Is your church putting out the Digital Welcome Mat?

By Shannon W. Martin

One of the biggest turnoffs for Millennials seeking a church is an outdated digital presence, according to the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. First time visitors are more likely to investigate you online prior to walking through the doors of your church. So, what does your digital welcome mat look like?

We sat down with technology aficionado the Rev. David Dorn, Lead Pastor of Contemporary Worship at Marvin UMC in Tyler, Texas to talk about how to use technology to attract younger guests. While in seminary, Dorn founded The Pursuit Blog and the Preposterous Project  on YouTube where he has accrued over a million views. 

Q: There are many ways the church can create awareness in their community to bring younger people through their door. What are a few of your favorite ideas?

A: Believe it or not, before a potential member ever attends a church service in person, they are going to check you out online. So, it is critical that your church has a few digital welcome mats in place.

1.The first is a solid website. This is the first place a first-time visitor will go to visit your church, hear your sermon, and see what the culture of your church is like.

2.The second is social media. Facebook and/or Instagram are great choices.

3.The third is to be sure you are offering video or audio of your service as a live-stream, on-demand, or podcasting.

Q: If a church does not have a website, what advice would you give them?

A: Your website is going to be one of your best tools for reaching new members, but it is also for your members. So, the first thing you need to do when building a website is to define your audience.

If the website is for first time visitors, you will want to include the church address, an email and phone number, service times, vibrant pictures of your service, and videos. Videos are important because first time visitors will watch your service before they ever show up.

If the website is going to also be for members, you want to include all of the events, age ministries, and make sure big themes are front and center like Back-to-School, VBS, Lent, and Christmas. And make sure the most frequently visited areas of your website are always updated regularly.

Q: How are we doing as the church using tools like social media as an evangelism tool?

A: We are getting there. The church is finally starting to catch up with the business world in using social media. We still need to talk about what the balancing act is to meet people where they are without adding to the rest of the noise that is out there.

Q: What are younger people craving on social media?

A: Authenticity above all else. You can have all the theology in the world, but if your social media is not meeting people’s needs and what they are going through then you are missing a ministry opportunity.

The younger generation in particular wants to see an authentic church. That means saying we don’t always have things right, sometimes we screw up. I think Gen Z in particular can sniff out when we are being real or not. A church can be as slick as they can be and have all the right looks, but if you ae not real then it does not work.

Q: How are you using social media to attract more people to your service?

A: One creative technique we use is to create a culture of sharing. During my announcement time each week, I ask our members to take their phones out and check in on Facebook. This way their friends and family know where they worshipped. This is an easy way to raise awareness of people most likely to attend — the friends of people who already attend your church.

Q: What are some of the tools we can use to get new people in the doors?

Potential members are always going to check out videos of your service before they ever attend. They are also going to check out your social media, so you need to have someone in your church who is responsible for creating content. It needs to be well curated content – don’t just create a lot of content for the sake of content. Be strategic in what you are trying to do. But know that before they have ever stepped foot on your campus, they know everything about your church.

If you are not recording your audio sermons, this is a good time to begin. People will forgive bad quality video, but they will not forgive bad quality audio because they need to hear! For example, a really good practice, would be to set up a video camera in the back of the room and let the on-board audio pick up the sound from the back of the room. For good quality audio, you want to plug into the sound board or just stream the service via Facebook live from a tripod. We get lots of views on our live stream from our members and potential members. If you begin recording your sermons, make sure you are doing it consistently, the numbers will go up and down.

Q: How can churches use QR codes to connect print with mobile media in the church?

A: We see these unique 2D barcodes everywhere now. QR codes connect print content to mobile media by just hovering your phone camera over the QR code. Our church uses QR codes in the bulletin every week because we have way more announcements than we can fit, so people just click the QR code with their camera phone and they will be taken to your website where the information is hosted. We only highlight five announcements in our bulletin, the rest of our announcements are done via QR code. You can kill people with announcements.

Q: As our audiences get more tech savvy, do you think this technology trend is going to continue?

A; I think we are going to have to stay diversified in our messaging with digital and well-done newsletters being mailed into the home. There is a risk of leaning wholly into digital that we just become part of the noise. Especially if there is a lot of information that your church needs to communicate. I don’t think digital content is going away, but we can’t have all of our events on social media – it’s important to diversify our messaging.

Q: So, all this sounds great, but church staffs are busy. Who is going to do all of this work?

A: If the pastor is not savvy enough to do this, then find a young person who is, and you can’t throw a rock without finding a young person who is tech savvy. There are some basic tools graphics tools that can help you communicate digitally, I use Canva, it allows you to be able to tell digital stories really well.

I will take small quotes out of my sermons and use Canva to design a graphic for social media to promote my sermon ahead of time. It’s a great tool and it takes ten minutes a day to design a graphic.

For some people social media is super scary, don’t be scared. It’s another tool to be used to reach people. If you don’t know how to use any of the digital tools we have talked about today, cast a vision in your church. There is a member in your church who has these gifts and talents that would like to do this for you – just ask!

Q: How do we balance all of this techie fun without forgetting to tell people about the gospel.

The gospel was written and shared with the most technologically advanced means of the first century so I think it is very much in tune with the early church to use the best communications tools possible in order to spread the good news. The question we need to ask is, are we promoting Jesus or is this just making yourself look good?

We need to be in the business of promoting Jesus.