#Channels: Intro

Westminster

Old houses mean old pipes. We had to have work done on our house’s plumbing recently. A pipe had cracked from the weight of the foundation settling on it, so the plumber had to dig under the house.

He ran into two problems in the midst of his efforts: the first of which was roots. The shovels could only go so far before hitting another huge root, so they needed a reciprocating saw to cut through it to keep digging. The second was the foundation of the house itself; there wasn’t enough space between the old, unbroken pipe and the concrete slab to fit the new coupling on. The resulting need was to use a pneumatic chisel to create space for the new piece.

Two things we can note from this story: new pipes are better than old pipes, and the right tools can make any job much easier. Pastors themselves spend most of their office hours studying commentaries and other resources; office managers command efficiency with spreadsheets, printers, and accountability routines. Communicating well in a digital culture is no different. Apart from computers, cameras, programs, lenses, lights, tripods, etc. there are channels that are needed to distribute anything we create.

The Channels

That’s where the Channels comes in. Our hope is to show you what avenues are available for your church to communicate internally and to the community around it. There are eight times more ways to share information now than there were thirty years ago, but not all of them are relevant or necessarily useful. We’ll cover the fifteen listed below, their primary uses, strengths, and weaknesses within church ministry, as well as a few honorable mentions afterward.

  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • SMS
  • Sunday Service
  • Direct Mail
  • Print
  • SEM
  • Website
  • Video
  • Blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Social Media Advertising
  • Voice Calls
  • Word of Mouth

The Main Point

In the same way that a hub supports the spokes on a bicycle tire, a driving idea will keep these basics in place. These are just Channels, just branches, but the message and mission of the Church is the center that holds everything together. Put in another way: digital media channels are useless without something to say. This reality makes it crucial for individual churches to process how they articulate their identity. Every church will have some mission statement that reflects the Great Commission; by virtue of their leadership and denomination; they have core values; and some even have a clear picture of what the Lord has called their church to be five years from now. These channels communicate substance and culture by their very nature, so churches have to be up front and intentional about what kind of culture they have and the kind they want to create.

“This is how local churches can help their people: by reminding them of covenant life wherever they are, whether it be Facebook, their e-mail accounts, their mailbox, or Youtube.”

Culture-making seems fadish and trendy, but there’s some ancient wisdom to be found in the idea of saturating every day life with gospel truths. Take this passage from Deuteronomy 6: You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (7-9 ESV)

The underlying goal is that wherever God’s people turned, they would be forced to consider God’s word. This is how local churches can help their people: by reminding them of covenant life wherever they are. This can be on Facebook, in their e-mail inboxes, in their actual mailboxes, or on Youtube. Sundays are absolutely essential, but they don’t have to be alone; the same message that’s preached on Sunday can be reformatted and injected into people’s daily lives by church leaders utilizing these different opportunities.

We look forward to sharing this living, breathing guide to the Church’s use of digital media.

View the rest in our #Channels series here.

#Channels: E-Mail

Email marketing is one of the most ubiquitous digital platforms. There are approximately 3.7 billion email users worldwide, and that number is expected to continue growing.1 Stated as a percentage, 92% of online adults have an email account, and most use it daily.There are also 205 billion e-mails sent everyday.3 The big takeaway is that there is a communication channel that your people are already using; they don’t have to sign up for it, it’s personal, and they check it almost daily.

Everyone knows the basics of e-mail communication on a personal level, but the playing field changes slightly once it becomes organizational or commercial. Organizations have to get permission to e-mail individuals; this is why so many companies and churches have “opt-in” forms on their websites. Mass e-mail services, like Mailchimp and Constant Contact, even require permission verification for each contact added to a mailing list. This prevents users from being spammed by companies and groups they’re not interested in.

The main benefit to using a mass e-mail provider is this: analytics. E-mailing everyone you know BCC with the latest calendar update leaves you flying blind, but those bigger platforms were made for this and can give excellent insights into how your e-mail performed. The most useful pieces of data are opens, bounces, and clicks. Opens show how many people interacted with your e-mail; bounces show how many never made it to the inbox; and clicks refer to the activity around any links found in the content of the e-mail itself.

Golden Rule: Do Not Spam. Your subscribers have trusted you with direct contact information, and spamming is a surefire way they remove themselves from your list and never sign up for it again.

For Churches:

E-mail should be a regular part of your communication strategy, and one of the first three you tackle. It’s a great way to communicate all sorts of content directly to your congregation. Some e-mail platforms allows for graphics, but several media voices advocate using just plain text e-mails; we say test run both formats and see how well each does for your particular setting. If plain-text e-mails are opened more frequently, then use them! Don’t include graphics just because they can be included and lose traction with people.

The best foundation for an e-mail strategy is this: a weekly newsletter. A regular bulletin keeps the most important upcoming events and information in front of your congregation as they need it. Newsletters provide the perfect opportunity for learning balance; the balance between giving enough details and far too many is crucial in this medium. There are some restaurants that have a very limited, specific, and intentional menu, then there establishments that have an exhaustive catalogue without direction.

Flooding people with information is never the way to go, but an e-mail is particularly geared for quick information. If there’s more to say, feel free to introduce the topic and provide a link to a webpage dedicated to the event, class, conference, camp, etc.

“A regular bulletin keeps the most important upcoming events and information in front of your congregation as they need it.”

Two more potential elements to add to an e-mail strategy are the social media recap and a reminder e-mail. There are some ministries that have implemented the practice of e-mailing social media highlights from that week. This is especially helpful if there’s a large demographic in your church that does not engage on social media. It also serves to reconnect those who might have missed something posted. Reminders are great for big events or sign-up deadlines. These shouldn’t be a regular part of a church’s communication strategy but should be used strategically, i.e. countdowns or reminders for a regular Sunday service aren’t necessary.

There are a few options for building your mailing list and getting permission to e-mail individuals. The easiest is to make asking for it a normal part of Sunday morning announcements and the guest card your church uses on a weekly basis. Another is making it part of the membership process; this doesn’t mean forcing people to receive e-mails but creating another opportunity for them to sign up. The last is an actual opt-in form on your website.


#Channels: Facebook

There are a few companies that have sprung up in the last few decades and have dominated their markets. Amazon is one of them. Amazon is now larger than Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, JC Penny, and Sears… combined.1 Facebook stepped in about a decade ago and quickly eclipsed the other social media platforms. Facebook now has 2 billion monthly active users. That’s over a quarter of the world’s population on a platform less than two decades old. As far as financials go, this social media site is worth more than Wal-Mart.2

We share these statistics to show that new doesn’t mean fleeting. The world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailers have far less fiscal value than the largest social platform. Facebook has become just as much a staple in our culture as Wal-Mart.

So, what does Facebook do? Their mission statement puts it this way, “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”3 All of their services hinge on that mission. When you set up a page for your church, you’re acquiring a digital meeting place for your congregation and creating another venue to connect with those outside of the church.

Who Uses Facebook

The Pew Research Center discovered that 68% of all Americans are on Facebook. That means 7 of 10 people in your church and your community are on Facebook, and about half of them check their profiles everyday. The age range for Facebook users is heaviest for 18-29 but followed closely followed by 30-49 year olds (82%, 79% of online adults respectively). Half of all online seniors are also on the platform.4

What to Share

Facebook transcends typical social media categories; the four main types are publishing, commerce, entertainment, and communities. Facebook has all of them. Some churches make the mistake of only creating a group for their church – a community-oriented use – and neglect building a Page (publishing).

“Groups should be decentralized, given to specific leaders of particular groups, but your church’s official Page should be the voice of the church’s leadership to the congregation and the community.”

Groups can be helpful, especially for churches who don’t want to use other third-party platforms for small group and team management, so use them for all they’re worth. Small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, and team leaders can use Facebook groups to get people connected and keep them involved outside of Sunday morning. Small groups can share prayer requests, talk about life issues, and recommend resources – all in a private setting. Teachers can use them as a platform to recap lessons, provide further reading, and link to relevant videos, as well as continue the conversation throughout the week. Facebook Groups are a free option for coordinating volunteers serving in different areas of church ministry; shifts can be covered and updates can be given within a system that people are already using daily.

Groups should be decentralized, given to specific leaders of specific groups, but your church’s official Page should be the voice of the church’s leadership to the congregation and the community. You can think of four post categories for Facebook: text, photo, video, and link.

    • Text posts are super simple. They could be long-form messages from the pastor, or quotes related to a sermon or class being taught. Questions also do well to boost engagement and create conversations.
    • Photos are a bit more complex, but they also get higher engagement. Photos can be just that, photos, or they can be infographics, memes, gifs, and quote graphics. An eye-catching graphic can be what stops someone from scrolling past your information. Any last minute reminders for events should be in a graphic form, because plain text can drift to the background.
    • Video is quickly becoming the most consumed type of content. We’ll have more to say about video in a later post, but Facebook has its own video rules. The first is that videos uploaded straight to Facebook – as opposed to Youtube – get better engagement. The second is that Facebook’s algorithm prefers Facebook live videos, so they’ll get better organic reach.
    • Links are great ways to point people to other resources and to specific pages on your church’s website. Articles and videos are the most common referrals for churches, but sign-ups, event info, and sermon links are excellent for inbound traffic.

Weaknesses

The drawback of all social media platforms is that they are rented space. Facebook could change their terms of service tomorrow and ban all religious organizations from their platform; or they could decide to start charging for even basic use. They’re great landlords and have never shown any sign of massive terms of service changes, but they’re still landlords.

The second is that we’re bound by the algorithms. The adage, “you have to have money to make money,” applies here, just switch money with attention. This can make it difficult for new accounts to get traction among their followers.

“When Facebook sees that people are interacting with your content, then it ranks higher in their algorithm and more people see it naturally.”

These may seem major, but they doesn’t change how useful Facebook is. It proves that a church’s communication strategy should not be based on a single platform but a combination of several. There really is no concern about Facebook shifting its strategy so drastically that large groups of people are cut out of it, but seeing it as a rental property helps us value our owned goods all the more.

As for the algorithm and getting attention, churches have the benefit of a following that we interact with digitally and physically. We can ask our congregations to turn on post notifications, so they stay “in-the-loop,” but we can also ask a handful of people to share our posts at least once a week. When Facebook sees that people are interacting with your content, then it ranks higher in their algorithm and more people see it naturally.

If you would like us to simplify everything and have us manage your social media accounts, reach out and let us know! You can email us at Chris@1646.media

 

#Channels: Instagram

Instagram is a photo/video publishing app acquired by Facebook in 2012. Users have the ability to take or upload pictures and video, write captions, and apply filters to them before posting them to their profile. As they interact with others’ posts, users can comment on them, like them, and tag others on the post. They can also use hashtags to apply a taxonomy to an image that adds it to a specific larger conversation. The hashtag is a huge part the Instagram economy, and it’s the main way that a profile can associate itself with a distinct digital community.

Instagram has added a new feature last two years: Stories. These are photos or videos that expire after 24 hours and don’t appear in the normal flow of posted images but in their own designated space. Snapchat originally became famous for “Stories,” but Instagram’s more widespread user base has stifled Snapchat’s growth. Instagram stories have 250 million daily users, and Snapchat only has 166 million. This eclipse only took a year.1 How could Instagram beat Snapchat at their own game? Instagram had a larger user base to begin with. The platform has grown from 90 million users to 800 million in the last four years.2 Snapchat grew from 46 million to 166 million in the last three.3 Snapchat is still around but no one knows what kind of future it has. Instagram, on the other hand, has half a billion daily users.4

Who Uses Instagram?

The largest age group on Instagram consists of those between 18 and 29, but 6 in 10 of all online adults have an Instagram.5 A third of online Americans 30-49 also utilize the platform.6 A similar statistic shows that one third of teenagers view Instagram as their main social media network.7

What to Share

There are only two general options for Instagram: photo and video. There is leeway in photos because one can use quote graphics, memes, and actual photos. Another recent update to Instagram allows for a “carousel” post that allows up to ten images or videos in one post, like the one we used to kick off this blog series.

  • Quote Graphics use a passage of Scripture, a line from a recent sermon, a core value, a slogan, or excerpt from a book on an attractive graphic as the backdrop.
  • Memes can be used to lighten the mood and communicate something through a familiar image. One of the more popular ones right now is “You’ve heard of elf on a shelf, now get ready for…” The best one we’ve seen was from the Presbyterian Memes Facebook page; it ended the statement with “Spurgeon on a surgeon” and had a picture of Charles Spurgeon photoshopped onto a doctor’s surgery cap. Obviously, these are best for youth groups.
  • Photos are the backbone of Instagram as a platform; everything above and beyond photos are updates but photo is still the soul of Instagram. As a church, the best thing you can post is a photo of normal life in your church; even if they’re partially covered with a quote, faces of real people drive engagement 40% better than photos without them.8 Real pictures give onlookers a glimpse into a service, small groups, big events, and the small moments in between. It is definitely worth the expense to hire a photographer a few times a year to come document life in your church.

Do’s

Absolutely use hashtags. There may be some work upfront to find out which ones get the most traction in your neck of the woods, but it’s worth it. Some cities have their own branded hashtags, like Greenville, SC #yeahthatGreenville, but others are more straightforward, #Houston. If your city is built on a particular industry, those hashtags would also be more than helpful as you engage with those around you.

It’s ideal to post 5-7 times a week. Consistency builds trust, and it helps show Instagram that your account is healthy and active, so it will appear higher in its rankings and in more “explore” categories.

In a culture that values authenticity, fake photos are anathema.

Comment on other people’s posts. Dialogue is Web 2.0; we can’t expect to build relationships in trust by sitting on our digital porches. Comment on local profile’s pictures and become part of your neighborhood’s digital community.

Don’ts

Do not – under any circumstance – use stock photos of people for your Instagram account. In a culture that values authenticity, fake photos are anathema. Hire a photographer or find volunteers who will learn how to take and edit great photos.

There are two things that do not belong in the captions section: a restatement of the quote in the photo and urls. If you’ve posted a quote graphic, that quote doesn’t need to be repeated in the caption. Use that space to explain it and create value for your audience; assume the statement in the graphic is the thesis statement and the caption space is where you’ll support that argument. Links do not work in captions, so don’t put them there. If a link is absolutely important, then implement a tool like linktr.ee.


#Channel: Text

A short message service (SMS) allows cellular or internet-connected devices to send text-only messages from one to the other.1 Most of us do this daily and call it texting. Once churches start communicating through this channel, the stakes are raised. This is by far the most personal form of communication between an organization and an individual. We believe this channel can be useful for ministries but will advocate a very conservative usage of it. Think of it this way: having access to someone’s direct number puts you in the position of potentially becoming as unwanted as a telemarketer. Mobile phones are incredibly private and personal, and we must respect that.

Like e-mail, there are services that act as a contact bank and messengers. These also require permission from the recipients before they’re added to a mailing list. Here are a few statistics about SMS communications:2,3

  • 80% of internet users have smartphones
  • Over 50% of users reach for their phone the second they wake up
  • There are over 7 trillion text messages sent every year
  • Approximately 98% of all text messages are opened

Our Conservative Approach

We view SMS as a platform for seldom use. The most acceptable uses are emergencies and canceled events and services. Being able to tell your congregation that plans have changed last minute is incredibly valuable. Keeping congregants from showing up to a suspended event or leaving their homes in emergency situations is one of the best applications of the SMS platform. In serious situations, get info to them as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is also the case during natural disasters. Churches and other relief organizations can use SMS channels to recruit volunteers and identify areas where help is needed.

A more selective and less panic-induced implementation is for those who have signed up for a particular event and opted-in to a payment plan. Scheduled text reminders for pre-event meetings and payment due dates can be helpful to keep them on connected and involved. Examples would be mission trips, marriage conferences, and other camps/retreats.

If your church has a prayer team, this can be a great way to get requests to them immediately.

A Different Way

Some ministries have developed routines of using their SMS more often. These churches may use the program on a weekly basis, with the whole church as the audience, to remind them of services that week, pushing a particular event, and as a survey tool.

Methods

There are a few best practices to help structure texts and your SMS strategy. The first is to keep things short and intentional. Not all programs and phones show messages as single block texts, so some recipients end up receiving multiple texts, not just one. This can become distracting and cumbersome instead of engaging. The same is true when the text lacks clarity and a plainly understood “call-to-action.”

Whatever program is used to send the texts must have an easy opt-out option. This goes hand-in-hand with gaining permission on the front end. Be sensitive with the timing of messages; incredibly early and obscenely late are both frowned upon.