Rachel Lemons Aitken
Communications Executive of the Greater Sydney Conference and Founder of the Digital Discipleship.
Before we answer the question, what is Digital Discipleship, we must ask, are we on the answering end of the searches taking place online? Are we providing hope in the comment section? Do our videos and websites answer questions? And are our social media accounts making people feel like they’ve found a digital church home?
On average, Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second. 2.5 billion people use either Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook Messenger or the Facebook app. And Youtube processes more than 3 billion searches a month. Digital Discipleship allows us to have a strategic and influential voice in online conversations.
It’s clear we have something to say, but are we putting ourselves out there? And when we do venture to say something, is it being heard?
Disciples in the Age of Gifs and Memes
Digital Discipleship is a movement to make disciples and inspire people to grow in discipleship.
This mission remains the same as the call to discipleship over 2,000 years ago. The objectives haven’t changed, but the environment is noisy.
The audience we are trying to reach is inundated with a fire-hose-sized flow of information. Everyone online is an “expert” with something to say. And all of this is before we factor in on-demand TV like Netflix, Hulu and Stan providing endless entertainment at our fingertips.
When we’re playing with the big boys, and we need to come prepared.
We know that the compelling story of Jesus is necessary and more relevant now than ever before. And while Digital Discipleship allows us to talk to large, targeted groups in unprecedented ways, it’s imperative that we become more savvy in our methods in the online space.
Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me."
Christ’s method is still applicable in the age of memes, gifs, FaceTime and Whatsapp chats, but now we must cut through the noise. We must win the hearts of people in a new environment.
Just as John the Baptist was “a voice of one calling in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord,” we too are calling out preparing the way for Christ’s return.
In order to avoid having our voices drowned out we need to pump up the volume, be more strategic in our call and engage the right people. And we are uniquely positioned to do this through Digital Discipleship.
Digital Discipleship 101
I want you to think of this as your Digital Discipleship primer.
From here, you’ll be able to dig deeper into other subjects and learn how you can get involved, support and even set-up your own Digital Discipleship ministry.
We’ll give you an overview of Digital Discipleship, how it works and lay out a vision of what it can become.
Most importantly, we hope you’ll feel compelled to join the conversation and add your voice to the collective loud cry about the never-ending love of Jesus Christ and His soon return.
How to Join the Conversation
The internet is a huge place.
Imagine it as a large, crowded room with everyone jumping in to have their say. With this picture in mind it’s almost inevitable that our voice could get lost in the noise.
The message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and more broadly Christianity, has spread around the world – taught in marketplaces, shared from friend to friend, preached in churches, whispered about in catacombs and witnessed secretly in homes.
It has been communicated most effectively when spoken to people in their own language.
The Language of the Internet
The internet is like a country with its own language and culture. It may not occupy a geographic space, but it has its own social norms. There are ways to jump into a conversation and be heard and understood.
To start off, there are four levels at which Digital Discipleship can be executed:
We’re going to start by breaking down each area because each one requires a different way of communicating.
Digital Discipleship at Different Levels
The beauty of Digital Discipleship is that it leverages both the size and the intimacy of our church. It’s powerful both when executed at the entity level and when it engages the individual member.
1. DIGITAL DISCIPLESHIP AT A CORPORATE LEVEL
When we speak about the Corporate Level of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we’re talking about the General Conference, Divisions, Unions, and Conferences.
Each have roles they are uniquely positioned to do, such as:
2. DIGITAL DISCIPLESHIP AT A CHURCH LEVEL
The church is the strongest building block of our organisation and through Digital Discipleship there are many opportunities to benefit the church, the members as well as those who are being reached.
The church is uniquely positioned to do many things, such as:
Many individuals feel compelled to start ministries to address specific community needs in service to the church. Because of the targeted focus of these ministries, they are uniquely positioned to participate in the Digital Discipleship ecosystem by:
In traditional media, the big boys can make the most noise – whoever can outspend their competitors is most likely to win.
However, the digital space has become the great equalizer. Individuals within the Digital Discipleship Ecosystem are well positioned to have influential voices in a crowded space! We have seen this time and again as videos go viral, as people share their lives and as they evolve into becoming online “influencers.”
Individuals are uniquely positioned to:
The Digital Discipleship Ecosystem
Throughout the article, the term Digital Discipleship Ecosystem has been referenced several times. One of the most exciting parts of Digital Discipleship is the way it works as a system.
As you saw in the section above, it can work at the corporate level, the church level, as ministries or even as individuals but it’s when the system works as a unit that it’s truly powerful.
The Digital Discipleship Ecosystem is made of content creators, distributors, engagers and curators. To explain the system in context, we’ll reference the parts in conjunction with their levels.
Content Creators are our creatives. They are masterful storytellers, talented artists and skilled graphic designers. They take biblical concepts and stories and provide interpretations and depictions that capture our attention and take us on a journey. And in addition to artistic talents being celebrated in this area of the Digital Discipleship ecosystem, we must also recognize those with technical abilities, such as those who code, create systems and design platforms. Their diligence makes our interaction with information smoother and easier.
Here are some examples of content creators at various levels within our church.
Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule?
It says you should spend 20% of your time creating content and the other 80% of your time promoting that content to make sure it gets seen.
We haven’t done a study lately, but we don’t think that rule has traditionally been applied in church communications and promotions.
Within the Digital Discipleship ecosystem, content has a better chance of getting seen if it’s circulated within the ecosystem.
Content distribution is another way of saying content promotion. In some ways it can be seen as a form of digital door-knocking. And there are many ways to do it.
This stage of the Digital Discipleship Ecosystem is all about the conversations we have online. It’s the keystone in the Digital Discipleship process. What are you saying when you engage in conversations, comment on photos and chat in groups?
Those who have a platform and they gather content to then share it.
As a church, we struggle a bit more within this area of the Digital Discipleship ecosystem. And because we exist in a crowded, noisy space, this area requires more savviness than we’ve often exhibited in the past.
Click here to read the full, original article. Re-posted with permission from digitaldisciples.info.
To learn more about Digital Discipleship and Evangelism, check out our helpful guide.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
In other words, don’t be like Bob and push that button, because you could be limiting your options, wasting your ad dollars, and curtailing your desired results.
It’s tempting. It’s easy. You can push that blue boost button right from your phone, and you imagine that you’re expanding the reach of your post beyond your wildest dreams. Well, you’re not really. Let me explain.
If you’re new to social advertising, boosting a Facebook post is appealing because it’s easy to access and simple to set up. But if you’re on a limited budget and looking to maximize your results within a target audience, boosted posts are not the way to go.
This blog post will discuss why you may end up wasting your precious ad dollars when you boost, the enormous value Facebook Ads offers your ministry through other, more effective campaign objectives and targeting, and the rare situations in which it’s okay to push that boost button.
The Facebook Ads platform is king when it comes to social advertising, and it can be your secret weapon for delivering your message effectively to your target audience. Whether you’re a tiny ministry or a for-profit Fortune 500 company, Facebook’s advertising platform delivers unrivaled value (as of May 2019) in terms of precise targeting, customizable advertising, and affordable buys for any budget. It offers more psycho-demographic information about your audience than any other advertising platform, including but not limited to: interests, behaviors, household income, age, gender, religious or political beliefs, relationship status, occupation, age of children in the home, etc. The possibilities are almost endless. However, the boosting interface (remember that blue boost button?) strips these targeting options down to a minimum and limits your ability to combine and exclude targeting filters.
While boosted posts make advertising easy for the newbie, most of the boost advertising options are purposefully limited. You will not be able to leverage the full power of Facebook Ads targeting with optimized results. Facebook Ads manager offers more than 17 marketing objectives that are not available in the boosting interface. Choosing the right objective for a highly targeted audience produces a winning combination that will stretch your ad dollars while maximizing results. Conversely, boosted posts frequently cast the net too wide for small budgets to create impact among a desired demographic.
To summarize, here are the three reasons to avoided pushing the boost button:
When is it a good idea to click the boost button?
To achieve good results with your social advertising campaigns, you must embrace good advertising practices. That means doing social advertising the right way: through Facebook Business or Ads manager. It is a very user-friendly tool, and the results will make the learning curve worth it. As Christians, this is also embraces good stewardship. We should take the time to learn how to use the tools at our disposal in a way that optimizes the funds we have been blessed with to do God’s work.
To view all of Facebook’s targeting options, check out this useful infographic from Wordstream.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Feel free to adjust to your community needs. Depending on your audience, you may want to consider a more casual tone.
We’re excited that you have decided to join our online small group/discussion forum. To make this a positive and safe environment for all, please consider the following guidelines and recommendations that will help us get the most out of our shared experience.
Appropriate action will be taken when these guidelines are violated. A warning may be given but is not guaranteed; in severe cases, violations can mean removal from the group. Community members should voice concerns and report behavior that violates the guidelines to the administrator via private message. The administrator reserves the right to remove inappropriate comments or content without notice.
By joining this community, you are considered to be in agreement with the terms and conditions listed above.
As the mediator/leader for this online group, I commit to:
For more social media policies and guidelines, click here.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
A model for everyday ministry to real people and how to use social influence for kingdom building as it was demonstrated through the life of Jesus Christ.
During His three-and-a-half-year ministry, He:
Credit: Digital Discipleship in the Seventh-day Adventist Church
modified by Jamie Domm, Digital Strategist for the North American Division
In this model:
Individuals who are seeking to serve as digital missionaries can fulfill all these roles on their own or work within a network of digital missionaries to optimize reach, build community, and share content. By creating an ecosystem of digital missionaries, they can capitalize on each other’s areas of specialty through mutual collaboration and shared social influence. A group of digital missionaries can learn as a group and adapt to changing technologies, increasing their ability to address relevant topics in a timely manner.
Organizations can provide structure for content creation that reflects the official mission and branding of a ministry. An organization should also develop a system for distribution internally and externally, as well as determine ways to tap into the reach potential of its members. Ministries can also set up teams of engagers who work within the brand structure to strengthen the relationships within the church community and/or who are trained to act independently as disciples, developing relationships outside of the Church for the purpose of evangelism. These organizations can also interact within the larger organizational structure of the Church to create a multilayered ecosystem of content creators, distributors, and engagers.
Each organizational level both creates and distributes content through their digital channels: up the chain, down the chain, and to the external audience. Each formal organization should also have a team of engagers to interact with the online community. In terms of the local conference and churches, the role of the engager will need to go beyond the digital space for in-person experiences.
The function of each layer of the Church can be summarized as follows:
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
Four Action Steps to Get Involved in Online Evangelism
You’re on your way to becoming a digital missionary!
This is the final post in a four-part series where we aimed to break down online evangelism.
Now that you’ve gone through what online evangelism is, its importance, and the role each individual can play, learn what you can do today to get involved.
1. Pray and Ask for the Holy Spirit
In Acts 1:8, Jesus Christ promised to give us power through His Holy Spirit so that we could be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. This includes the online world.
Arm yourselves with humility; pray that angels of God may come close to your side to impress the mind; for it is not you that work the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit must work you. It is the Holy Spirit that makes the truth impressive. Keep practical truth ever before the people. – Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 57. (1900)
2. Actively Engage in a Digital Evangelism Project
Be intentional about using your time, energy, and gadgets for soul-winning. Consider the gifts, talents, and resources God gave you and then choose a project. Learn how to start one here.
Here are 10 personal digital mission projects you can start today:
3. Support a Digital Missionary
You can support a digital missionary financially through their Patreon accounts or ask them how you can help their ministry.
Supporting is not limited to financial contributions.
Encourage digital missionaries with your prayers and words of encouragements. Those go a long way in helping to fight daily trials.
If a digital missionary makes a mistake, there are Christ-like ways to deal with the matter instead of condemning criticisms. Also, engaging and sharing a digital missionary’s content helps tremendously.
A supportive role is just as important as an active role.
4. Educate Yourself
Many people exclude themselves from the work of digital evangelism because they feel it’s “too techy” or they don’t know “computer stuff.”
Surprisingly, digital missionaries who have the most impact have little to no background experience. Many did not receive formal training in the area of communication or media.
These individuals were willing to be a part of the Great Commission and then took tangible steps to learn basic skills. Many taught themselves to edit audio and video, use a camera, design graphics, take photographs, and speak in front of a camera.
You can subscribe to The Center for Online Evangelism newsletters, watch how-to videos, attend conferences, take online courses, or attend free webinars. The NAD’s Big Data + Social Media department provides articles, downloadable guides, and training videos as well as a newsletter.
The best part? They’re all free!
Anything that a member needs to become equipped to do this work is already available.
So, What's Stopping You?
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
May it not be said of this generation that we bypassed sledgehammers and chose feathers to crush rocks. Our devices are sledgehammers to break down barriers and show the world Jesus.
Let’s be wise to use our gadgets effectively to accomplish the most in spreading the Gospel and to tell the story of the Seventh-day Adventist movement.
Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things. We must arrest the attention. We must be deadly in earnest. We are on the very verge of times of trouble and perplexities that are scarcely dreamed of. – Letter 20, 1893.
Previous posts in this series:
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
We continue our overview of digital evangelism. If you haven’t already, read part one about the keywords in online evangelism.
Also, read part two where we cover the three main reasons why digital evangelism is very important.
In part three, we review the role that each person and institution play in advancing the mission of online evangelism.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
No doubt, digital evangelism (or digital discipleship) calls for the development of many skills such as writing, editing, design, and creativity. Though certain aptitudes help tremendously with creating content for people online, one may master these skills yet lack power.
We must never underestimate the need for the Holy Spirit.
Without the Holy Spirit, the biggest budget and most detailed strategy will not work in saving souls. A video may be perfectly edited and a blog post may be meticulously written, but without divine power, souls cannot be won.
Our skills, experience, or ads will not convert hearts.
But Jesus promised to give power to His workers when they are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Digital Missionaries must spend more time in prayer asking God for power to bring in a harvest. The Word of God must be constantly consumed. The content we create must flow from the Truth of His Word.
Allow the Holy Spirit to play His part.
The Role of Church Pastors and Leaders
If our ministers realized how soon the inhabitants of the world are to be arraigned before the judgment seat of God, to answer for the deeds done in the body, how earnestly they would work together with God to present the truth! – Letter 43, 1902.
Leaders must, with all diligence, encourage their members to take up their own portion of the Gospel work and do it with the power provided through the Holy Spirit.
If our leaders and pastors show an interest in the mission work being done online, their congregations will also follow suit.
Pastors, you could reach thousands more if you incorporated digital evangelism into your ministry.
Record your sermons and make them available online.
Encourage your department heads to create content that can be published on the web. Ensure that your communication department receives the budget to properly advertise the church’s services and events online.
Create online evangelism training opportunities for members. Make certain that your church has an effective online presence. Your church does not need to be active on all platforms. Choose one and effectively invest resources into that platform until the Spirit opens the way for you to expand your online reach.
By so doing, a church of 100 can grow to include thousands of online members who may not have access to a local Adventist church.
Use every opportunity to motivate your church members to use their devices for a greater purpose. If training is needed, there are workshops, webinars, and online resources available to churches and leaders.
The Role of Educational Institutions
True education is missionary training. Every son and daughter of God is called to be a missionary; we are called to the service of God and our fellow men; and to fit us for this service should be the object of our education.
The work of digital evangelism is specially crafted for today’s youth. Those who oversee their education can do a great deal to ensure that students are properly equipped to serve God online.
Remind students of the greater call on their lives to be missionaries in their career fields. Teach them to look beyond the temporal returns of a salary and promotion, toward a more glorious reward; the saving of souls. Instructors can wisely use their position to admonish students to be Godly influencers in their online circles.
Adventist schools have an opportunity like no other institution to help students untangle themselves from time-wasting habits and engage in intentional digital discipleship.
The Role of Parents
Parents are putting powerful tools in the hands of toddlers and children. Tablets and iPhones are fast becoming the gift of choice for teens. This generation does not know life without the internet, social media, iPads, and cellphones.
If youth are able to have their own device, they are also able to do online evangelism according to their ability. Parents and guardians can inspire their children to use their gadgets to positively influence their friends.
Instead of discouraging the use of social media, show your young ones how a noble use of their online powers can bring joy to their heavenly Father.
In an age of cyberbullying and suicide among teens, Adventist youth trained in online evangelism can help bring hope to other young people online.
The Responsibility of Every Disciple
The disciples were to teach what Christ had taught. That which He had spoken, not only in person, but through all the prophets and teachers of the Old Testament, is here included. - The Desire of Ages, p. 826.
Church members are disciples of Jesus. Disciples are continuously on the move, following Christ and calling other people to live as He did. They are actively engaged in or supporting mission work.
The online world is languishing because we are not doing enough individually as members and collectively as a church. You and I will be held responsible for not using every means necessary to share the Gospel with our relatives, neighbors, and friends.
Members must move on from the erroneous belief that evangelism is an event that is organized by specific individuals in the church. Evangelism is like a living portrait; every member of the local church must intentionally work in his colors so that each church can show a beautiful depiction of the Gospel.
As a member of the body of Christ, the Lord blessed you with an exceptionally precious truth for this time. With a sense of urgency, make decided steps today to be more diligent in online work.
Read part 4, where we explore practical steps you can take today to be a part of online evangelism.
Previous posts in this series:
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
Why is Online Evangelism Important?
In part 1 of the series, we covered the basics of online evangelism – what it is and some common key terms.
Now, we’re reviewing three main reasons why this branch of evangelism is critical, especially in the digital era.
Reason 1: We Need to Change the Online Story.
You can probably think of someone who researches Seventh-day Adventists online, only to conclude that we are a “cult” and follow the teachings of a “false prophet” more than the teaching of the Bible.
Why do so many people believe this? Because of negative content widely available on the internet.
60% of visitors stop attending evangelistic series because they, or someone they know, came across websites or videos that painted Adventism in a different light.
Online evangelism helps ensure that when people search for us online, they find credible websites about our church, beliefs, educational institutions, hospitals, and ministries.
Reason 2: We Need to Save More Souls.
So many people are living and dying without hope in Jesus.
Think of your relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or classmates; have they all heard the Gospel? What about the people at your local grocery store or bank; are they saved? There are many of them who have yet to have their sins forgiven by Christ.
At the Second Coming, only those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior will be saved.
Homeowners are no longer opening their doors to canvassers as they used to and handbill invitations to attend church seem to go unnoticed. However, a video on YouTube or a blog post might be the key to pointing a friend or relative to Jesus. Online evangelism increases the likelihood of them coming across an opportunity to have a personal relationship with Jesus, thereby more people can be saved.
Reason 3: We Need to Be Relevant.
While the Gospel message never changes, how we deliver that message will change.
Today, no one would advocate traveling on horseback from state to state to preach the Gospel. This method was most effective during an era where a messenger traveled as fast as the fastest horse. Today, cars, trains, and planes have provided more effective ways to travel.
If we wish to remain relevant and effective in carrying out the Great Commission, we must learn how to use the platforms that will get us in touch with the masses.
Today’s evangelistic efforts must be appropriate to the current time, period, and circumstances.
Why Are We So Far Behind?
Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and hare gives an idea of why we are lagging behind when it comes to using the most revolutionary methods to share the Gospel. It seems we, as a church, became very comfortable with the progress we were making and mistakenly assumed that we could slow down. But in resting, we became lukewarm, not only in our own spiritual growth but in our efforts to win souls.
Also, we hesitated to accept emerging technology and failed to see how these new digital means of communication could be used for a higher, nobler purpose.
We are far behind in online evangelism because we are constantly shifting the mission responsibility to someone else instead of recognizing our own personal role to help finish the work. We’re playing Holy Volleyball; instead of dropping the ball, we’re getting worked up tossing it on the other side. Members toss the ball to leaders, leaders toss it to workers, workers toss it back to members, and so it continues.
But all hope is not lost.
Online Evangelism Is Growing.
As Seventh-day Adventists begin to see the significance of online evangelism, members are jumping at opportunities to become online missionaries. Today, digital disciples like Greg Serada, Mark Fox, Justin Khoe, and Dustin Pestlin are collectively accumulating millions of views on YouTubers. Jasper Ivan Iturriaga impacts the online world through stunning photography. Taj Pacleb and Kenisha Simms produce beautiful devotional videos. Santiago Nuñez creates inspiring graphics, Aleksandar Popovski uses his creativity, Kaleb Eisele shares our collective stories and builds community, Alistair Huong manages a hub for online sermons, and the Aus Table Talk team and other podcasters address relevant issues through their podcast. These are only a few among many others who are using their talents in the digital space for evangelism.
And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all (Acts 4:33 NIV).
The Clarion Call
Now, there is a clarion call to every member, worker, and leader to either be directly involved in online evangelism or to support digital missionaries. We must stay up to date with the times so that we can utilize all avenues possible to preach the Gospel and Three Angels Message to the ends of the world. We can no longer afford to remain on the sidelines of evangelism.
In part three, we'll explore the role each person can play in online evangelism. Click here for more resources on Digital Evangelism and Discipleship.
Previous post in this series:
We’re one day closer to the return of Jesus Christ! Now as awe-inspiring as that is, it also evokes a lot of thought about how many people have yet to know Him personally.
Online evangelism is one method that is proving to be very effective in pointing more people to the Savior. This series of articles will explore what online evangelism is, why it’s important and how you can get involved.
There are other key players to help us understand online missions. Check out this series by Jamie Domm from the North American Division and this descriptive blog post by Rachel Lemons-Aitkens from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia.
Also, we made this series available for download. Scroll down to the end and download the entire presentation for FREE!
Now let’s jump right in!
What is Online Evangelism?
Online evangelism is the systematic and intentional use of internet platforms to spread the Gospel to the online population. The goal is to introduce people to Christ and then connect them to a church family.
You may see the terms digital evangelism and online evangelism being used interchangeably. Both cover various evangelism strategies that require the use of the internet, cell phones, laptops, video cameras, and other modern technologies. Click here to see how these and other digital missionary terms are defined.
Traditional Methods Not to Be Replaced
It is important to note, digital evangelism should be incorporated with traditional forms of evangelism – it does not replace traditional methods such as canvassing, tent meetings, or distribution of tracts. Gospel workers should survey their field and use the methods that would be most effective.
Is Digital Discipleship Different?
Another term you may come across is digital discipleship. It is “a movement to make disciples and inspire people to grow in discipleship.” Rachel Lemons-Aitkens explains three categories of digital disciples; content creators, content distributors, and content engagers.
So whether you say online evangelism, digital evangelism, or digital discipleship, all of the terms involves working with people online (directly or indirectly) to propel them toward a strong relationship with Jesus Christ and bring them into a community of faith.
Key Terms in Online Evangelism
Digital Marketing incorporates strategies such as content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), online ads, social media strategies, and other online methods to help churches and ministries rank higher in search results. That way, thousands more are blessed.
It is imperative to understand that online mission work must incorporate some form of digital marketing. For example, you may have an online Bible study group (your mission work) but you can get more people to join the study by running Facebook ads, creating social media graphics, or optimizing your website.
Content marketing refers to the production and distribution of online material that elicits interest in church or ministry services, rather than direct publicizing and promotion. Materials can be blogs, videos, podcasts, or graphics.
Search Engine Optimization
Proper SEO goes a long way to ensure that websites showcasing our churches and other institutions are found by online seekers. Without SEO, quality information about Adventists remains hidden away online. Learn more and download our SEO Guidebook.
Online ads (e.g. Facebook or Google ads) reach far more people than any other form of advertising. Churches can launch Facebook ad campaigns to promote evangelistic campaigns, community events, or any other program being hosted by the church. Ministries can recruit more supporters and get more donors through digital ads.
The truth will be made so prominent that he who runs may read. Means will be devised to reach hearts. Some of the methods used in this work will be different from the methods used in the work in the past; but let no one, because of this, block the way by criticism.– Review and Herald, Sept. 30, 1902.
In part two, we will further explore why digital evangelism is desperately needed. Click here for more resources on Digital Evangelism and Discipleship.
CONTENT MARKETING—Creating, Optimizing, and Distributing Content to Engage Your Audience and Improve SEO
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
If you’ve been following this series and applying the techniques and tools we’ve covered, you’ve researched keywords to get an understanding of what topics are relevant to your target audience and match their search behavior. You’ve looked at what could be considered competition and found opportunities in a few niche topics that relate to your ministry. Ideally, you’ve made topic outlines and are ready to start creating!
While we’ve mentioned a lot about writing, “content” is more than just text. Content can refer to any form of information aimed at an audience.
When it comes to digital marketing, content is made to inform, to educate, and to entertain—all for the ultimate purpose of attracting and nurturing a loyal audience that promotes your organization’s cause or buys your products.
Furthermore, content marketing is effective because it allows brands to build awareness and even recruit a following before trying to sell a product or soliciting an action! The currency of content marketing is ACT—Authority, Credibility, and Trustworthiness (though we should also add “Empathy” to this list, especially when dealing with spiritual topics and life lessons).
Once your messaging is established, focus on the delivery. Use multiple forms of content to maximize your organization’s ability to get picked up by Google’s search algorithms, as well as further engage your audience. Keep in mind that certain forms of content will perform better with some audiences than others. By diversifying your content creation strategy, you optimize your reach and increase your ability to have an impact across a variety of demographics.
Here are the four major components that work together in a comprehensive content creation process:
Most popular types of online content
The written word is foundational for any type of content, and, therefore, this is where we must begin. Ideas are written down first—whether in the form of notes, scripts, or outlines—before they’re turned into anything else. In addition, written content almost always accompanies and supports the other content types. Consequently, when you set your content marketing goals, you’ll want to prioritize quality writing.
Keep in mind, however, that good writing in an academic sense is not the same as what’s considered good content writing or copywriting. Writing for digital environments is much more straightforward, casual, conversational, and concise.
The most common forms of written content online are:
One-third of all online activity is spent watching video. This isn’t surprising. People have always been visual creatures, and online video continues to be a popular way to consume content--for all ages!
Video is a great enhancer, as well. Have you noticed that when you click on a news story, the page often has both the written article as well as the video from the newscast? Not only does it offer two different options for content consumption, it also adds a perception of depth and authority to the story.
Video content is particularly ideal for educational content, especially “how-to” tutorials. Demonstrations, interviews, time-lapses...some things are just better presented via video.
The increase in mobile device usage has made video more popular as well. With a smaller screen, it’s easier and faster to watch videos than to read text.
When it comes to YouTube, this platform has created its own niche of search engine optimization. YouTube’s search algorithms rely heavily on keywords, titles, tags, thumbnail images, and microcontent such as video descriptions and channel descriptions.
YouTube also measures “watch time,” or how long a viewer watches before clicking away or going back to search results. The more of a video that gets watched, the better that video must be, so YouTube ranks it higher in its search results. Longer videos, especially if frequently watched until the end, get even more of a boost (outside of YouTube, however, it is still generally recommended to keep videos short, around 3-5 minutes or less).
This is when longer videos are always acceptable, regardless of platform. Livestreaming your events, whether on Facebook Live or your website, can widen your audience, further engage your existing audience, and even provide an archived piece of evergreen content that can later be repurposed. This is great for church services, special performances, programs at a school or university, conference sessions, and more.
When it comes to SEO, livestreams can have a sizeable effect. Facebook announced that its ranking algorithm favors live videos in its searches. YouTube promotes YouTube Live videos. And even if your organization’s livestreams are hosted off-site, it’s another link to your content that could show up in search results—especially if you’re live often!
Taking video up another notch, webinars are exclusive live educational presentations. Like its name suggests, it’s a seminar broadcast over the web using tools such as GoToMeeting, Zoom, or Lifesize. Participants are typically invited to webinars and provided with a private link.
While the webinar itself would not be indexed by search engines, its power to engage audiences boosts SEO through lead generation and by increasing activity, trust, and loyalty to your organization. This is ideal for organizations that can use their niche to teach useful information, provide background on a popular issue, or facilitate live online discussions.
While the right pictures can elicit emotion, the right designs can inspire action and highlight strategic details. Careful planning is necessary to make sure the chosen images indeed emphasize the intended emotion, that it’s clear what’s happening in the picture, and that it looks genuine, as opposed to a cliché corporate stock photo.
Stock photography isn’t always bad if it’s carefully selected. And it’s easy to find free stock images at pixabay, pexels, unsplash and free-images.com. Click here for more free or low-cost stock photography and design resources.
For websites, hero images continue to be trending (large image that dominates the top area of a website). These pictures must be high enough resolution to avoid appearing pixelated (approx. 1600 pixels wide), but low enough resolution to keep from slowing down the site’s load time.
For images that appear on your website that are not hero images, stick to file sizes under 250 kilobytes if possible. (Learn more about image best practices for church websites.)
Certain images also go viral as memes, or pictures familiar to a specific audience and overlayed with block text, that use an adaptable but repeated theme to say something funny, inspiring, or even to evoke sadness or outrage. A fitting meme every now and then can boost engagement on your blog or social media content—but be careful not to overuse them.
For each image you use on your website or blog, make sure to apply ALT text to its code, which is indexed by search engines to determine what the picture is about. It also acts as text that can be read by screen readers to tell visually-impaired internet users what pictures are on a page.
When explaining a process in text, an accompanying visual is a must.
If, when talking about your topic, you find yourself saying, “here, let me show you…” or “why don’t I just draw this out,” an infographic would probably come in handy.
Designers and writers must work closely to create an infographic with a clear direction so the eye knows what to read first and where to go next.
Infographics illustrate each step of a process (each bullet point) and include short and straightforward text to accompany the imagery—making complicated information easier to understand.
If you’re short a graphic designer, some free tools like Canva can help you create simple infographics, adding a splash of color to your page, post, or feed, as well as informing and engaging your audience in a creative way.
As the above infographic explains, infographics don’t just make your page more pleasant to look at—people actually google for infographics on certain topics. They’re also shared frequently on social media.
Audio content can include interviews, sermons, vocal essays, monologues, presentations, seminars, etc. Podcasts can be featured on your website or uploaded to iTunes so users can subscribe (even if you’re already hosting through a provider such as SoundCloud, Blubrry, Google Drive, or archive.org). These simple audio files make for a highly shareable piece of content people can listen to while driving, walking, exercising, or cleaning their garage.
Having podcasts with your organization’s name, or even a prominent personality associated with your organization, can do wonders for brand awareness, which ultimately benefits overall SEO.
Interactive content (quizzes, polls, calculators, etc.)
This requires audience participation, making for a more memorable interaction with your organization.
You’ve probably seen various character quizzes on Facebook or Twitter, which are highly shareable because, to the audience, it feels like they’re sharing information about them, not about the organization that designed the quiz.
Interactive content that strives to be more helpful or practical might be assessment-type quizzes, calculators, interactive graphs or charts, or polls and surveys. They can also help you with demographic info-gathering for your organization’s strategic planning.
And anything that deepens engagement also boosts SEO! It’s always beneficial to keep people on your website longer.
There are several tools to help you create interactive content, such as qzzr, SurveyMonkey, Doodle, Vizia, and more.
This type of content can be important for supporting what Google refers to as an organization’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness), while also providing yet another way for your audience to consume your content. If your organization is qualified to teach even a simple skill that has value in your audience’s life, creating courses can bolster your content marketing and SEO, and become an additional product you offer.
Beginning Content Strategy Worksheet
Filling out this structural worksheet can guide your brainstorming process and help you solidify your content strategy.
Principal and designer for Types & Symbols.
The Conflict Beautiful was a crowdfunding project to create a new, heirloom-quality, NKJV edition of Ellen G. White’s Conflict of the Ages series. We reached our $144,000 funding goal on November 15, with a total of $153,330 in pledges, and since then we’ve been managing fulfillment logistics, overseeing editorial changes, refining design details, and working with the printer. It has been a tremendous joy for us to be able to work on this project, and we are humbled that so many people supported it. We’re humbled even further that, in spite of our inexperience with raising money, we were able to meet such a high goal.
This was our very first crowdfunding campaign as a studio, and the first time any of us had worked to raise this much money. While we went into it with a strategy and certain amount of preparation, we learned a lot throughout the process that we’d like to share.
Our primary strategy was to design something so beautiful and meaningful that it could sell itself. While we didn’t necessarily expect the project to go viral within Adventist circles, we did think it might be possible, and that if the project was worth doing at all, it would be because it was exciting to enough people, and not just ourselves.
And by enough people, we mean about 1,000 people. The minimum print run required to get these printed at the quality we wanted was 1,000 sets, and it seemed to us that it was possible that there were at least 1,000 other Adventists who both appreciated these books and appreciated good design. If we could just find that many people willing to order a single set, we would reach our goal.
We should note here, for those unfamiliar with Types & Symbols, that we are a design studio dedicated to creating beautiful Adventist experiences for the church and its members. We often work with clients to help them establish brand identities, design websites, design publications, or produce promotional material for marketing campaigns. In most of those cases, we are working with established audiences, or helping fulfill a larger marketing strategy developed by an internal team. We are professional designers, not (yet) marketers, so we had very little direct experience with promoting a project of this scale.
With that said, we knew we would need much more than just a beautifully designed project, so before launching the campaign, we got in touch with a number of Adventist leaders to get their input and feedback. We also knew that we needed to launch with some kind of existing base, so we also started to build a mailing list in the months and weeks before launch, through purchasing print and digital ads, and exhibiting at events. In meeting with people, both leaders and lay-people, we heard a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, and it buoyed our hopes that this project might come to life.
Finally, once the campaign was live, we knew that we would need to continue building awareness, so we also prepared various design and video materials so that we could maintain a steady stream of promotional posts throughout the campaign.
And then we launched the project.
Except for the concern around money, we realized that we could have, and still had the opportunity, to provide greater clarity about why this edition was unique, how it wouldn’t exist without pledges made in advance, and how to go through the process of pledging itself.
In response to the slowing growth, and some of the reasons we were hearing, we got more more advice and began tweaking our approach. We adjusted our promotional messaging, updated the campaign page for clarity, and added in a few higher level pledge options. And we prayed, a lot.
As it turned out, we ended up receiving a significant amount of our pledges from the higher-level pledge amounts, contributed by a small group of very generous individuals. That, paired with an increase in single-set pledges during the final few days, allowed us to reach our goal, and what a relief and encouragement that was!
What we learned:
1. Crowdfunding is not commonly understood
We knew that not everyone would be familiar with Kickstarter, but we had assumed there would be enough familiarity with the concept of crowdfunding. Because of this, we didn’t make a point of clearly explaining how it worked—preferring instead to make posts the focused on the value of the project. After speaking with people, we realized that we certainly should have provided more education about how Kickstarter worked. We spoke with a lot of people who had heard about the project, or seen the video, and quite a few of them said things to the effect of “I’d love to get a set once they’re available!” We would then explain that they might never be available unless people preorder. A lot of our early ads, both print and digital, had been subtle and minimal, with aspirational messaging like “coming soon”, and at the end our messaging started to approach more desperate and overt, like “coming never!—unless you go to Kickstarter and make a pledge/pre-order right now!!!”
2. There is no silver bullet
Another thing we learned, or, better stated, was reinforced for us, is that reaching a broad swath of Adventists is very difficult to do. While a number of publications have a wide reach, there are so many things competing for people’s attention, even within the Adventist Church, that it is really easy for people to ignore all of them.
We ran print ads, social media ads, exhibited at events, were interviewed for different publications, had other organizations share the project on their own feeds, and in total these were all the different entities that included some mention of the project:
We completed the campaign with 419 backers, with many backers choosing to back more than one set. The total number of sets purchased through Kickstarter was 880.
Ultimately though, a significant percentage of our funding was the result of personal connections, and the personal connections of those personal connections. This doesn’t necessarily suggest to us that we should invest less in advertising with the above entities for future projects (multiple exposures are always valuable), but perhaps that we should invest more in developing and cultivating these smaller, more passionate audiences.
3. Building an Audience is key
Related to the above, we realized that could have done a better job at building an audience ahead of time. As a studio, we’re not actually very active on social media, and we don’t currently produce much content, so when it came time to reach out to our existing audience of followers, we didn’t really have an audience. In creating this project, we’ve certainly built one. Our mailing list gained nearly 800 subscribers which we’ll be able to reach out to in the future (and helps get us close to 1,000 true fans). We’re also thinking about ways to provide more ongoing value so that, when it comes time to launch another project, there is even more familiarity with our studio, the quality of work that we do, and what we value.
4. Timing matters
We realized partway through the campaign that we could have benefitted from launching at a less fraught time. This is more of a suspicion than anything we can measure, but we launched our project around the same time that a lot of concern was starting to be felt in North America (our target market) around conversations at GC Annual Council as well as NAD YEM. The news cycle during this time moved a bit more quickly than it tends to at other times during the year, and we realized that write-ups and links about our project were getting buried pretty quickly. For a marketing campaign that relies on more traditional forms of media, paying attention to the news cycle is important.
What we will do differently on the next project:
Something we learned from our discussions with people who have engaged in fundraising before is that it is valuable to build in commitments before launching, so that we launch with a certain amount already promised, or ‘in the bucket’. It’s possible that having such a large goal as we did caused some individuals to think that it wasn’t worth pledging because it seemed like such an impossible goal for them to make a difference to.
On that note, we arrived at the figure of $144,000 because it was close to what we needed to cover the cost of production, and it seemed like a fun detail, even though it involved rounding down a bit. A lot of people who saw the project also thought it was fun, but we also heard a lot of questions like “but how much do you actually need?”, so in the future we’ll pick less clever numbers, and try to be more explicit about why we need whatever amount we need.
Another thing we would do differently for future projects is adjusting how we handle the crowdfunding. Some of the major benefits of Kickstarter (discoverability) don’t matter as much for the nature of the products that we create, or for the audience that we create them for. Furthermore, we discovered after committing to Kickstarter that their options for calculating and handling international shipping were very limited, which in effect reduced the reach of our project.
Finally, there were a small number of individuals who’s advice and support had a disproportionate impact on the success of the project, and for our next project we will get them involved much, much sooner.
What’s next for Types & Symbols?
We have a lot of ideas for future projects, but for the meantime we’re staying focused on finishing up work on The Conflict Beautiful and serving our existing clients. If you didn’t have a chance to back the project, we’re still accepting preorders for the full set at theconflictbeautiful.com.