you’ve worked ahead, you won’t have any goals here. However, you will be able to see how many sessions have come from which social media platform. Study this data and compare it to how many posts you’ve published in the selected timeframe (3-month default).
This is big for social media managers! This report lets you see which pages users are coming in on through social media referrals. This can help you track which posts are driving users to your site, depending on which URL was linked in the post.
This journey map starts with the social media platform that brought the user to your website. See which page URL they clicked on, which can indicate which posts are getting the most activity and which events are encouraging click-throughs.
If you hover over the Starting Pages or Interactions, you’ll see a pie chart representation of how many users kept navigating your site, and how many dropped off at this point. Use this data to review your site content, and determine if users are finding what they need or getting frustrated/bored and leaving.
BEHAVIOR—Overview (What are they doing?)
The Behavior Overview provides a graph showing the amount of traffic your website receives and how they use your site. Make sure to select “Month” above the line graph.
These are the most important metrics here: 1) Pageviews, 2) Unique Pageviews, and 3) Average Time on Page.
The Site Content section describes how visitors engage with pages on your website. For example, under ALL PAGES you can see your top pages and how many views they receive, average time on page, plus which type of page is most popular—helping you determine what content performs best on your website (remember the best way to determine this is to select it by month on the upper right on the screen).
If you find that your most popular pages are different from the ones you’d like more people to view or spend time on, you might need to adjust your content or how your sitemap is organized.
BEHAVIOR—Behavior Flow (Where are they going?)
Another visual journey map shows you which pages users encounter first when they visit your website (listed as the Landing Page). It may be the Home page or it may be an article, contact page, or a bookmarked link that has a map or login function.
You can drag the map to the side, viewing the first, second, and third interactions, to see where users clicked to after coming to the site.
You can use visual data like this to see if users are taking the path you intend for them. If not, or if they’re dropping off before they get to a page where you want them to take an action, such as read an article, download a PDF, or make a purchase, it may mean:
Select “Month” at the top right over the graph. Remember, you’re shooting for a page load time of under two seconds.
Your average page load time averages data from all your pages.
BEHAVIOR—Site Speed—Page Timings
This shows the average load time of each individual page, so you can better pinpoint what pages may be slow and affecting the average site load time.
(You can also run the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool to determine what elements are affecting page load time, or check Google’s Page Speed Insights tool).
These Google Analytics overview reports will be most helpful for you as you begin consistent use of this tool.
Getting a big-picture view of how your current audience is interacting with your site can help you identify any “roadblocks” that might be inhibiting users from completing a desired action.
It will also help you plan your future content by revealing which content is inspiring further browsing throughout your site.
If you’re interested in a full course on the effective use of Google Analytics, check out Google Analytics Academy, Google’s free resource for Analytics users.
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
Monitor how your website interacts with Google searches,
I read those messages late at night until I cried. The next morning, I dutifully wrote down all 76 names and prayed for each one of them. I was lucky to have a free Sabbath, a luxury a minister rarely has these days, because my private prayer meeting lasted for a half a day.
It was toward Sabbath evening by the time I was done (read: exhausted) with my prayer meeting and wanted to take down my post from the previous evening when I received the most touching message of all. It came from a childhood acquaintance whom I had not seen for some 20 years. She asked if there was still any room in my prayer list and told me she would appreciate my prayers for her one-year-old son waiting for open heart surgery.
Phew! It turned out to be one of the hardest prayer battles in my life. I prayed for weeks for this little fellow who had to endure not one but two open heart surgeries and who almost did not come back to us. To this day his mother sends me photos and videos of his recovery and the ‘careless joy’ only little kids can have. I almost think of him as my own son now. While I have not been able to visit this family yet and have never seen this boy face to face, what a day it will be when I finally meet him!
This ’prayer experiment’ which I have later repeated for several times (with a lot less anxiety and much more confidence) has taught me some important lessons.
It has also taught me about the potential and power of the social media.
Facebook makes it so easy – can you imagine, a personal prayer just one ‘like’ away! There is no threshold lower than that! I know many of the people I’ve prayed for would not dare to set foot inside a church building, but a ‘like’! That is easy. It is doable.
I have also learned more about the power of prayer than maybe ever before. In the weeks and months following my prayer adventure, I have received many happy and reassuring messages or calls: “Yes, the diagnosis was better then feared,” “This situation has solved,” “that problem has been taken care of.” “Thank you, thank you.”
Of course, there are many people I have not heard from again. And they are probably the ones who have taught me the most important lesson of all – about the need to be persistent in prayer, whether I see results and hear the happy reports or not. God is not so much into public spectacles but foremost into quiet and invisible work in people’s hearts. And when I do not hear from the people, it just teaches me to be patient and continue praying.
I treasure the prayer lists I have from the past year. I love the stories I hear. I love the way I am much more engaged in my friends’ lives after having prayed for them. I care about them more now. I love going to a concert hall and listening to my favorite pianist with different ears (or, you could say, with a different heart) because I regularly lift him up in my prayers.
I have equally come to treasure these beautiful words written by Adventist Church co-founder, Ellen White:
“I saw that every prayer which is sent up in faith from an honest heart will be heard of God and answered, and the one that sent up the petition will have the blessing when he needs it most, and it will often exceed his expectations. Not a prayer of a true saint is lost if sent up in faith from an honest heart.” [Testimonies for the Church, vol 1, p 121]
Creator, editor, and social media manager of Humans of Adventism.
I hadn’t planned on being on stage that evening. Like everyone else attending the young adult conference that weekend, I’d grabbed a ticket online and made travel plans to attend, hoping to be inspired by the leaders the conference was bringing in. I was humbled when I got the call to appear as a guest on a live podcast recording they were producing Sabbath evening. See, I’ve developed a reputation now. When I attend events like this, I never walk into a room where I don’t know anyone. The series of handshakes and hugs as I greeted several of my friends--some I was meeting face-to-face for the first time--earned me a reasonable amount of teasing. But it hasn’t always been this way. On paper, I should be the person who doesn't know anyone. I live in a country town in South Carolina, far from the vast majority of my Adventist peers. I didn’t join my friends at Andrews, Southern, or any of the big SDA college areas, but moved away with my wife shortly after high school. Yet, if there’s one thing that I am increasingly known for these days, it’s for my love of building community.
I started Humans of Adventism from a cell phone in a work truck. Though my physical community was small at the time, I began to grow more and more relationships through what I had: my cell phone. It turned out that I was able to do quite a lot with that, and what was then a page with less than 100 readers developed over the next year and a half into one with over 5,000. No corporate sponsorship, no office, no additional equipment.
We underestimate the power we hold in our online content. Used correctly, social media can be used to connect and mobilize an unbelievable amount of people, and the community created there drives real-world changes.
Several months ago I met a young man who had taken a new job at our conference. Though he didn’t know anyone there, he recognized one of his coworkers from her story on Humans of Adventism. It gave them common ground to begin a friendship. Non-Adventist friends point to the HoA community as a positive example of Christianity, share our posts, and offer meaningful insight into their own thoughts on religion and God.
This, in my opinion, is church. The relationships we are building and things we are doing to spread the gospel together online are a digital manifestation of many of the qualities the early church had.
Because I am not dependent on my local church to provide my sense of community, I can reframe how I go about being involved.
Because of the power social media can have, it’s crucial that we consider the effects our content will have on our audience. Both our negativity and our positivity grow exponentially as they are spread by our audience and friends online. When it comes to church, we can create a community of people that attack or a community of people that heal. I know which one I’d like to be part of.
That Christian Vlogger: Case Study of a Video Missionary Part 2 – How He Grew His Channel from 0 to 65,000 Followers
Digital Missionary, That Christian Vlogger.
Let’s assume that you’re convinced about digital missions. In fact, let’s say that you’re ready to start a YouTube channel for your ministry, church, or as an individual! The question is, how do you grow an audience? Great content needs to be seen to impact the lives of your intended audience. Let me walk you through five key steps.
Step #1 - Commit to an upload schedule.
The main reason why you want to commit to an upload schedule is because you learn so much more when you create so much more. Many people expect to release one perfect video and create an audience from that one video. Now, while I do not doubt the power of a viral video, you can never really create a deep and meaningful community off of one video.
When I first started my YouTube channel, I made a promise to myself that I would upload one video per week without fail (it turns out that I actually uploaded 100 videos that year). I am a firm believer that done is better than perfect. So many people get paralysis by analysis simply because they want to create the perfect piece of content.
News flash: your first videos will suck. That’s ok. Everyone’s first videos are terrible. The point isn’t that you create perfect content, but that you perfect the art of creating better content. With each video, you should improve on the one before.
For the purposes of YouTube, I suggest a minimum of one upload per week. If you have the additional bandwidth and skills to do more, that's great, but not necessary. One video per week will suffice.
Step #2 - Do your homework.
The TL;DR version is this. Find questions that people are searching for on the internet and create content specifically designed to answer those questions. Utilize tools like VidIQ or Google keywords and the YouTube search engine to know what popular questions people are asking.
Ideally, you want to find the sweet spot between super competitive searches and questions that no one is asking. If you target phrases that are too competitive, your voice will be crowded out and your videos will fall short. Conversely, if you target niche questions with near to zero search traffic, you may eliminate your potential viewers while eliminating potential competition.
One helpful exercise that I did when I first started was a broad search on YouTube of some of the more commonly watched videos in the Christian niche and I created a spreadsheet of what people seemed to respond to most.
Step #3 - Study analytics.
Pro-tip: Some important metrics to take notice of are total views, minutes watched, and viewer retention.
The first two are pretty straight forward. Total number of views and minutes watched per video are obvious indications of what type of content is resonating with your growing audience. If you notice clear trends on which type of content is getting attention, dive deeper into that subject and create more content around it.
For example, if your video on “How to Study the Bible” has noticeably higher engagement over any other type of content, consider creating content around a related topic. Examples could include, “Which Bible translation is best?” “Where should I start when studying the Bible?” and “5 Bible Verses to Help with Stress.” The goal with creating families of content is to allow a potential viewer to binge watch three to four videos at a time. If you only have one video on an important subject, they can’t do this.
Viewer retention is arguably the most overlooked metric for most YouTube content creators. The longer you can keep someone on YouTube, the more favorably you will be treated by the YouTube algorithm. The simple fact of the matter is that not everyone watches the entirety of your video.
Consider the “Average percentage viewed” metric. A healthy benchmark to shoot for is above 50 percent.
If you ever see sharp declines in audience retention, this is a great time for you to pull a lesson from it. Consider this picture:
Step #4 - Engage in community.
A rule of thumb: every single piece of content that you create should invite conversation. The most obvious application of this is to actually ask your audience a question in each video. Encourage them to share what stood out to them, challenge what you presented, to both agree or disagree with you and to let you know why. Appropriate discourse and debate are hallmarks to a healthy online community.
Trolls: Create enough content and you will inevitably encounter trolls. Internet trolls are people who start quarrels or aim to upset people on the internet with the exact purpose of distracting and sowing discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community. The goal for the troll is to amuse themselves by provoking viewers to display emotional responses and by leading the community down rabbit holes.
There are a few ways you can handle internet trolls. All have merits and drawbacks.
- Ignore: Don’t engage or acknowledge the existence of trolls. Allow them to post, but don’t feed their desire for attention and hope that they leave. This allows for the free exchange of ideas and thoughts but can at times distract from your message.
- Ban: YouTube gives you the ability to delete comments on your channel and to ban specific users from posting comments in the future. This protects your online conversation but can unfortunately also alienate the very people that God has called you to reach out to.
- Flame: Fight fire with fire. If your commenters are sarcastic, quippy, and obnoxious, return in kind. In certain online communities this can be a win. You show yourself to be someone who doesn’t take yourself too seriously and are more relatable to an online community. However, there is the challenge of balancing how much is the right amount of attention to give a troll, and, of course, doing so in an appropriately Christian way.
- Engage: Create each comment as genuinely sincere even if they are obviously not. Seek to go beyond the call of duty by treating each troll with grace and humility. Be willing to put your own reputation to the side for the sake of reaching that person. This approach allows for opportunities to reach people on a deeper level but requires the most time. Sitting down for 30+ minutes crafting the perfect response to a troll is manageable if it only happens every so often, but if your community grows larger, this is unsustainable.
For more guidance on assessing your response, download a helpful infographic.
Step #5 - Take risks.
One series of videos that I continually take risks are on the issue of the LGBT community. I have done eight total videos on the subject of homosexuality in the Church. Each time I have invited an openly gay Christian friend as a guest to the channel. The videos were not centered around debate, but around empathy. My hope was to humanize the “other side” so that we could talk to each other instead of past each other.
As you can imagine, there was a significant cost to this series. In total, I have lost over 700 hard earned subscribers from this series of videos. If you look on the graph below, you can clearly see when these videos were initially released.
My audience may not always end up agreeing with my particular stance on any number of topics, but they know that I will always treat the subject and my guests with grace, compassion, and love. This posture of humility and of an open heart invites a very particular type of viewer and has created a heavily engaged community willing to journey through life together with me.
Digital Missionary, That Christian Vlogger.
With only 2 in 10 millennials considering regular church attendance important, it just makes sense to meet young people where they are, and in 2018, that’s online.
Millennials spend on average 18+ hours per day behind a screen consuming movies, podcasts, social media, and playing video games. If you think that’s crazy, consider this: when I shared this statistic at Andrew’s University, over 50% of the seminarians I asked said that this was an accurate representation of their day.
As a church, our first response has been to point out the inherent dangers in online media, and rightfully so. However, if we have any desire to reach the unchurched or those who have left the faith, running away from social media is no longer an option. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Rather than running away from social media, I believe God is calling us to run toward it, not as mindless consumers and gullible sheep, but as digital missionaries.
The digital missionary recognizes that “…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, NIV). But as Paul said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15, ESV). The digital missionary is a faithful Christian who is committed to taking the gospel to the world, whether that means selling books door-to-door, hopping on a plane to a third-world country, sharing their testimony on Sabbath afternoon, or creating videos on YouTube.
So here are 5 of the most important tips that I’ve learned in my three years as a digital missionary:
When most begin thinking about digital evangelism, one of the first questions is, “How do we get them to come to church?” Respectfully, I think this is the wrong question to ask. After all, the mission given to us by Jesus was to make disciples, not to grow our local church. Stop treating Facebook or Instagram simply as advertising platforms for weekend services or midweek socials. Instead, ask yourself this: If the only teaching or discipling that my viewer receives comes from my online ministry, how would their walk with God look? Would their love for Jesus be increased? Would they be challenged? Would their faith grow? By taking the “disinterested benevolence” approach, always serving and never expecting, God will place us directly in the path of those who need it most. Sometimes that means our ministry will reach the shut-ins and disabled, the persecuted Christian living in a Muslim country (true story), or someone like Brook.
Tip 2: Numbers matter, but not in the way that you think.
As a digital missionary it’s easy to believe two lies when it comes to “numbers.” On the one hand it’s easy to get proud when a video “goes viral” and the subscribers start rolling in. Conversely, it’s easy to get discouraged and think it’s not worth the effort when only a dozen people watch a video that took you five or six hours to create. In the same way that God values the small local church of a dozen members and the mega church with tens or hundreds of thousands of members equally, the same is true for the online video. It doesn’t matter if your video gets millions of views or dozens; God values it the same. After all, what matters to God most is the impact on the individual. It can be so easy to forget this simple fact, leading us to start interpreting views as a simple metric instead of what it really represents: actual real-life human beings who have taken the time to watch your content.
No Bible worker would for a moment feel ashamed when only a dozen people showed up to their Bible study. No pastor would ever consider the many hours in sermon prep a waste if he only got to preach to 50 or 100 people. The same should be true for digital missionaries. Why? Because each view isn’t actually a view. It’s a person
One of the most overlooked facts about YouTube is that it is the second largest search engine in the world. In fact, every month, YouTube sees over 3 billion searches! “How-to” videos are growing 70% each year. We know this intuitively. After all, what do we do when we need to learn how to change a tire? We YouTube it! Need to learn how to tie a tie? YouTube it! Trying to learn how to install a piece of software on our computer…YouTube it! The same is true for spiritual questions. Over 100,000 people every single month are searching for answers to questions like, “Is God Real?” “What happens after death?” “What is Faith?” and even…“What is a Seventh Day Adventist?”
Instead of uploading an hour-long debate on who the King of the North is from Daniel 11, try targeting what people are actively searching for. Here’s a pro-tip on how to discover what people are looking for online. Open up YouTube on an “incognito tab” on Chrome (if you don’t know how to do this, ask a 13-year-old in your church). By doing this, you won’t allow your personal search history to influence the auto-complete in the search bar. Start typing phrases like, “What does the Bible…” “Does God…” and “Why does God?”
P.S. Use free tools like VID IQ, Google Ad Words, or Tube Buddy to get more in-depth information on specific questions many people are searching for.
Most of your viewers will be casual viewers: those who watch one or two videos only to wander to some other part of the internet. Don’t be discouraged by this. Jesus mentioned that there would be different soils each time we try to plant seed. Don’t be easily discouraged when it seems like your audience is highly transient in nature. If you are consistent in creating quality content, never “grow weary of doing good.” The promise is that, “in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, ESV).
Building deep community takes time. This is true of digital missions and IRL (in real life) ministry. People may visit your church dozens of times before they truly engage with the community and get involved through service. When I first started my online ministry, I asked myself how I would define “success” if I were planting a church. After 12 months, would an engaged community of 50 people be success? 100? 1000? Apply this same long-term mentality to building an online community. Don’t get impatient.
Other than creating consistent, quality content, there are many more things that you can do to build community. Respond to every single comment. Yes, all of them. Every comment is an opportunity to build community. Think of every comment as a real interaction (because that’s what it is). How would you respond if someone had something complimentary or critical to say to you after church? What would you do when a visitor had a question to ask the pastoral team? Respond to every single comment. Even the haters. Some of the most meaningful interactions that I have had online actually have come from people who were initially, “haters.” When fellow YouTuber, “The Raging Atheist,” made a very colorfully worded and angry video focused on attacking my channel (http://bit.ly/2NVbTrU - sensitive ears beware), instead of getting defensive, I tried to reach out.
Make it a practice to reach out to your viewers. Connect with them on other social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Ask them questions. Offer to video chat or call them when they have questions. Respond to every email as if they were a person knocking on your church door, and over time you will build a deep and meaningful community.
Don’t get me wrong. Prayer is not only important, it is necessary. Any success that we will have in ministry, digital or otherwise comes as a direct response to prayer. But a digital missionary must combine it with an active effort to be informed and competent. Social media platforms change about as often as Apple releases new iPhones. As such, it’s important to continually invest in education and mentorship.
I’m writing this case study having just gotten back from Las Vegas. No, I wasn’t trying to make it big at the casinos. Instead, I had just invested three days with some of the industry’s leading experts on social media marketing.
Over the last three years, I have spent over $10,000 on online courses, coaching, books, conferences, and mentorship. Now, I realize that not everyone is in the position to invest this type of money, but there are so many free resources available to help equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to succeed as a digital missionary (thanks to the NAD for partnering with me to create a FREE course on how to start a video ministry.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful things about digital missions is that social media actually rewards collaboration instead of competition. Whether you are looking to launch a YouTube channel, podcast, blog, or Instagram account, there is much to be gained from partnering with like-mission-minded people. Connect with other digital missionaries. Learn from their experiences, both the successes and failures. Seek to bolster and support their efforts with the heart of a servant.
Here are some examples of fellow Adventist missionaries & resources:
- That Christian Vlogger: Case Study of a Video Missionary Part 2 –
How He Grew His Channel from 0 to 65,000 Followers
P.S., if you’re still doubtful that digital mission work really makes a difference, this is Michael Troyonasky. He became a Seventh-day Adventist because of a YouTube video. Yes, it makes a difference.
A Allan Martin
Center For Online Evangelism
Digital Strategies Intern
Kimberly Luste Maran
Rachel Lemons Aitken
Reaching Young Adults