Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist, Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
People search online for answers to their problems. What better place for the Church to share its message of hope and wholeness?
Our message is the gospel. It’s the role of creatives to package it in ways that connect with our audiences by using the platforms, tools, language, and media that are culturally relevant and accessible to them. Today, that means presenting the gospel message and teachings of Jesus via various digital friendly formats such as video, blogs, images, podcasts, etc. Remember, good communication is when you communicate in a way your audience understands. That requires adaption, whether it’s the physical mission field or the digital one.
Content As Mission: Think Differently
Before we get into the practical application of content creation, I want to challenge the status quo for a moment. Only 20% of Americans regularly attend church, and only 2 in 10 millennials consider regular church attendance important. What if your digital content is the only exposure to the gospel a person receives? How important it is, then, to post consistently! The predominant way the Church uses digital communications currently is to promote events. Promoting events is okay, and we should continue doing that as part of a comprehensive communication strategy. However, we can and should go beyond promoting events to create content that is meaningful and relevant to people’s daily lives and challenges. After all, our message is the gospel, not “Come to our next event!”
The truth is, some people may never come to church, but we can still touch their lives. How would you witness if your local church service, events, and Bible studies did not exist? What would you want your community to know about Jesus? We’re called to preach the gospel, especially to those outside the church body. What ways can you accomplish that? Strategize, find solutions, and fulfill them intentionally.
Put Jesus/God on Display
The life, character, and gift of Jesus Christ should be on display in your digital content and interactions. Jesus came not to uplift Himself, but to reveal an accurate picture of God’s character. It’s not about how many followers you have on your digital platforms, but how people can and do discover Jesus through you. It’s about portraying the truth of God’s character in all aspects of our lives, including in the digital space.
Jesus sought first to fulfill people’s needs; He then invited them to follow.
We’ve been going about digital missions backwards. We’re spending most of our time and energy promoting events, resources, or products, when we should be ministering first to the needs of our community, just like Jesus demonstrated.
During His three-and-a-half-year ministry, Jesus:
Christianity is a Lifestyle
Creatives can use their talents online to encourage Christian lifestyles in their community. When asked:
“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31, ESV).
True Christianity is about helping those in need and seeking ways to elevate the well-being of others, all while reflecting the character of Christ. One way to do that is to create sharable content. But what is shareable content? In other words, what kind of online content do people tend to interact with and share with their friends? What makes content relevant or worthy of sharing?
Hootsuite reported on an extensive study conducted by the New York Times to uncover the top reasons people share content online.
The top five reasons why people share online are:
The number one reason people share content is that they feel it will improve the lives of their followers/friends. Amazingly, this is a core Christian value and could be developed in coordination with digital media for the gospel message. As digital evangelists and disciples, it’s an essential part of our mission to share and create content that will uplift, help, and/or improve the lives of your audience (and their audiences). Eighty-four percent of participants in the NYT study also said that they share information “because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about” (New York Times), which directly relates to the first reason. Think about how your mission aligns with the core values of your target audience and create content that supports these values. In fact, the Church should be the clear leader in using its digital influence to create media content that improves the lives of others and advocates for meaningful causes.
Sharing content online is also a means by which many maintain and create relationships. This is an incentive for us to create content that helps foster connections between members of our community, our brand, and Christ. Encourage engagement and conversation as much as possible. Additionally, people use their social influence to help create an “idealized online persona” of themselves. Evaluate your audience’s interests and develop content that fits with their goals or identity. Ask: “How can our organization’s content demonstrate what it means to be a follower of Christ?” or, “How can our ministry’s content create value for those already invested in supporting our mission and interested in becoming more involved in our community?”
Finally, the same research found that “consumers enjoy content more when they share it, and that they enjoy content more when it is shared with them.” When we create audience-focused content that facilitates this sense of positive community and interactions, we can help encourage our audience’s natural desire to share our content for perceived personal and social value.
These five key motivations clearly show that your audience’s main reasons for sharing are their relationships with other people—not your brand. Keep this in mind as you continue creating and sharing audience-focused content.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a solid message that can easily meet the top motivations for sharing content online, but presentation is everything. It’s up to content creators to package our messages so that they clearly align with the type of content people want to share. The tools and technologies will continue to change, but people and their deepest desires and motivations generally remain the same.
Empathy: Think Like a Seeker
Always remember: empathy first. Put yourself in a prospective visitor/viewer/engager’s place and seek to understand their needs and/or experience. Figure out what their barriers to entry or barriers to faith are, and try to diminish or address them through the content you create, services you provide, and the relationships you build. Create an online space for community, love, support, and understanding through your content.
When creating, consider who might engage with your media.
Our goal as content creators is to reveal who God really is in a world that often views God, or religion in general, as vindictive, cruel, and uncaring.
Don’t just create content for content’s sake. Consider:
How will your audience change as a result of your [article/letter/post/video]? —Seth Godin, marketing guru
Or, more directly applicable to our mission, ask:
How will their attitude and perceptions of God change because of your [article/letter/post/video]?