Digital Evangelism is evangelism using digital tools and a digital strategy.
It’s still evangelism, and it’s still meant to lead people to Christ whether you are doing personal ministry or corporate evangelism.
These are the same methods that have worked for our church for decades, but now we are either using a hybrid of digital and traditional tools or fully digital.
So if digital evangelism is just evangelism using a digital strategy and digital tools, then the outcome of your digital evangelism should be the same, right?!
Planting sends, helping nurture and/or participating in reaping events?
The cool thing about digital, or the digital-traditional hybrid evangelism, is you are able to reach more souls and create systems to ensure that the fewest number of people fall through the cracks. You are also able to shorten the entire discipleship process.
For this piece, let’s focus on corporate digital evangelism.
How effective is your church's digital evangelism?
By now, most churches are way past the “Facebook is the devil” phase and many have some type of online digital presence or strategy. But as good stewards of your ministry’s resources, how well is that digital evangelism paying off?
If you have the facts and figures to answer, good for you. Really. Because this is where many church-focused digital strategies fall short.
We’ve gotten the message that we need to get online (mobile and other devices), use texting, be present on social media, and all that good stuff. However, the boring data and campaign stuff are usually not done. We do the planning and mostly understand what traditional evangelism entails. We have the before, the during, and the follow up mastered through years of experience with evangelistic meetings. For digital, as discussed above, the requirements are basically the same. We have to get good at the process, the data and tracking, and the systems.
Here are my top 3 takeaways learned over the last decade of working with digital evangelism directly (as a church digital strategy team member) and indirectly (as a church digital strategy adviser):
Takeaway #1: Show proven results.
Your church’s online digital evangelism strategy needs to do more than just share good storytelling and receive engagement. It has to connect the dots, showing how one specific thing (such as a specific campaign) led people to Christ.
That means your digital evangelism has to be data driven. It needs to capture the data, track it, and report the facts and figures which prove that people became closer to God.
Not everyone that enters your “campaign” may be converted by the end of your campaign, but what if you could provide that person with tailored content that would allow them to be closer to a decision?
In Part 2, we will dive into how to set this up.
Takeaway #2: Remember: Ministry first.
If the Truth alone were sufficient to convince everyone, we could just leave Bibles laying around and our work would be done. But different people respond to different things, and so our mission is more challenging. And that’s the point—it’s a mission, a ministry. We need to remember that it is a long-haul proposition, not a bunch of cool, ‘flash in the pan’ things, and we’re done. We must keep at it, try new things, and develop a tailored strategy geared towards our ministry's specific audience.
Takeaway #3: Keep it prayered up.
Do we follow the Biblical model of pray—study—serve? We often get so carried away in the ‘serve’ part; I know I do. It’s natural because we are passionate about what we are doing. So, we forget the pray—study parts, forget about letting the Spirit lead us, adding God’s grace and power to our human work.
Not part of your church's budget?
No problem. Scale back to find things that work with the resources you have. Be patient and prayerful. Mindfully, keep connecting the dots. With God’s blessing, your dedication will pay off big time.
When it comes to evangelism, one of the best tools to use is text messaging.
Just to be clear, texting or SMS is “the act of sending short, alphanumeric communications between cell phones, pagers or other hand-held devices, as implemented by a wireless carrier.”
Top push back on texting - it’s impersonal.
If I was to get your number today and call you vs. sending you a text, which would you prefer and which are you more likely to respond to?
In fact, you are likely communicating with your team through some form of text. Perhaps text written in emails, on Slack or Twitter, but most likely, you are communicating through text messages using the default text app—no data required and pretty universal.
This is what Evangelist Wyatt Allen discovered at one of his local seminars (an evangelistic meeting) here in Houston. He was doing all the other steps like mailers, emails, proper registrations, and having a clear strategy. He was also making calls during his evangelistic series’ off-days.
He would call 100 people who signed up and get 10 people to pick up. Out of that 10, many fewer were really engaged with what he was saying. 90 ignored or didn’t answer the call and very very few followed up.
It was Day 3 of the seminar when Allen was speaking with me—the then assistant communications director at Houston Central Seventh-day Adventist Church—about strategy and logistics when the question came up: “How can we build relationships with our first-time attendees and get them coming back nightly?” I pointed Allen in the direction of a bulk, text-messaging platform I was building.
It wasn’t the first time Allen saw texting being used at one of his seminars. In fact, in a previous seminar, the local Pastor had used his cell phone to text the church members every day leading up to the event.
What he had seen didn’t register as a viable option to Allen considering the time and energy it would take to use a cell phone for members and guests. However, using a cloud-based solution for texting made sense as it scales personalized interactions and would give him more tools to communicate. Allen saw he could do it from anywhere, and anyone on his team could help him engage.
Here's what he had to say about his personal experience:
Allen reports that at the end of the Houston seminar, 70% of those who made a commitment to Jesus through baptism had communicated with him via texting. And when he went, he “left” the entire communication with the other guests and the contacts who got baptism with our local church. This created continuity—something that using just his cell phone would not have allowed.
Since the seminar, Allen has continued to use texting as his main form of communication at his other meetings. He reports that his results regarding people’s new commitments to Jesus have stayed consistent. Allen understands it is not the texting, per se, but his ability to minister in a more effective and connected way that has made the difference.
Allen told me that that his ability to use text to connect with everyone in a seminar or meeting was amazing. But it’s much more. Allen says,
“When all the personal responses come pouring in, well, that is beyond amazing! I can now connect with each attendee in a very personal way.”
Allen continues to use all tools available (mailers, emails, knocking on doors) but texting is a must for all his series. He says it’s a great technique for connecting and staying connected. He is amazed at how effective it is and how easy it is to include. Allen encourages every minister to use text. He says it is “a powerful digital communications tool because it is social, non-threatening, and allows the receiver to respond in his or her own time (no pressure).”
As he uses it personally to keep in touch with family and friends, Allen says that using it for ministry is actually a no-brainer...but not something that he had really considered or experienced until Houston.
I asked Allen what his top three bulk texting features are:
Allen explains, “I have my guests text HOPE to my local number. The texting system automatically asks for their name and email and opts them into my special group just for them. Then I send them all the updates and announcements, ask them questions, or just say ‘Hi’ (to start a conversation).”
“When I want to send a link to a page on my website, a video on YouTube, or just a special message, I have them text a unique keyword. For example, for my guests who are looking for good sermons, I have them text ‘PREACH’ to my local number and automatically they get a message with a link to AudioVerse.com, my favorite sermon storehouse. I have my prayer warriors text ‘PRAY’ to my number and they’ll automatically get a Bible verse and be subscribed to my prayer group, making it easy to send them each the new prayer requests that come in,” says Allen.
Allen told me, “I just love the fact that when I send a group text, I don’t have to worry about everybody getting everyone else’s follow-up texts—a constant thorn in my side with my phone texting app. When they respond, I’m the only one who sees it and I can personally engage with them.”
However, for Allen, it doesn’t stop there. “But I love so much more: I can send and receive pictures, emojis. The texting platform has a mobile app (for Apple and Android). I can tag groups to create another level of segmentation. I can answer the phone if they call my local number. I can do polls. The system is fast, simple and intuitive. Oh, and I’ve never had to wait long to get the help I’ve asked for.”
Every registrant, volunteer, and team member is entered into the bulk texting platform (phone number and name). This means that in just a few seconds, you can send all your guests a message. Equally, you can quickly connect via text with all the volunteers. Additionally, each guest, volunteer, and team member can text you at will.
Using texting during your event
During your evangelistic event:
How well does it work?
Churches consistently report that using texting enables a more effective, connected and personal ministry. For example, people who are too shy to ask in person can text in Bible questions. Also, people who did not get an answer due to lack of time can be followed-up with later. Another area is commitment to Jesus through baptism. Ministers say that a majority of the people who commit at the end of an evangelistic event had stayed in touch during the event via texting.
Full disclosure: Evangelist Wyatt Allen uses PastorsLine and has since invested in the company. However, these sentiments were captured before he got involved. PastorsLine is adventist-owned and operated by, and I am the creator.
However, you can implement the process discussed using any cloud-based text messaging solution of your choice that allows you to use a local number (not short-codes).
If cost is a factor, a good option to consider is something like Google voice. It won’t give you all the text communication tools that Allen uses, but you can potentially have a number that isn’t directly tied to your personal cell phone.
Overall, bulk texting is an ‘easy to include’ technique for connecting and staying connected. The power of this digital communications tool comes from its social, non-threatening characteristics and because it allows the receiver to respond in his or her own time without any pressure.
We know the best way for people to learn more about Jesus is through friendship (a.k.a. friendship evangelism). One figure suggests that as many as 79% came to know Jesus through a friend. Many times an evangelist was involved at some point, but the most powerful reason for that friend showing up at the meeting or church was the friendship.
So, can we scale this?
Truthfully, if every one of us [who says we're a Christian] actually reached at least one person, we probably wouldn’t need technology or require a digital strategy. However, wishing or hoping for this to take place might not be the best option. Prophetically speaking, the number of workers don’t match the requirements of the harvest.
What's the alternative?
Whether your church is doing it or not, we should reach people within our spheres of influence. In fact, you are reaching people now through your living testimony whether or not you are aware of it. And if you are alive with a social media account, your testimony is living through that means as well. So this is personal evangelism and an area in which you can get creative. And to reiterate, whether you really really love knocking on doors, giving out books or prefer using technology, what you do personally is totally up to you and God. You have freedom here.
What about the church? Can churches scale friendship evangelism into a cycle of discipleship?
The answer is yes—by using digital tools. Friendship evangelism is always going to be critical (and an outgrowth of your personal ministry), but digital tools can help you scale your social interactions with others. It’s even more important as many Adventist churches struggle to muster up a team of people who will directly be involved in church evangelism. We are not talking about just volunteering at your church but also being very deliberate about how you use your time, resources, and position to reach more people for Christ.
So what can we do?
A huge part is what our pastors all over the world have done and are continuing to do—preach, teach, and encourage churches to pray, study and serve. But while we let the Spirit do His work, part of the privilege afforded to us is using the existing resources to multiply the time and energy of the few who are willing and able.
It was prophesied that “knowledge would increase” in the last days and we will be going “to and fro.” It’s a sign, an opportunity and a means God set in place for us fulfill our commission.
Besides, the use of technology within our churches isn’t new at all. The printing press is a technological tool which allowed God’s word to spread throughout the world. Radio ads, print ads, flyers, mailers, etc. are all technological tools or products we used—and continue to use—in evangelism.
So what's the push back with many Seventh-day Adventist churches?
Most Seventh-day Adventist churches don’t use more digital tools—despite the fact that the top ministries we follow do—because:
You see, digital tools and a digital strategy aren't separate from evangelism. It’s one gospel, one savior, the same great controversy but multiple ways to reach a more digitally-connected world.
In fact, this world is more accessible because it’s digitally connected. When used properly, digital tools amplify personal friendships.
WHY ENGAGE IN MARKETING?
Churches have so much to offer the people of this world. You have been given a mission by Christ to spread the Gospel message to everyone. Deliberate and intentional marketing is an important way to connect with people and share your message with them. Developing church online is an effective way
to reach the new digital mission field.
WHAT IS EXTERNAL MARKETING?
This is how you communicate with the public. You’ll share why your church exists and tell them why they should care about your organization.
Here are some ways to engage in marketing and outreach:
The strategic use of these tools will help you to effectively create a church online. Visitors from around the corner or around the globe will be able to connect with your congregation and have an experience of your vision and values. By bringing together all the digital communications tools, you create a 24/7 online
experience of your church that begins by attracting people to a live streaming service and encourages them to follow your church throughout the week via automated digital tools and social media that personalize the online experience.
WHO MANAGES EXTERNAL MARKETING?
Outreach and evangelism are mission-critical to every church and ministry. Senior church leadership should be involved in the planning and development of a marketing strategy. The execution of this strategy will fall to the same person in charge of internal communications. There may also be a marketing team made up of paid staff , volunteers, and outsourced freelancers.
WHERE IS THE FOCUS FOR EXTERNAL MARKETING?
Marketing is directed at the larger public in your community. You can focus on the local neighborhood around your church, but a digital strategy can also give you a global focus. You can spread your message to people online around the world. Marketing will be deployed on many communications channels. These include your website, social media, mobile devices, and other online media tools.
HOW TO IMPLEMENT EXTERNAL MARKETING
WHEN TO IMPLEMENT EXTERNAL MARKETING
This is another activity that comes at the end of the development process. In order to engage in external marketing, you need to have a well-developed brand and clear goals that you want to achieve. You also need to have a strategy developed to achieve these goals. Without these, attempts to market your church may be premature. Learn about strategic branding for churches>>
Posted with permission from the book reTHINK.Ministry.
THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERNAL COMMUNICATION
Churches are communities of people, so good lines of communications are necessary in order to work most effectively together. Thriving organizations have excellent internal communication systems in place. These systems help leaders cast visions and set goals. They help organize the congregation to achieve these goals. Solid communications help members feel connected and involved with your church. An effective internal communications system creates a dialogue that is clear and healthy between your congregation and the church leaders.
You cannot begin to reach out and attract new people to your church community if you don't have a solid internal communications system. Otherwise, when new people come, they may not experience a warm welcome. Instead, they may feel left out of the loop, confused, and frustrated about how to fit in with your church. In short, good communications effectively integrate new people into your church community.
WHAT IS AN INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM?
Your internal communications system is composed of all the channels that you use to communicate with the members of your congregation. In the past, communication was simple. Church bulletins, pulpit announcements, and phone calls made sure that everyone knew what was going on.
Today, communication is more complex. People are busy, and they don't always read the bulletin or attend weekly planning meetings. If you want to keep your entire congregation in the loop, you are going to have to communicate across more channels. Email, social media, text messaging, and possibly mobile apps will all be important components of your internal communications system.
In other words, your internal communications system is going to have an external layer. The phrase used to describe this is 'church online.' This means that your online presence will replicate the experience of participating in your live congregation. It will be a fully interactive experience that your members and visitors can engage in beyond weekend services and live events. An effective, online, church experience is created from strategically using all the digital and mobile communication channels at your disposal.
WHERE IS THE FOCUS OF INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS?
Internal communications is a church-wide effort to dialogue with church staff and members of the congregation. It covers all the communications channels and includes the software and hardware that allows your church to engage in a dialogue with its loyal visitors and members while laying the foundation
to interact with the outside world.
WHO HAS RESPONSIBILITY FOR INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS?
For many churches, no one has ownership over the communication channels. Secretaries produce the bulletins, volunteers run the website and social media, and others manage the email. In order to bring all your communications together in a strategic way, someone has to take leadership.
It will be very helpful for your church to designate a Communication Director / Manager. Some churches may be able to hire someone to fill this position. Others may simply give these responsibilities to someone already on the pastoral team or a committed volunteer. This person will manage a team of people to execute an overall digital communications strategy.
After planning, the Communication Director / Manager works very closely with the pastoral team to ensure that the digital strategy synergizes with the overall pastoral plan for the year.
To be most effective, internal communications needs to work closely with external marketing (next chapter). As a result, the communication director (or communication manager) will be interfacing with both systems. It is recommended to select a lead person who is capable of seeing the overall picture and
how each aspect of the strategy plays its part.
The target audience for your internal communications is going to be both members and visitors. You will need to focus on these two groups and their needs. You will also want to prioritize the training of members to interact effectively with visitors.
HOW TO DESIGN AN INTERNAL COMMUNICATION STRATEGY
With so many potential communication channels out there, you might be wondering where to start. The best way is to survey your congregation. You want to find out what communications channels they have available to them. Setting up a Twitter account is not going to help you if the members of your congregation do not use Twitter. Once you have good data on the preferred communications channels of your congregation, you can begin to make decisions about how to design your own internal communications system.
Armed with this knowledge about your congregation, you can begin to look at the kinds of messages you want to communicate to your congregation and outline a content strategy. Then proceed with the following steps:
Before you tackle the steps above, be sure to define your brand and develop your overall communications
strategy. In reality, you are already communicating with your congregation in some way. Most congregations use pulpit announcements and bulletins. Many have websites with online sermons. Some churches may also use email and social media. So, this part of the digital strategy process involves taking stock of what you are already doing and aligning it with the vision and goals that you have developed. Once you do this, you can add new components to your internal communications system to help you to achieve your goals.
Posted with permission from the book reTHINK.Ministry.