Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
For the first ten years of my career I had the opportunity to develop my digital skillsets in the secular world with the hopes that someday these skills could be used to serve God more directly. I am pleased to say that there is a tide-shift happening now in the Seventh-day Adventist Church at multiple levels; we are collectively waking up to the untapped potential of the digital mission field.
After two years of working for the North American Division, I have realized that there is potential for a beautiful marriage between traditional means of evangelism and digital communications. These new technologies are not meant to entirely replace the old methods, but serve to magnify and increase the scale of our efforts in a way that was not thought possible a few decades ago.
I spend a lot of time with seasoned evangelists who share with me their wisdom gained in the physical mission field. Many of their proven principles for effective evangelism have direct application in the digital space. To truly move forward with our mission, mentorship and education must go in two directions. Not only can the younger generations teach the older generation about technology and demonstrate how it can be used to advance our cause, but the younger, digitally-focused generations can learn much from the giants of traditional evangelism. Instead of getting frustrated by our different perspectives, we must communicate more effectively with each other to understand our common ground. Like a giant ship set in its regular route, it takes time to turn, and it takes all crew members working together.
The methods by which we minister to people and share the gospel are becoming more complex, but human nature, needs, and behavior largely stays the same. One “analog” idea that I have translated to the digital space is the idea of “curb appeal.” Long before the internet and 360° video, real-estate agents and pastors focused their attention on finding ways to optimize something called “curb appeal.” If someone was interested in buying a house, they most likely would drive by it before calling the agent to request a walk-through. For churches, the behavior of prospective visitors was similar. Pastors and ministry leaders sought to make their church inviting for potential visitors from the outside. This is still important today, but now we have the added need for “digital curb appeal.”
The following statistics indicate why:
According to a LifeWay Research survey, while “78% of churches have a website, only 30-40% of churches are using their websites for anything other than an electronic bulletin board! And about 42% hardly keep their websites up to date?!” The same is true with social media. Are you posting regularly and is all the essential information current? For many, your digital presence will be their first introduction to your church and possibly, the faith as a whole. Many people will find your website long before they physically visit a place of worship. A recent study by Grey Matter Research found that, “in the last 12 months, over 17 million American adults who don’t regular attend worship services visited the website of a local church or place of worship.”
Your church’s website and social media are your biggest digital marketing tools, and it’s where first impressions are made. If your congregation is connected to the corporate church account on social media and engaged, it’s likely others are seeing their interactions and could be negatively or positively drawn to your church based on the kind of content posted. Tell your story through your website and social media. Show a community that others want to join. Your website is a means of communicating, in general terms, everything that your church offers to a prospective visitor. It's your "curb appeal." Your social media can further demonstrate the type of community they will experience and spiritual messages they will receive.
In addition, “local search habits are strongly connected to mobile search habits, as 76% of people who search for an organization locally, visit within a day” (Google Data). “In 2017, worldwide mobile traffic accounted for 52.6% of all internet traffic” (Search Engine Land). Therefore, making your website mobile friendly is vital, especially since Google prioritizes mobile-friendly content in the search algorithm.
I recommend that you regularly conduct an audit of your website and social media to make sure:
Branding is the process of revealing the most complete picture of an organization to its audience through perception, experience, and essence. Brands are communicated, not just created. A brand is based entirely on a customer’s, not the developer’s, experience. Your digital presence is an extension of your church brand and voice into the online world. Your brand is how your church is perceived.
Strong digital brands create connection and take a comprehensive approach to the member experience. Today, that experience often begins online. Your digital presence should make them want to experience your faith/mission in person. Then, when they come for that onsite experience, it should be a continuation of the positive relationship and trust you’ve built with them online.