Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
I occasionally receive criticism online from believers who think I need to be reminded that Jesus is our rock, not worldly marketing best practices. However, understanding that any missionary effort must have its foundation in Christ does not negate our responsibility to educate ourselves in the most effective ways to reach people with the tools available. I have witnessed far too many situations where well-meaning people fly by the seat of their pants, don’t plan appropriately, leave all the details to Jesus, and pray everything works out okay. As a result, the impact of the event or campaign is not what it could have been. Think how much more effective we could be if we practiced good stewardship through proper organization, planning, and communication best practices. The Bible teaches us that a strong foundation is important, both for personal spiritual health as well as for effective witnessing. We should take this wisdom seriously and do everything we can to share the gospel effectively, leaving what we cannot do to the Holy Spirit. A wise person once said:
Don’t pray for the things you can or should do yourself. Ask God for the things only He can do.
A Strong Foundation Begins with Leadership.
Whether you’re a ministry, church, conference, or independent missionary, here is what leaders can start doing today to build a strong strategic foundation for sharing your ministry message:
Strategic planning is simply the process of being intentional and thoughtful with your digital communications.
Social Media & Digital Communications Audit
Begin by evaluating your existing accounts and platforms. Ask: “Are we using the right ones for our audience and mission?” and “Are there opportunities for consolidation?” Less is more. When you streamline your communication efforts, you will achieve greater impact.
Look at your data to determine who you are reaching, the effectiveness of your current strategy, and areas for best practice implementation. Look for issues with your foundation and start thinking about digital strategy goals, target audiences, and key metrics.
Define your purpose for being on social media and utilizing digital tools. Then frame your strategy accordingly, identifying key performance indicators for success. Many ministries and churches fall into the trap of reactive digital communications versus proactive. Reshape your strategy so that you are ahead of the ball. Develop and implement branding guidelines for all your digital communications (which should be an extension of your traditional media, like print) and make sure your team follows best practices.
The auditing process should help you evaluate your current system of communication and develop clear objectives for your digital communications, such as: to advance the gospel and positively influence your community. You and your team can then develop an ongoing approach that aims to achieve some of the key areas listed above.
Once you have a purpose, you can set goals. When you know what you are trying to achieve, you can set benchmarks for measurement. Then came up with a strategy and budget.
Examples of some goals may include, but are not limited to:
Performance Metrics (aka Key Performance Indicators)
Once you’ve identified why you’ll be using digital media and who you’re trying to reach, it’s important to implement measures for success. Identify the metrics that are the most important for your goals and decide how to track them. If you don’t have a lot of time, set benchmarks and track high-level numbers.
Types of Digital/Social Media Metrics:
For example, key performance indicators for ministry could include, but are not limited to:
Choosing the Right Platforms/Channels
Remember, to reach your target audience, you must go to where they spend their time online and use the language they use. Refer back to the “Understanding Your Target Audience” section to help identify the best platforms for your chosen target audience(s). It’s very easy to become overwhelmed by all the possibilities. To avoid that, start with just a few platforms that make the most sense for your ministry, your messages, your available human resources, and your goals. It’s best to pick a few platforms and do them well! A strategy that is stretched too thin will not get the results you’re hoping for.
Remember the “Rule of 7”
The “Rule of 7” states that a person needs to be exposed to a message at least seven times before they’ll take a desired action, such as register, RSVP, attend an event, request a resource, send a message, read an article, or participate in some other meaningful way.
Everyone, including our audience, experiences marketing messaging and content overload. It’s estimated that the average adult is exposed to over 3,000 marketing messages a day! Therein lies the challenge. To cut through the clutter, we must utilize a multi-channel, multi-platform approach. Also, consistency with your branding, as well a regular messaging schedule, will maximize effectiveness. Channel typically refers to the communication medium, such as radio, print, TV, or social media. Platform refers to different kinds of social media such as Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram. Truly effective communication strategies work across all channels and platforms to reach people where they are, conveying one consistent goal or message.
This is often referred to as integrated marketing and may utilize the following channels:
Social media should be part of a comprehensive communication strategy that incorporates both traditional media and digital, working together to maximize impact. In most cases, social media is not used in place of traditional forms of communication, but in addition, as a means of amplifying your message to a larger community.
For churches, you’ll most likely want to leverage in-person interactions and conversations, website updates, text messages, flyers, group messaging tools, podium announcements, emails, and your social media profiles. Together, all these efforts help communicate your church brand, and it’s important to consider how each of these communication tools reflects your message, mission, and, ultimately, Christ, following His example for drawing people to the gospel. Being strategic is just being intentional with how you orchestrate all the different ways to distribute information, and making sure to use effective methods of presenting that information. If you find yourself struggling to make your members informed about events and opportunities, understanding and implementing this multi-channel principle will help improve awareness amongst your congregation.
But with the busyness of life, how can you ensure that your audience prioritizes your messages? Your content must be read before it can have any kind of life-changing effect. It’s not enough to communicate often and in different ways. To stand out and be effective, your messages should communicate directly to the reader in a way that is relevant to their life or situation, framed in a way that meets their needs. Messaging like: “This will make your life easier/help you with a problem,” or “Here’s a chance to learn how to eat healthier/help the community,” or “Here’s an opportunity to gain some insight on that nagging question you have,” is strong, engaging content.
Another way to think about this is to seek to understand the motivating desires and core values of your community. Refer back to the “Understanding Your Target Audience” section of this guide for more information on this topic. Then create programs, ministries, and content that serves them. Too often we create the programs and content that we assume our audience wants, and don’t end up with the results we were hoping for. When we combine a strong communications strategy with careful research about our target audience prior to creating programs and messages, we can increase our chances of being successful. We’ll unpack messaging and content more under the “Content Creators” section of this guide.
Implementing an effective strategy requires repeated, consistent messaging from multiple communication channels to have an informed audience or membership. In addition, those messages must serve your target audiences in a meaningful way. We now have more resources than ever before to reach audiences and reinforce our message. But with all the digital clutter, it might take up to a thousand tries to reach someone just seven times! Therefore, it’s important to keep at it and develop relationships with those you are trying to serve.
Social media can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. For most Adventist entities, communications manager is just one of many hats an employee might wear—especially if you are a small team or just a team of one. If you happen to be a full-time digital strategist, you’re likely managing multiple campaigns and projects at once. Regardless of your level of expertise and available resources, there never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish everything you need to do in order to stay on top of the ever-growing evangelistic influence of digital media. A streamlined approach allows you and your team to tackle multiple projects that must integrate an ever-growing list of communication channels.
We’ll unpack the details of a content strategy within the “Content Creators” section of this guidebook. For now, here are some fundamental tips for getting organized:
Schedule Content in Batches
Scheduling your content (and ads) in advance helps you focus on big picture items without the urgency of consistent posting. Plan out regular content in advance and make time to schedule it in monthly or two-week chunks. Then you can focus your attention on engagement, community building, data analysis, strategic planning, and other projects. This also empowers you to be more proactive in your digital strategy, as opposed to reactive—freeing you up to respond quickly to comments or address any unexpected issues or changes.
What’s appropriate to spend?
People often ask, “How much does it cost to promote online?” Well, it depends. The beauty of social advertising and other digital promotions is that it the investment is adjustable based on what you can spend. Digital channels (specifically social media) work very well for small budgets and non-profits. A little can go a long way, but it’s important to spend at least a little. As your confidence and familiarity with your target audience grows, you can increase your budget gradually. Often, your budget depends on the size of your goals and your purpose. A small local ministry may only need to spend $300 a year to reach the surrounding community, whereas a nationwide campaign would need at least $3,000 to create impact within a targeted audience. Before setting a budget, develop a strategy, strong messaging, and a clear objective. Then start with a small ad budget directed at your target audience. Track and analyze results. Evaluate your results against your ministry’s key performance indicators and optimize accordingly. Remember, if you’re going to take the time to put together a campaign strategy, take the time to track your performance. Otherwise you can’t build on what you’ve learned or improve for the next campaign, because you didn’t learn from the last one. Under the “Distributors” section of this guidebook, we’ll discuss advertising in more detail.
Don’t Give Up Too Soon!
Post reach and interaction will ebb and flow based on your audience’s personal preferences, attitude of the day, the news, that evening’s supper, or just the busyness of life. Keep posting. Keep interacting. Keep adapting.
When you initially revamp your digital strategy, the changes in post engagement should show immediate and positive results. But over time things may plateau or even dip, especially during the holidays. You’ll learn to see and anticipate yearly patterns. Keep pressing forward. Often efforts fail because people give up too early.
Social Media Best Practices Checklist for Ministries
As previously discussed, a strong digital strategy begins with a good foundation of planning. Social media represents a bold new frontier for mission and is a powerful communications tool. In order to fully realize the untapped potential of the digital mission field, each denominational entity, ministry, or local church is encouraged to download the latest version of the NAD Social Media Guidelines for an in-depth manual with resources and guidance regarding best practices for professional social media communication.
Whether you’re just getting started or conducting a social media audit, this checklist is designed to help you make sure your organization or ministry is maintaining basic best practices for social media.
Ideally, organizations should conduct a basic social media audit every six months as part of a larger digital communications strategy review. The digital mission field is dynamic and ever-changing, and the North American Division office of Big Data + Social Media is here to help you stay informed. Once you can check off everything on this list, visit SDAdata.org for more resources, tips, and tutorials to continue to enhance your digital evangelism and discipleship strategies.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
In terms of who makes up the digital discipleship and evangelism team, our philosophy includes everyone. The integrated model utilizes every active member in a holistic approach that aims to scale up the traditional friend/community evangelism and discipleship models, not replace them.
What does this mean practically?
It’s not a digital approach attempting to subvert a traditional approach, but, rather, the entire church body using all its human resources, diversity of spiritual gifts, and available tools to work together for a common goal. Church growth is a product of promotion, experience, and personal connections. Digital technology is a powerful tool to guide more people into your church, but the on-site experience and personal connections is what will keep them coming. After all, it’s one challenge to attract new people; it’s another to get them to keep returning. To encourage people to remain in your community, whether online or in person, they must not only have a good experience, but also connect with the members on a personal level and become integrated as a participating member of the community.
If we understand the local church to be a community of believers, we must seek to create meaningful connections, reaching out to seekers whose experience often starts online, as well as to those already in our house of worship. Your church’s online interactions with potential visitors should make them want to experience your faith and mission in person. Then, when they do come for that on-site experience, it should be a continuation of the positive relationship you’ve built with them online. The same is true in reverse.
To achieve a continuity of experience and relationship building, everyone is part of the process. This means the 84-year-old greeter at the door is part of your digital discipleship and evangelism team just as much as the tech savvy youths who create video snippets and content for your social media. It includes the passionate and knowledgeable worship leaders who answer questions and host online bible studies. Remember, what starts in the digital space is not confined to the digital space. It may take weeks, months, or years, but eventually those people who have been touched by your digital voice may be moved by the Holy Spirit to walk in the door. From their perspective, it’s all one spiritual journey and experience, not digital versus traditional. They don’t view their experience in silos; therefore, we must break down the silos of how we go about discipleship and evangelism.
Every touchpoint matters and must tell a consistent story!
Look at this process of evangelism holistically. Consider all possible touchpoints in the list below and ask, “Where does the experience decelerate? Where is the breakdown in communication?”
Touchpoints by role groupings include but are not limited to:
With the digital discipleship and evangelism model shown above as a foundational concept, we can understand how the roles of creators, distributors, and engagers can fit into the overall seeker/visitor experience.
There may be an overlapping of functions that can occur at multiple touchpoints. Every church is different and has different human resources, and spiritual gifts to draw from. This concept is scalable and adaptable to your situation.
Make room for digital discipleship and evangelism.
Change can be difficult, especially for institutions grounded in tradition. However, the Adventist Church is also rooted in a movement that was led by young people. We must again empower talented youths in our churches to take the lead in areas where they naturally excel, such as digital communications and community building. In addition, we have not done a good job of recognizing and utilizing the spiritual gifts of tech savvy and creative members. These gifted individuals have a wealth of talent to offer mission work and should be encouraged to use their skills in service. We can change the culture in our faith communities to make them feel that the Church truly values their time and talents just as much as Bible workers, nurses, Bible study leaders, and speakers.
Form teams of content creators, distributors, and engagers. Each church likely has various members who could specialize or lead in certain areas. These can be powerful personal ministry opportunities, especially for empathetic persons who can facilitate positive conversations online and share stories of faith. Seek to create a culture of sharing and engaging with church social media content as a means for individuals to help fulfill the church’s mission and expand the reach of messages. Anyone who is on social media, has an email address, or is connected to the internet can share content.
It doesn’t matter if a person has four friends or 40,000, they have influence.
Find ways to leverage social influence. If people are connected to others through digital technologies, they have digital influence. Each impression/message received represents a person touched by your message and mission. “Social butterflies” can learn to use their online and offline influence to engage in practical mission work. There is a place for all skill levels.
Influencer groups in your church may include, but are not limited to:
Organize multi-generational training and mentorship opportunities. This will only strengthen your church body and improve cross-generational relationships. Young people yearn for mentorship, and the older generations can learn a lot form the natural skills of the youth. The church should be the ideal example of two-way mentorship in action. Ultimately technologies change, but people and their needs largely remain the same. Healthy communities involve multiple generations coexisting in a collaborative and supportive manner.
In summary, to make room for digital discipleship and evangelism in your church:
Utilize Digital Bible Workers.
If you are lucky enough to have a Bible worker, empower them to expand their efforts digitally. Social media and other digital technologies can be leveraged as lead generating tools. Remember, young people spend upwards of 9-18 hours a day behind a screen, and that affords the church a lot of opportunities to reach them with relevant content and conversations facilitated for seekers. Ideally this is someone who can ultimately lead a focused evangelistic effort, train others, build a dedicated team, and work with other groups and initiatives within your church.
Digital technologies allow a Bible worker to enter a person's life at the convenience and comfort level of the recipient by providing relevant online content, a degree of anonymity, a simple platform for question and answers, and opportunities to engage and form relationships.
What does a Digital Bible Worker Do?
Digital Bible workers utilize digital technologies to share the gospel and stimulate religious thought by creating and packaging content that addresses relevant needs/questions and encourages people to advance in their spiritual journey. Digital Bible workers build relationships with those in the broader community, online and offline, and usually within a specific geographic territory in order to create opportunities for one-on-one or small group Bibles studies held in person or via digital tools. They work in partnership with a local church and pastor to evaluate the needs of a community and determine relevant opportunities for outreach and service. They mentor converts in their development of Christian character and commitment to faith as well as train and equip new members for active discipleship roles. This role encompasses a mix of digital discipleship and evangelism to bridge the gap between working in the digital mission field and achieving real-world impact.
The following is sample of what a job description could look like for local churches and conferences looking to hire a Bible worker to lead online evangelistic campaigns. This position can also be adapted to more appropriately reflect the role of a digital pastor. Feel free to adapt to your specific needs and HR requirements. View this template as a type of menu to guide you in the creation of a position that makes sense for your organization’s structure. These positions can be adapted for paid or volunteer workers based on the level of time commitment needed and budget available.
The Digital Bible Worker will implement a comprehensive, multi-channel digital evangelism strategy designed to meet the spiritual and social needs of teen, 18– to 35-year-old, collegiate, career-focused, single or married seekers (may include other target audiences based on the goals of the conference or church) in the local community. While engagement and relationship building will start in the digital space, the intent is to bring the target audience to an in-person experience. A secondary goal of this position is to mentor young people already in the church towards a deeper relationship with Jesus and greater community involvement—empowering them to also be effective digital disciples.
Objectives and Responsibilities:
Essential Job Functions:
Education and Experience:
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.
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.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Traditional marketing and evangelism takes a linear approach, starting with attracting “leads” and eventually aiming to convert people into members. While this strategy worked for a long time, the world has changed dramatically in the past few decades. It no longer makes sense, nor is it effective, to group people together into one-size fits all categories and then take a cookie-cutter approach to encouraging spiritual conversion. In addition, the assumptions we make about people groups can often be misleading or even harmful. Therefore, we must fundamentally change the way we approach evangelism.
Understanding Modern Audiences
Your average person is just as likely to have moved several times, as to have continuously lived in the community they were born, surrounded by a homogeneous collective of people who share the same culture and life experiences. The "simple life" has given way to something more complicated, and, perhaps, messy. But even for those who have never changed their geographical location, people are now globally connected through social media in ways that were unheard of just 20 years ago. What this means is that we now live in a world of intersecting cultures or communities. These cultures are potentially endless in variety, but we’ll unpack a few in the next section on target audiences.
The concept of cultural empathy is well known in the physical mission field. Evangelism experts know that the best way to reach a community or people group is to empower a member of that community to evangelize to their own. Or at the very least, speak the language of the people and show sensitivity and respect to their cultural paradigms. Non-native members of a culture group must sincerely seek to understand the community and reach them where they are in a way that is relevant. We have forgotten this principle when it comes to online evangelism and online communities. While digital evangelism or discipleship is a new concept for the Church, we can remember and apply tried and true bits of wisdom previously uncovered by experienced evangelists and geographically focused missionaries. Digital tools are a way to magnify the reach and impact of traditional and friendship evangelism, not necessarily replacing it. Digital platforms allow us to scale up our efforts in a low-cost way.
The apostle Paul admonishes us to “become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NASB 1977). To accomplish this in modern society, our definition of culture needs to be expanded. Many now find themselves between cultures and functioning in multiple online and offline communities simultaneously. The old marketing strategies of putting people in target groups based on a few identifying factors is no longer reflective of reality.
People no longer fit into neat categories based on surface-level descriptors such as location, race, gender, language, and interests. We must connect with audiences on a deeper level based on unifying needs and core values that transcend standard marketing categorizations. Digital tools can enable us to understand the drivers behind the actions, beliefs, concerns, needs, and values of larger groups, better positioning us to serve them in a relevant way. If we can do this, our audiences will be loyal to our Church brand, because we resonate with them at the core of their worldview. We’ll unpack how to better reach, understand, and effectively communicate with target audiences in the next few sections of this guide.
To reach younger generations, we must take an integrated and holistic approach that considers the complexities of modern life and relationships. The components of the traditional model are not dead. Many of these steps are still in play; we just have more resources to reach and interact with people in ways that are relevant to their unique situation. Digital communications is a means to amplify our messages and spiritually feed people seven days a week. In other words, the linear model has given way to a multi-faceted process that can start and stop at various points, with many key entry and engagement points. When we take a holistic approach to understanding our audiences better and use this knowledge strategically to combine traditional with digital strategies, we can fish 24/7 in a much larger pond.
The kingdom of God is an all-day, every-day pursuit. His church should be the same online as offline. After all, church is not a program to watch, but a people to be. Success should not be measured by counting people in a building, but, rather, by whether or not we’re building a kingdom.
Digital Evangelism Modified Funnel
Another marketing concept we can use to understand the modern process of evangelism is a funnel, where every person is channeled toward the goal which traditionally has been “become a member.” While people can enter and engage at different levels of the funnel in multiple ways, movement toward (and beyond) this goal is the basic principle of the funnel model. Every single transition involves an ask, either implied or explicit. With every reduction in the funnel size, there is an implied exit of people. Every person has the option of moving forward down the chain, living at a stage for a period of time, or deciding to leave the process altogether. We must give easy calls-to-action and lead participants in a way that makes moving to the next step a no-brainer. Eventually the goal is for members to become active disciples who then become part of the funnel mechanism as content creators, distributors, or engagers as talked about in section 3. This is why this modified funnel fans back out at the base and loops back around. The foundation of this marketing paradigm is built on continuous discipleship and integrated strategies, utilizing a wide range of evangelistic strategies.
The Modern Seeker’s Journey
To help us better understand how the modern world of analog and digital experiences interact to move someone through their spiritual journey, we can consider a systems-thinking tool called journey loops.
“Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. The systems thinking approach contrasts with traditional analysis, which studies systems by breaking them down into their separate elements… According to systems thinking, system behavior results from the effects of reinforcing and balancing processes” (Margaret Rouse, Techtarget.com). A system is a group of distinct elements that are interrelated and organized to achieve a common purpose or goal.
These steps or loops do not necessarily go in order. A seeker can start at any point, skip sections, leap from loop to loop, and even backtrack. Each loop and experience feeds back into the other steps in the process to help reinforce the journey. I personally started in the “Think” (Consideration) loop, then the “Care” (Relationship/Service) loop and then visited a local church as part of the “Do” (Visit/Engage) loop. This causal loop system is not a perfect representation of the process, but it helps visualize what is actually happening in a complex system or, in this case, journey.
In today’s world where people are turning to the internet for answers, the first two parts of the journey are primarily spent in the digital space. Based on the person’s situation, they may or may not transition to an in-person experience, though that is always the one of the goals of this process. However, it’s important to recognize that experiences in the “Care” and “Stay” loops are just as relevant in the digital space. Therefore, we must seek to find ways to extend the Church experience online, because the in-person experience may not always be possible, at least in the short-term.
How the Modern Seeker’s Journey fits into the Digital Discipleship and Evangelism Model
Reflecting back on the Digital Discipleship and Evangelism model, we can see how the three roles or types of digital evangelists can work together to help guide a seeker through a journey of spiritual growth.
Distributors help push out content and messages to help initiate the “See” (Awareness) step and can also function within the “Ministry and Discipleship” loop, using digital tools and technologies to share content within their sphere of digital influence, which, in turn, contributes greatly to the “Research and Discovery” stage.
The role of content creators is to package the gospel message and teachings of Jesus into various digital-friendly formats, such as: video, blogs, images, podcasts, etc. The resulting content is vital to the growth and decision-making of a seeker within the “Research and Discovery” loop. This content, combined with the role of engagers, can serve as a catalyst to move a seeker to the “Do” (Visit/Engage) and “Stay” (Become a Member) steps.
Engagers are empathic individuals within an organization, or operating independently, who engage in online conversations for the purpose of building meaningful relationships, better understanding needs, and determining meaningful ways to serve others in the community. The engager role spans across multiple touchpoints in the modern seeker’s journey and plays a vital role in moving a person towards taking an action and, ultimately, to a faith-based commitment. Social media provides a unique opportunity for long-term member care that can enhance and strengthen the relationships your ministry cultivates with members and the community. We know that connection and relationships is what builds a strong faith community and keeps people in the Church. To that end, engagers are vital to the “Loyalty and Personal Connections” loop as well as the “Do” (Visit/Engage) step and even an integral part of securing a seeker’s long-term desire to “Stay” (Become a Member) of a faith community.
Every opportunity to connect is an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. Our digital voice may be the only opportunity a seeker has to see Christ’s love demonstrated in their life. We as a Church should strive to create connections and take a comprehensive approach to facilitating the seeker experience, treating people online as if we’re talking with them face-to-face. Their online interactions with you should make them want to experience your faith/mission in person. Then, when they to come for that onsite experience, it should be a continuation of the positive relationship that has been built with them online. There should not be a disconnect between how a person is nurtured in the pews and how they are treated online, or vice-versa.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
I am often asked if digital communications can really make a global impact when only around 42% (as of June 2019) of the world’s population is on social media. This question always reminds me of one of my first campaigns for the Church.
In the summer of 2016, I worked with “Your Best Pathway to Health” to help create community awareness for the free mega-health clinic that was coming to Beckley, WV, the heart of Appalachia. A quick search in Facebook Ads manager revealed that around 200K people within 50 miles of the convention center where the clinic would take place, were on Facebook. With a small budget of $200, I started a community awareness ad campaign targeted at those living within driving distance of Beckley. This digital effort was part of a larger multi-channel campaign that included newspaper ads, 30K+ hand-out flyers, and other traditional media.
Can We Really Reach Those People?
It is said that “familiarity breeds contempt” or, at least, presumptuous behavior. Soon after launching the campaign, I received a call from a long-time friend who felt very strongly that I was out of line to use Church funds for this digital campaign, and that I was out of touch with the realities of this community. After all, “this was Appalachia, and those people don’t even have running water and electricity.” After two hours of conversation, I still call her friend, because this was a teaching and learning moment. I had an opportunity to share the potential this technology offers for our mission, as well as gain a better understanding of the cultural paradigm I was up against (in terms of encouraging the Church to embrace digital strategies and the perceptions that may result). What she didn’t know was that I made a decision based on data and not assumptions about the “least of these.” In fact, she didn’t know that I had been raised in the same economic class she felt I was so disconnected from.
I asked her one simple question: do you know someone who is not on social media? She said yes. I followed up with something like, “If you saw an online advertisement about free medical treatment with no strings attached, and you knew they needed help, would you tell them?” Without hesitation, she responded, “Of course!” One question and response summarized my strategy.
What I had done was make a strategic decision to activate the sharing power of the 200K people who were online and, most likely, connected to others in the community who were not on social media. It’s human nature to share a good thing when we see it, especially with those we care about who need the services offered.
According to an extensive study conducted by the New York Times, 94% of people share content online because “they feel the content will improve the lives” of others. This act of sharing goes beyond the digital space.
“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ They came out of the town and made their way toward him” (John 4:28-30, New International Version).
However, my ten years of digital marketing experience was entirely secular. I had never done an advertising campaign for a church project before, and consequently prayed a lot in the weeks leading up to the clinic. When the event began I was overjoyed at the testimonies of people who said their family member, friend, or neighbor saw an ad online and told them to come. According to the exit surveys, social media outperformed all the traditional advertising, and was second only to referral by friend or family member. Based on the anecdotal testimonies, word-of-mouth (friend/family) was also largely driven by the social media campaign. Click here to learn more about this case study in community awareness.
Social media is the modern School of Tyrannus, a place where the ancient Ephesians gathered to engage with new ideas, pass the time, share thoughts, and participate in discussions. Paul spoke at the School of Tyrannus in Greece for two years (Acts 19:8-9), essentially getting the gospel to go viral in his day. (A podcast about Paul’s influence at the School of Tyrannus by Dee Casper, Brand Evangelist, ARTV, can be found HERE).
“This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10, New American Standard Bible)
Paul stayed in one place, and yet his teachings spread. How did this happen?
Ephesus was an important port for trade and commerce (like the internet), attracting people from all over the Roman Empire. People would come and hear what he had to say, go home, and tell others what they’d learned. In today’s terminology, they hit “Like” and “Share” on social media, and their friends and family were exposed to Paul’s teachings of the gospel. Social media has the potential to do this on a much larger scale. By reaching the connected, we can reach the unreachable.
In other words, if approximately 42% of the world’s population is on social media, it’s highly likely that they know the other 58% of the world or know someone who is connected to someone who is not on social media. You get the idea.
What starts in the digital space, isn’t confined to the digital space.
We must put our assumptions about those people aside (whoever those people might be), and work with who we can reach.
Evangelism experts tell me that the best way to reach a community or people group is to empower a member of that community. Your average person is just as likely to have moved several times, as to have lived and died in the community they were born, surrounded by a homogeneous collective of people who share the same culture and life experiences. The "simple life" has given way to something more complicated, perhaps messy. Even for those who never change their geographical location, they are globally connected to people through social media in ways that were unheard of just twenty years ago. What this means is that we now live in a world of intersecting cultures and communities.
The city of Ephesus experience is now reflected in every major city in the world and online.
I, myself, am a mid-western transplant to the D.C. metropolitan area. There is still no cellphone reception in my home town. My parents access the internet and phone through satellite. Until recently, our roads were unpaved, and my family was on well water. I go home once or twice a year and call my parents regularly (when the satellite phone is working). I had never heard of Adventism until I went to college; now my parents are closely connected to two Adventists (me and my husband). During our conversations and interactions, I share my experiences and new ideas. While my home town is not as remote as some other countries or communities that still exist in the world, the concept is the same. We can reach people online who have migrated to the digitally connected parts of the world. These people probably maintain ties to their home communities in some way, and since they are from that community, they are in the best position to share the gospel within the cultural norms, language, and expectations of those communities. When they visit their friends and family, they can share the gospel just like the ancient citizens of the Roman empire did back in the first century.
This is how we can obtain global impact through digital communications. It’s the same strategy that Paul leveraged, but scaled up by modern technology.
According to Pew Research, the most racially diverse Christian denomination in North America is the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We are truly a global movement that has yet to realize the full potential of modern technologies. Our challenge is not to just reach those who are online, but to also activate the online and offline sharing power of those we connect with. The membership of the Adventist Church is perfectly positioned to reach the around the world to every nation, tribe, people, and tongue with the gospel message.
And for those isolated communities with, assumed, no access to the outside world, give the Holy Spirit a little credit for being able to carry the message the rest of the way.
If the message went global in Paul’s day without the help of modern technology, let’s not assume limitations on the Holy Spirit in our day.
We aren’t expected to accomplish this mission alone, but we are called to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV). The world now includes the digital space. We need to dream bigger when doing God's work. Can you imagine what would happen if each of us committed to sharing the gospel online for two years? And remember, it's not like we have to physically go somewhere, or even leave the couch for that matter! Who knows where God will lead us when we step out in faith.
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
Before going full throttle on SEO implementation, it’s important to set expectations and develop a clear understanding of what is needed. To be successful, you must approach SEO strategically and be very intentional about developing a long-term plan to maintain best practices.
The first step in SEO care is to keep up to date on the industry. Things change fast—both in the ways people search for and consume content, and in how Google continually seeks to improve its process based on people’s changing behavior. What worked yesterday may not work next month.
What’s more, businesses tried to cheat the system and developed many SEO techniques now considered “black hat.” These practices are now heavily frowned upon and will get your site penalized by Google, causing your ranking to plummet which can be challenging and expensive to recover from. Unfortunately, these “black hat” techniques still circulate online, and are often advertised as tips and strategies. It’s important to know what these techniques are to avoid being misled.
To safeguard your SEO efforts for your organization, we’ve compiled the top 9 SEO myths that persist today, and what you should do instead.
Myth #1: “Get a sweet SEO setup, then relax and enjoy great traffic and engagement.”
SEO work is never done. Just as a business requires ongoing management in order to adapt to market changes, to implement customer feedback, or to update technologies to stay competitive, SEO is an continually evolving process. While setting up a strong SEO foundation is essential, know that investing a lot of time and/or money in this area doesn’t mean you can set it and forget it.
As part of your overall SEO grand strategy, include a plan for ongoing SEO that will enable your organization to constantly grow, adapt, measure, learn, and grow some more.
Myth #2: “If you do these things, you’ll rank on page 1 in 3-6 months...”
Maybe you’ve received one of these ads or phone calls, offering SEO services that guarantee a high ranking––fast. Lofty promises in a short time are a major red flag. No one, not even Google, can guarantee rankings.
Also, ranking for what? For which keywords? And which specific page of your website? Beware of vague qualifiers.
There are numerous factors involved in search engine ranking. If your organization is in a competitive niche, it can take years of consistent work to rank on page one of Google search results. A solid SEO strategy takes time and patience.
SEO is a long game, but it’s worth it because of the potential for eternal good. Knowing that millions of people are actively searching for spiritual answers online, yet not being led to Adventist websites and resources, how can we pass up this incredible opportunity?
Like any marketing approach, search engine optimization requires a long-term, flexible strategy that allows for measuring, testing, and adapting over time. Throughout this process, your organization can grow in authority and engagement, maintain relevance, and reach more people every day.
If you do receive a solicitation offering vague and unrealistic SEO results, we recommend politely declining. No one from Google will call your organization, and no one can promise specific results for an up-front, flat fee.
Remember that the principles of Authority, Credibility and Trustworthiness, coupled with quality content creation and careful monitoring of what your target audience wants, are the true foundational blocks that effective SEO is built upon. Anything that feels like a short-cut should make you hesitate, and anything that sounds too good to be true probably is.
Myth #3: “SEO is for the IT department. Let them handle it.”
The internet is a media channel, just like radio or TV. However, this medium has surpassed all others in popularity, accessibility, and potential for outreach and mission work. A marketing and ministerial approach is needed to tap into its potential, not necessarily technical knowledge.
The foundation for effective online outreach follows the principles of advertising and marketing, but through a ministerial lens. Implementation of inspiring online content requires careful study of what works and doesn’t work and research to understand the needs of the consumer (or to the seeker). For an organization to use the internet for content marketing and outreach, you’ll need someone willing to spearhead corporate digital marketing and content creation with the goal of ministry. An IT department’s goal is to ensure that an organization’s computers and network are functioning efficiently, so the organization can accomplish its mission. Since many church organizations requires employees to wear many hats, it is very possible that the SEO strategy duties could fall to an IT employee, but it requires an additional set of communication and marketing skills than might be needed in traditional IT professional roles. Investment in a dedicated digital marketing strategist is wonderful, but in cases where personnel are called to do double (or triple!) duty, make sure they are empowered, encouraged, and equipped to prioritize SEO strategy.
While some organizations do have web developers categorized as IT, SEO also extends well beyond web development. Developers typically take their SEO cues from the content strategists and SEO specialists.
While this is a new “department” for our ministries to factor in, the outreach potential makes it necessary as the Church begins to prioritize technology for the gospel. Combining up-to-date marketing strategies and professionals with forward-thinking, media-savvy pastors and evangelists would magnifying our impact exponentially.
Myth #4: “Don’t worry about all the technical SEO stuff. Just create good content.”
Creating good content is a must, but without intentional promotion or a strong SEO foundation, that good content and the effort it takes to create risks going to waste.
SEO specialists and web developers can help you set up analytics tools you’ll need throughout the SEO process. There are slight adjustments to coding or plugins that can make a significant difference to rankings, as well as fix undetected website errors that may be harming Google’s ability to crawl your site. These adjustments do require some technical knowledge to address, but the information and instructions you need can often be a mere Google search away.
Additionally, since SEO specialists’ first order of business is to keep up on the industry, if anything changes, they’ll be the first to know about it. It may be months until it gets into the radar of content creators working on their own, and by then, an unanticipated algorithm change could have already done some damage to your ranking. If your organization doesn’t have the budget for an SEO specialist, then it’s even more important to dedicate time to research and self-education in order to stay up to date on your SEO management.
SEO works best as a team effort, with multiple points of view working together to craft the best content, supported by the best systems and technical framework. So if you can’t hire a company or specialists, develop a team internally that can focus on different SEO needs.
Myth #5: “It’s all about using lots of keywords that get traffic.”
Since keyword research is so foundational when developing an SEO strategy, some less-experienced businesses or individuals think they can make shortcuts by using repeated words. As mentioned before, “keyword stuffing” is now considered “black hat” SEO that attempts to cheat the system. Google will not prioritize keyword-stuffed content in its rankings, and your site may even get penalized, causing it to not show up in search results at all.
However, including keywords in natural moderation is still a valuable practice. Right now, Google focuses on thorough topic coverage, natural language, and searcher intent. Quality content writers and skilled SEO specialists can easily formulate a content strategy that leaves keyword-stuffing in the ashes.
Myth #6: “Our website is awesome. We don’t need to worry about all this extra SEO stuff.”
You may have the sleekest, more vibrant website on the market, but if it’s not optimized to be found in searches, who’s going to see it? Unfortunately, this “if you build it, they will come” mentality has greatly limited our ability to get our messages of hope and wholeness in front of the very people seeking it online.
Displaying your website on your signage, print materials, and emails is an important part of a comprehensive communications and branding strategy. However, this practice will usually not result in traffic to your website beyond those who are already connected with your organization. In other words, your audience will not grow without an SEO strategy. Being strategic allows you to reach a variety of new target audiences who find your content relevant to their needs, interests, core values, and desires. It can even allow you to grow your volunteer and donor base. Simply put, SEO strategies allow you to share your website and message with the world. As entities of the Church, this is our great commission.
Myth #7: “Google changes its algorithms all the time. What’s the point in trying to keep up?”
Daily—that’s how often Google fine-tunes its search algorithms, but don’t let that intimidate you. A strong foundation that follows best practices allows your organization to weather these changes and adapt more gradually. Organizations that monitor alternations daily are typically trying to game the system with shortcuts or downright “black hat” SEO techniques.
Google uses the daily influx of data it receives to update its methods and deepen its understanding of how people use its search engine. Google’s goal is to give us the search results we want, so that’s where their research and development will consistently focus. Think less foundational, more behavioral.
Myth #8: “We just need lots of clicks. Lots of traffic. The rest will fall into place.”
Even if thousands of people click on your website from search results, Google pays close attention to how long they stay on your website. If they’re clicking the back button in the first few seconds they land on your page, that tells Google that your content was not relevant for that search query—you were not what they were looking for.
The focus is not just getting traffic but getting the right kind of traffic—people who are actually interested in your content already. Those people who are asking the questions your website is answering.
This is why content marketing and copywriting principles are integral to the SEO process. It’s less technical than it used to be, because Google found that its users were understandably fed up with clickbait-and-switch SEO approaches. People respond better to high-quality, relevant content instead of sensationalist headlines with keyword-stuffed content.
Myth #9: “We just found a company that will do all our SEO and content marketing for super cheap!”
Beware. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If an SEO agency or freelancer’s selling point is that they’re fast and cheap, you might want to ask them some specific questions before moving forward.