Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. (Romans 12:9-18, NLT)
As efforts to censor Christian viewpoints online and in the public space intensify, we may be tempted to respond defensively in a way that doesn’t represent the character of Christ. However, Jesus calls us to be a practical witness, one that puts Him on display in all aspects of our lives, one that is not so easily censored. Jesus sought first to fulfill people’s needs; He then invited them to follow. We can use our digital and social influence to gain insights and focus on meeting the mental, physical, and spiritual needs of those around us. Once relationships and trust are built, we can invite them to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” (Psalm 34:8, NIV). The gospel of action can further our ministry of hope and wholeness, even when words of truth are silenced.
Our integrity, genuine care for others, honor, and faith in Christ can never be taken from us. Our prayers cannot be blocked from reaching God. Christ’s character can never be shut down. By embracing the attitude of a servant first, apologist second, light will shine through us to draw others to the God we represent.
Practically, this means when someone online expresses sadness, anxiety about a life challenge, or excitement about a happy event, empathize with them. Engage with their post and/or send a personal message to let them know you’re with them along the way, that you’re there if they need help. Be consistent in building relationships with others who may have very different beliefs. Once they know how much you care, they are more likely to come and reason with you over truth.
Understanding that acceptance does not mean approval, what if we became known as a people who listened and helped first—without conditions? A people who proactively seeks ways to improve the lives of others in practical, meaningful ways, regardless of who they are and without judgement. What if the Church became a safe place to land regardless of one’s affiliation or interest in faith?
People share a surprising amount of information online. It’s up to us to act upon that knowledge. Modern technology gives us the opportunity to reach into gated communities and closed-off hearts, allowing us to build bridges on common ground. Every post represents a real-life person, their experiences, and their needs. What prayers can we answer by simply paying attention?
The Lord is coming soon because God has made it possible for the gospel to reach the entire world. We can change hearts and minds by living out Jesus both online and offline. When our voices are silenced, know that the Holy Spirit is still at work. Faith requires that we move ahead even when we don’t know how we’re going to reach people. In faith, step out and share God’s love without reservation. Trust God to perform the miracle.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
If you feel that you have a solid grasp of what modern communication tools and technologies are, you may want to skip down to the second part of this section. However, we felt it appropriate to include a general description to ensure a common understanding among a diverse audience. For the purposes of digital discipleship and evangelism, let’s define digital tools and technologies as: devices, web-based platforms, applications, and software that process and use information (videos, text, images etc. in numerical form known as binary code) to communicate or connect with other devices and software through the internet or with cellular data. More simply put, these are devices and web-based tools that enable individuals to share ideas, communicate to a global audience, and connect with people anywhere almost instantaneously.
These tools encompass a wide variety of technologies that many people interact with daily and include, but are not limited to:
Connecting with the Local Community
Digital tools have become an integral part of the fabric of modern living, but as a Church, we have yet to fully tap into their potential for sharing the gospel and directly serving our communities. As discussed previously, people spend significantly more time socializing online than they do in person. Social media and other digital communication tools allow us to not only go global, but effectively reach and permeate our local communities with positive messages and mission projects.
When we think of missionaries, we usually think of traveling to far away lands and learning new languages in order to communicate. However, what is becoming ever clearer for the Church in North America is that our biggest challenge is reaching our local neighbors in an increasingly post-modern, secular society.
The mission field is right next door, and it’s just as legitimate.
Digital technologies have made it easier than ever to:
The most meaningful expression of our mission of hope and wholeness is in the context of the local church.
The potential of digital evangelism and discipleship must be realized at the individual church level. A top-down approach cannot meet the needs of your neighbors, but you and your congregation can. The Adventist Church began as a grassroots movement, and we can re-embrace this mentality to reach the modern seeker next door. With over 1.2 million Adventists in the North American Division and over 5,500 churches, there is a lot of untapped potential.
The true power of the local church is in its unique ability to create and sustain meaningful relationships with people. Social media and other digital technologies are merely tools that can be used to scale up these efforts beyond who we physically meet. They can also assist us in being more targeted and relevant in our approach to evangelism, by revealing the felt needs and demonstrated behaviors of our community. I believe that the next great awakening in North America will be a digital one, but we must work intentionally where we are, in order to more effectively reach people where they are in their spiritual journey. In the following sections we’ll expound upon this principle, mapping out practical ways to leverage digital discipleship and evangelism.
Press Release: The North American Division Releases a Comprehensive Guide to Search Engine Optimization for Ministries
The North American Division (NAD) recently released its first comprehensive guide to search engine optimization for ministries. The Search Engine Optimization Guidebook is designed to help Seventh-day Adventist entities evangelize online through effective content creation, website ranking best practices, and reputation management.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has historically been at the forefront of using tools and technologies to advance present truth — from print to radio to television — now is the time to leverage the untapped potential of digital communications such as search engine optimization for the customization of our ministry services as part of a broader digital strategy that relies on data-driven decisions,” states Alvin Kibble, vice president for Big Data + Social Media, Public Affairs & Religious Liberty, Literature Ministries, and Executive Coaching, Training & Development for the NAD.
This 142-page document is a culmination of 9 months’ work as well as a collaborative partnership between the NAD’s Social Media + Big Data department and the Center for Online Evangelism. It’s a step-by-step guide designed to be easy to follow and implement. It will be a “living document,” which will undergo regular updates as technologies change, but the underlying philosophy will remain largely the same.
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is an ever-evolving set of strategies used in online marketing to help organizations reach more of their target audience. It is the process of utilizing a variety of techniques to positively impact a website’s visibility in unpaid search engine results. The higher a website ranks when a person googles search terms related to it, the more Web traffic it receives. Most people do not scroll past the first page of search engine results.
“Our challenge as a Church is to embrace these techniques in order to cut through the clutter online and reach more seekers in an increasingly digital world,” said Jamie Domm, digital strategist for the NAD. “This guide is designed to equip ministries of all sizes to truly ‘meet people where they are.’” Today, that’s online.
“By being intentional and strategic, we can improve our digital curb appeal and encourage more people to encounter, and possibly embrace, our message,” added Domm.
For example, 74,000 people Google “Bible study” each month. The name “Jesus” is Googled 1,500,000 times per month, and “Adventist” 18,000 times per month.*
“People are literally Googling for God, but not finding our messages of Hope and Wholeness. We can no longer ignore the potential of this vast online mission field of people that already wants what we have to offer — an audience we may never otherwise meet!” said Amy Prindle, Lead Content Strategist, Center for Online Evangelism. This is a significant ministry opportunity, if Adventist websites can rank higher in the search results Google displays for these search terms.
“I believe the next Great Awakening will be a digital one. This is our generation’s Great Commission,” Domm said.
With some education, said Domm, every ministry can invest the time to implement these valuable techniques. This is your chance to learn insider information (for FREE) and use it for the gospel.
Direct download here: SDAdata.blog/SEOguidebook
Landing page with additional resources: SDAdata.org/seo
Subscribe to the Digital Evangelism Strategies Newsletter: SDAdata.org/subscribe
Follow Digital Evangelism Strategies on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
*Data pulled from keyword research tools Keyword Planner (Google Ads), Ubersuggest and Keywords Everywhere.
Speaking to the Collective “We”
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. —Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 NIV
To gain insight into the drivers behind the collective shifts in society, read Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, by Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew. These shifts impact communication and often drive technology and social change. I recommend that, as part of your efforts to understand how to communicate more effectively to your target audiences and fulfill their needs, you not only read and study this book, but also invest the time in reading Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Good communication requires speaking in a way our audience can appreciate. As a religious organization, we should be using digital technologies to fulfill our audiences’ needs, but to do that, we must first understand what those needs are (as discussed in the previous section), their unspoken expectations, and the forces for change that influence a generation. This section takes the 30,000-foot-view of broader trends that may also be acting upon your target audiences.
Generation Z and the Millennials have been leaving the Church at alarming rates; could it be that we simply don’t understand them? We know that people of any given cultural group are always the best suited to reach out and evangelize to their peers. I contend that the same is true with generations. Now, empowering and training members of the youth to reach their own does not permit us to abdicate our function as guides and mentors. We too must seek to understand and cultivate these relationships if we are to bridge the gap and secure the future of the Church in North America and promote the salvation of souls. Pendulum provides an analysis of the current shifts in society and their impact on marketing, technology, and communication. The Social Media + Big Data department of the North American Division has repeatedly used these techniques across a broad range of messaging campaigns, consistently yielding successful results. Even if you don’t have time to read the 200-page book, what follows is a summary of what you need to know to understand and utilize these communication techniques.
Pendulum takes Strauss and Howe’s four “generations” (Idealist, Reactive, Civic, Adaptive) and reduces it to two generations covering forty years that oscillate between the “Me” philosophy of individuality, freedom, uniqueness, and potential (peaked in 1983) to the collective “We,” working together for the common good, fixing society’s greatest problems, and adopting a philosophy of authenticity and transparency. Sound familiar? According to this model, we are currently in the upswing of the “We” that should reach its zenith in 2023. Both ideals are always present in society but shifts in dominance occur. Optimal balance is found between the two extremes, and either extreme has negative consequences.
The main point is that group behavior is predictable, and we can use this predictability to speak to the masses in a relevant way.
There will always be exceptions, and as the authors point out:
For deeper insight into the pros and cons of each swing of the “pendulum,” read the book.
To communicate, we must ask, “What is driving the actions and attitudes of the group?”
Determine how your mission, programs, product and/or message fits or can be positioned into this paradigm. You may need to reevaluate what your ministry offers to better align with what is relevant to your target audience. See the previous section on understanding your target audience.
Figure: 2.3 Values and beliefs that motivate society in “WE” and “ME” cycles (Williams 17)
Drivers of a “WE” vs. drivers of a “ME”
This shift can be seen in successful advertising campaigns that target a worldview/attitude instead of an age group.
In other words, instead of targeting people based on surface level demographics, they are speaking to a shared value that transcends age and race as discussed in the previous section.
In Pendulum, the authors point out a well-known example. “Remember L’Oréal’s famous ‘Me’ slogan, ‘Because I’m worth it?’ As society passed the tipping point of 2003 and the ‘Me’ became fully unwound, the old slogan was replaced with, ‘Because you’re worth it’” (Williams 172).
During this same period, the successful Army slogan “Be All You Can Be” (1980-2001) changed to “Army of One” (2001-2006) but didn’t perform well because it was “contrary to the idea of teamwork” said Frank Luntz, American political consultant, pollster, and public opinion guru (Ball). The current, more “WE” focused, slogan is “Army Strong.”
Figure 16.3 Mindset and values in society during a “WE” cycle (Williams 168)
Social media is a powerful tool for member care and service. Never before has “truth in advertising” been so important. The younger generations are the most connected, more than any before them, and they naturally turn to social media to voice their displeasure with a brand or experience.
“Your advertising [messaging] may fool one of us. But that one will tell the rest of us,” says Roy H. Williams (172).
Figure 16.5 Tips to create a serious Internet presence during a “WE” cycle (Williams 172)
Self-effacing transparency is utterly disarming.
“We want the truth, even if it’s ugly. Shrink-wrapped, sugar-coated, phony posing [of the 80’s through mid-90’s] is no longer acceptable” (Williams 163). Humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view is what the Adventist Church and its ministries need to embrace; we see the effectiveness of this strategy in the success of initiatives like Gorgeous2God. Gorgeous2God is a community of young Christian women tackling real issues from a godly perspective. True stories from the experiences of real girls are shared and communicated in a candid way that the Church has not embraced previously. Topics include rape, self-harm, sex before marriage, depression, abuse, and other “uncomfortable” topics. Recognizing the underlying cultural principles in a “WE” generation provides guidance and strengthens our abilities to reach our target audience with relevant content, increasing meaningful impact. As a result of continued audience-focused messaging and content development, Gorgeous2God has grown to over 45K followers on social media, with over 20K visitors to the website a year, countless interactions and hundreds of direct messages (as of July 2019).
Analyze your audience; consider the factors discussed in this section and the previous section to then shape your communications in a way that aligns with the drivers behind the current (broad) shifts in society. Position your ministry for success. You will always have outliers within your target audience, but utilizing this knowledge allows your ministry to fish more effectively and increases the potential for a larger catch.
Ball, Molly (January 6, 2014) “The Agony of Frank Luntz.” The Atlantic.
Williams, R.H., & Drew, M. R. (2012). Pendulum: how past generations shape our present and predict our future. New York: Vanguard Press.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Good communication is when you communicate in a way your audience understands.
You may feel like you know how to use social media platforms for personal sharing, but writing to achieve a marketing/evangelism goal requires much more thought and strategic planning. This section is designed to give you a framework for successfully defining your target audience and determining how to speak to them in a way that is relevant, encouraging meaningful engagements. It is essential that we not only communicate clearly, but that we also take the time to deeply understand our audience. It doesn’t matter if you know what you mean. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and speak to them accordingly. Speak to your audience in a way and with the words that enable them to understand and connect with your message. REMEMBER, EMPATHY FIRST.
This means that when we communicate in the digital space, we must speak the language of the platform and recognize the “cultural expectations” and “norms” prevalent in the space, as well as within the culture(s) of the people we are communicating to. Without careful research, our words and intentions can easily be taken the wrong way, inadvertently offending and pushing away the very people we are trying to reach.
As Christians, we want to reach and include everyone. This is our ultimate goal as disciples. However, from a specific ministry standpoint, this approach ends up reducing the relevancy of the message and spreads efforts too thin for significant impact. Afterall, a standard marketing rule of thumb states:
If you try to reach everyone all the time, you’ll end up
Each person, ministry, and local church is uniquely equipped and positioned to reach different types of people. Therefore, it is vital to understand who your audience is before you create content, write a single social media post, or spend any money on social advertisements. This section will help you learn how to effectively shape your messages and content to match your audience’s needs and reach them effectively, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, location, or situation.
Determine Your Target Audience
The first step in reaching your audience is to develop a clear picture of who you are talking to. Begin with surface-level demographic information. Use the criteria below and fill in the information for your ministry’s target audience.
Surface-Level Demographic Information:
Once you’ve determined the surface-level characteristics of your target audience, work down to a deeper level which will help shape your messaging and the kind of content you’ll create.
Create deep connections by identifying with
People no longer fit into neat categories, so we must connect with them on a more profound level, transcending the standard marketing demographics of age, ethnicity, gender, language, location, and interests. If you can dig deeper, your audience will be loyal to your brand because you resonate with them at their core.
The best way to do that is to investigate their needs, experiences, values, and perceptions. Conducting surveys and interviews is one key way to collect more information. Then start asking yourself questions that will help you to get inside the minds of your audience members. What motivates their actions? What makes them who they are? What do they have in common? How can I speak and write in a way that my audience will find relatable? What do they value? What do they actually need?
Examples of needs may include: a spiritually supportive community, affordable education, employment, affordable medical care, safe spaces for their children, mentorship opportunities, a better future, healthier relationships, self-improvement, Christian guidance on real-life issues, food security, or practical life-skills training.
Use the criteria below and write down possible answers for your target audience.
Deep Level Characteristics:
”Cultural Empathy” in the Digital Mission Field
As discussed in the previous section, the concept of “cultural empathy” is well known in the physical mission field and its principles should be applied to the digital mission field. We live in a world of intersecting cultures or communities, and, therefore, our definition of culture must expand. Many now find themselves between cultures and functioning in multiple communities simultaneously. In order to identify the unifying threads between seemingly dissimilar people, we need to first unpack their many cultural influences.
These cultures are potentially endless in variety, but can include:
Now take the time to consider the potential overlap in cultures found within your church, community, ministry, or target audience. How might they influence behavior and needs? What unifying factors can you identify?
Internal v. External
Are you speaking to Adventists or non-Adventists? Your language may change based on the answer to this question. We must modify the way we communicate in order to effectively reach different audiences without creating barriers. For example, when we are talking to our friends we use certain vernacular that tends to be more playful and friendlier, but when we are talking to our boss or elders, our persona is more serious and professional. The same is true with evangelism and discipleship. We may commonly use certain words such as “Sabbath” or “haystacks” that could seem foreign or confusing to non-Adventists. The list below offers some guidelines on how to distinguish between internal and external audiences.
Audience Personas 101
When communicating to your audiences, visualize actual people—their interests, culture, wants, needs, and expectations—to refine your voice. You will probably need to create unique personas to represent different target groups within your audience. According to The Guardian, personas can be simply defined as:
A fictional character that communicates the primary characteristics of a group or segment of your audience and takes into consideration needs, demographics, motivations, and environments.
Determining your audience personas can help you develop and write content that will be relevant and useful to your audience. The best personas are often created by simply talking to your audience, but social media insights, website analytics, and surveys can also prove very useful. Personas give a human face to a collection of information, and they allow you to classify groups for different messaging campaigns and programs. The best personas combine both quantitative and qualitative information.
Below is an example of a persona:
About Bryce: Adventist College Persona
Education: High school senior
Interests: Business, sports, camping, meeting other young people, discipleship training
Salary: $3,000 a year
Location: Berkeley, Calif.
Family: Adopted, married parents, no siblings, Hispanic
Goals: Finding a good paying and meaningful job, mentoring younger peers, finding a girlfriend, finding a Christian friend group
Challenges: Finding friends with similar morals, avoiding drugs/alcohol, food insecure, feels rejected by his biological parents and struggles to connect, struggles with religious doubt
Values: Fair justice system, the environment, good reputation, strong character, fairness, good citizenship, technology and flexibility, diversity, leadership training and experience
Fears: The unknown, poor work-life balance, affording college, student loan debt, getting a good job, rejection, finding purpose/meaning
Preferred platforms for Media: Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube
Messages applicable to Bryce: We are all adopted into God’s family. Our church/school/ministry is a place to belong and a place to grow. Connection to others, connection to God. Diversity and purpose. Mentorship opportunities and support for leadership training or education.
Social media personas are developed based on your target audience as defined earlier in this section. The key is finding out what those people want and need; the rest is simply compiling those qualities into a made-up person. As a Church, we need to constantly find ways to reach our audience for the kingdom in the best, most efficient way possible. Creating social media personas is a valuable exercise that enables us, as communicators, to step into others’ shoes and view life from their perspective. Personas help us develop empathy with our audience.
Use the following framework to develop your own personas:
Special Note about Generation Z
The Church and the wider Christian community has become increasingly concerned with reaching Generation Z, people born approximately 1997-2012 (Pew Research Center). However, the Church has not yet adapted to meet the needs of the generation before them, Millennials. We should be concerned, as these two age groups represent the largest divergence from traditional Christian values and lowest participation in faith institutions we’ve seen. To reach and retain these generations, we must reframe our approach based on their perspectives.
Generation Z lives in a totally different world and interacts in a totally different way than any generation before them. When asked what the most important historical event in the USA in the last 20 years was, they responded, “The release of the iPhone.” Most older people would say the terrorist attacks of 9/11. (Adam Fenner, Director, Adventist Learning Community)
From Gen Z and Millenial perspectives, their answer makes sense given that technology and digital communications have completely reshaped society, how we connect with each other, how we shop, and how we live. They have grown up in an almost entirely digital world, and they relate to technology in a more integrated fashion than any other generation before them.
So who is Gen Z? What you should consider when targeting this age group:
What do Gen Z’s values mean for the Church? It means we must innovate for meaningful impact. If we don’t, we only have ourselves to blame for the continuous departures. Change is hard, and the Church is notoriously slow to adapt. Now is the time to act if we really are concerned for the salvation of the next generations. Institutions are not permanent. After all, in the words of W. Edwards Deming, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” The good news is that God never fails. He will always have a people, and He has called us to participate in His great work.
We must put our assumptions and judgements in the trash. Too often we create programs and content based on our own interests and passions or based on what we think people need, according to our own perspective and bias. Use the audience factors discussed in this section to make data-informed decisions about your audience, then create programs, messaging, and content based on what you discover. We’ll go into content creation in further detail later in the “Content Creators/Creatives” section of this guide. If you’re still not sure where to start, spend more time with your target audience and ask more questions. Find out directly from them what they need, what they feel will improve their lives, and what will inspire them to develop a closer relationship with God.
To reach people, we must become a student of their culture. No judgement, only acceptance and adaptation. No one should know more about your audience than you do. Strive to become an expert on the people you are trying to reach.