Your COVID-19 Guide to Church Communication

In How to Help Your Church Go Digital, Part 2, we discussed the importance of keeping your congregation connected. Today we’re diving deeper into the topic of digital communication and keeping your church digitally connected in this season. 

Church Communication in a Digital World

Over the last few weeks churches across the globe have been forced to rethink what it means to “do church.” And while that can be unsettling, it is also an unprecedented opportunity. 

Perhaps one of the biggest blessings of this pandemic is that it happened at this moment in history. Even a decade ago, digital tools and resources would not be readily available to most churches and maintaining connection would be significantly more challenging.

From online giving platforms, to live streaming, to social and digital connection platforms, we are living at a time in history that allows us to continue to gather together as followers of Christ, to grow together and to reach out to those in need…with or without a building (and regardless of church size).

And as this season of social distancing continues, it is essential that we take time to examine how we are digitally connecting with our congregation – not just on a Sunday morning, but throughout the week. 

It is essential that we take time to examine how we digitally connect with our congregation – not just on a Sunday morning, but throughout the week. 

A digital communication plan will guide you both for this season and for the future of your church. So let’s dig into how you can optimize your digital church communication strategy…or get started creating one.

Start With Your Goals

Let me begin by asking, “What are your goals for this season?”

Is it to simply survive as a church until you can “return to normal?” Or is it to thrive during this season? 

Because I know it is possible for your church to thrive. In fact, with a little intentionality, you may even see your church grow (even if you aren’t meeting together and don’t consider yourself a “techy person.”)   

We’ve already heard from churches across the country that are continuing to engage with people during this time, that are continuing to see people come to Christ, and that are continuing to grow. We’ve heard from churches that have not seen any dip in giving, and churches whose donations have actually increased during this time. 

So if you want to be a church that not only survives, but thrives, then I encourage you to keep reading. Here are some big picture goals to consider:

Connection & Engagement

If you want to be a healthy church at the end of this crisis, at the very least, you need to keep your community engaged and connected during this season. The thing that will separate churches that thrive from those that struggle will be their level of engagement during this time.

You’ll need to come up with creative ways to stay engaged with your attendees and help them feel like they really are a part of a local body of believers. We’ll talk about some ways you can do that below.

Encourage Spiritual Growth

If your baseline goal is to maintain connection & engagement, then a next-level goal is to encourage and equip your members to grow during this time. 

Yes, there is an abundance of pain, loss and hardship during this season. We must acknowledge that fact. But simply because we cannot physically gather together does not mean that our mission and calling to go and make disciples has changed.

You do not need to put your efforts to equip your members on the back burner. The church has never been dependent on a building. You can help people on their spiritual journey, even in a season of turmoil. 

Engage New People 

Finally, consider how your church can engage with people not already connected to your congregation. 

Right now more people are spending time online, more people are feeling disoriented, and more people are looking for connection, hope and meaning right now. The opportunity to engage with people who might never visit a church is extremely high. Can you be intentional about stepping into that opportunity? 

Reexamine Your Systems

Once you’ve thought through your goals for this season, it’s time to look at your systems and processes. Do you need to change anything about your current systems to help move toward your goals? 

Your Church Database

In this season of digital church communication, you need an up-to-date church database. If you’re like many church leaders, your database might need a little bit of work. It’s typically not high on a church priority list. 

If you have the time, start going through your database to make sure it’s updated with current contact information for all of your attendees. Or if your plate is too full, ask a volunteer to help you with this project. Here are some questions you’ll need to answer:

  • How many people are actually connected to/a part of your church? 
  • Do you have a good way to contact them?
  •  What percentage of your contacts can you reach through email? 
  • Through text message? 
  • Do you have current physical addresses for your members?

Consider sending out a letter in the mail to every contact in your database, or at least those you know are active members. 

In this letter you can:

  • Encourage & reassure people 
  • Ask them to update any changes to their contact info
  • Reiterate how to watch services
  • Explain all the ways to stay connected 
  • Remind them to be faithful in giving (and explain how the church is using those funds)
  • Encourage them to stay connected with friends and family and invite others to watch your services online

PRO TIP: Simplify Community is a church management system (ChMS) without a learning curve. It can help you keep track of and communicate with your members and visitors. It is a cloud-based solution, so you can access your church information from anywhere. Click here for a free demo of the software.

Your Online Giving Platform 

First, if you haven’t yet set up online giving for your church, it’s quick and easy to get started. Using Simplify Give’s quick, no-fee sign up process, we can have your church accepting donations online in just a few minutes.

Before COVID, churches that started accepting donations online increased overall donations by 32%. My guess is that this number is currently skyrocketing. 

Second, if you already have an online giving platform, do you know what percentage of your members are currently using it?

You may need to provide some guidance to your members that are less tech-savvy and show just how easy it can be to give online via your church website or through text-to-give. 

Choose Your Digital Church Communication Platforms

Now you’ll want to think through the digital platforms you use to communicate and engage with your church. Here are the most common platforms: 

Your Website

These days most churches have a website of some sort. However, the capabilities of church websites tend to be all over the map, depending on whether you have a tech-savvy webmaster. 

Regardless of how simple or complex your site is, there are two things every church should keep in mind:

  1. Your primary website visitor is someone not connected to your church. That’s why in general we recommend that your website be designed for a potential visitor.
  • Your church members will often turn to your website first for updates. In this season, unless someone is actively engaged with you on social media, they will first visit your website for more info on how your church is responding during this season.

What does this mean for you?

You need to update your website and let people know how you’re doing “church” during this season. Where can they go to watch your services? Is it at the same time or a different time? Where do they need to go for more updates?

If you can stream your services from your website, fantastic! But if you’re not super techy and that feels complicated, that’s okay. Just make sure you update your site and let people know the best ways to stay in touch with you.

Email 

If you don’t regularly send out a church email newsletter, now is a great time to start! Send a quick email to your members each week and include information you might regularly put  in your church bulletin. Start with a helpful tip or a devotional message and make sure to include reminders of how and when to watch your service, how to give online, and maybe a link to a replay of last week’s service. 

Using email is important because it shows that you are making an effort to stay connected with everyone, especially because you will have a percentage of people who are either not on social media or are intentionally avoiding it right now. I’ve seen many churches turn to Facebook as their primary means of staying connected with people. However, if you rely on Facebook as your sole means of regular communication, you might be overlooking a good portion of your members. 

Facebook

I say Facebook rather than all social media because if you are going to pick one social platform, it should be Facebook.

You’ll reach smaller groups of people on other platforms, but Facebook is the most wide-reaching. It also is designed to help people engage and connect with one another. 

There are so many ways to connect with your congregation through your church Facebook page and in Facebook groups.

Post frequently on your Facebook page (at least once a day) and encourage people to engage with your content. Have someone from the church leadership team go live on Facebook or upload a recorded video on a regular basis. This is a great opportunity to lead a daily devotional, to encourage connection and emotional health, and to help people learn how to grow spiritually. 

Get Creative 

Now for the fun part. You know your congregation best. Have a brainstorming session with your leadership team and come up with specific ideas to engage people during this season. Here are some great ideas that a number of churches are implementing:

  • Offer a daily devotional or start a new church Bible reading plan together
  • Go live daily on Facebook to offer encouragement and connection
  • Share activities that families can do together
  • Continue to have your small groups meet together on Zoom
  •  Ask your members to invite friends to your online services 
  • Host a mid-week prayer or worship service via Facebook or Zoom
  • Provide specific content for kids, teens or families
  • Create a family scavenger hunt and have members post pictures of their finds
  • Provide a place for people to submit prayer requests and specific needs that the church can pray for

Focus Your Content on the Whole Person

It can be easy for us to silo ourselves as just providers of spiritual support and guidance, but the truth is that this crisis impacts the entire wellbeing of a person – body, mind and spirit. Think about creating content that supports people’s spiritual, mental, physical, emotional, financial and relational wellness.

There is a lot of anxiety right now. A lot of added stress. Financial strain. Relationship strain. Isolation. Grief. Fear. Loss. All of those things take a toll on people. My guess is that when this crisis blows over, the need for counseling will be higher than ever. 

There is no way that you as a church leader will be able to offer individual counseling for everyone dealing with issues that stem from this crisis. But you can be proactive now by offering resources and suggestions to help them process their circumstances, feelings and emotions in healthy ways.

Think about what support you can provide during this season, such as sharing this emotional health tool from Saddleback Church.

Follow Up 

If you want to use this season to engage and reach more people, you will need a digital engagement and connection plan. Check out this post for more suggestions about how to engage with and follow up with first-time viewers. 

Embrace The Opportunity

I heard this statement from multiple people today, “The rules of the game have changed.” This applies to how we as people conduct business, how we socialize, and yes, how we do church. 

For so long the church (at least in America) has followed a series of established norms and expectations. All of that is currently upended. This creates uncertainty, but also unprecedented opportunity. 

COVID-19 has given churches across the globe a chance to demonstrate what it means to “be the church” apart from any building or set of norms and expectations. In a very short period of time, churches have radically shifted the ways in which they communicate and interact with members. 

Does going back to the “way things were” really serve the mission of the church?

It’s time to give a more serious look at how digital communication tools can help the church spread the gospel in new ways. Perhaps it’s time to lean into new strategies and prayerfully consider ways in which these technologies might serve your church both for this season and beyond.  

How are you engaging with your congregation in this season? What are your big wins? What are you struggling with?

The Easter Opportunity: How to Create an Impactful Easter Service amid COVID-19

I’m sure you’ve checked your calendar and seen that Easter Sunday is a little over a week away.  

On Easter Sunday, most churches typically see a spike in attendance. For many churches, it is their most attended Sunday of the year. 

You may have been planning for your Easter service for weeks or months already. And now it’s time to throw out those plans and completely shift gears. 

But before you give up on reaching new people this Easter consider this:

  • More people are facing high levels of stress and anxiety right now
  • More people are feeling isolated right now
  • More people are actively looking for ways to deal with their stress and anxiety
  • More people are considering either their own mortality or the mortality of a loved one

They are looking for something that can bring them a sense of joy, hope and peace in a season of fear and uncertainty. 

This Easter, more than any other, more people are looking for what can only be found in Jesus Christ. 

In other words, the Easter opportunity still exists! 

Yes, you will need to completely rethink your strategy, but Easter is still a significant opportunity. I believe that if you choose to seize this moment, you’ll be amazed at what God can do through your church to reach people that might never otherwise darken the doors of a church. 

But You Must Seize the Easter moment.

By this I mean you cannot simply do “church” as normal (whatever that means anymore). You need a new plan to reach people on this particular Easter. 

So how do you prepare for an online Easter service in the middle a global pandemic that reaches MORE people for Jesus? 

BOOST AWARENESS

Your Goal: To get someone who is not connected to a church to watch your Easter service online. 

In many ways, this is much simpler than asking someone to get dressed up and drive to a building with a bunch of people they don’t know. They never have to leave home or even get out of their pajamas. They just need to know that you exist and that you have something that can help them out. 

Clarify Your Message

Let’s start with the second part – they need to know that you have something that can help them out.

Here’s the honest truth: If someone isn’t connected to a church, they won’t care about the story of your church, or even the story of Jesus. What they will care about is if what you have to offer can help them survive or thrive.

When you create content that invites people to watch your Easter service, keep this important fact in mind. Create content that addresses the pain you know people are in, and how you have a solution to that pain. And please don’t use “churchy” words. 

Before you sit down to write anything, pretend that you’re having a conversation with someone that has never been to church and has just lost their job due to economic impacts of COVID-19. What would you say to that person to get them to watch to your service?

Now create an inviting social media post based on that idea.

Encourage People to Share

Once you’ve thought through what you want to communicate, the next step is to let people know that you exist. The easiest way to boost awareness is to enlist the help of your current attenders. Create a post about your upcoming Easter service on your social media pages. Ask your current attenders to share your posts to their own pages. 

This works even better if instead of just hitting the “share” button, they add a personal anecdote about their experience with your church. 

Boost Your Visibility on Facebook

If you have some money in your budget, I’d recommend boosting your post as a Facebook and Instagram ad. Once you make a post on your Facebook page, you’ll see a “boost post” button. Click the button and Facebook will give you a series of options to promote your service. You can specify who you want your ad to appear to (such as people in your local area or friends of those who like your page), how long you want the ad to run, and how much you want to spend to reach people.

Engage with People on your Church Facebook Page

Begin now by posting regular content on your social media pages. This will help both keep your regular attenders connected and growing AND help engage new viewers with your content. Have someone from your church leadership team go live on Facebook each day for a daily dose of encouragement, or to share ideas for staying connected and growing spiritually.

Another idea is to create a holy week journey for your members with specific content, scriptures and prayer points posted daily in the week leading up to Easter Sunday.  

Encourage Members to Host a Facebook Watch Party on Easter Sunday 

A watch party is a co-watching video experience. A host creates a Facebook watch party and invites friends to join him or her. Everyone in a watch party watches the same moment in the video at the same time, and group members can comment on and react to the content in the video.

Let’s say you go live with your Easter service on your Facebook page. A member can navigate to the video, click share and choose the drop-down option “watch party.” From there the member can start a watch party on their own Facebook page or share it to a group page that they are a part of. 

The more your members interact with and post about your online service and personally invite friends to join them, the more people scrolling the Facebook news feed will see your service. 

PLAN YOUR EASTER SERVICE 

Your Goal: To get someone that watches your service to make contact with you  

Now is the time to begin planning your Easter service. As much as you want to equip and encourage your church members, choose this service and create it specifically for someone that may be tuning in for the first time. 

As I mentioned above, what makes people curious about what you have to say is the belief that it can help them survive or thrive. Build your entire service – your worship, your announcements, your message – around this idea. 

For example, if you begin by talking about the fact that we all have a sin problem, you’ve probably already lost your audience. 

However, if you begin by talking about the stress and anxiety people are currently feeling and the need to resolve these feelings, then you’ve aroused curiosity and your audience is open to hearing more.

Author Ray Edwards provides a simple outline that he calls the P.A.S.T.O.R. framework. While his book is specifically about communication, this framework is exactly what you as a pastor are called to do!

Here’s the framework:

P – Pain. Begin by meeting people where they are at. Talk about the pain they feel and the problems they face in terms they can relate to

A – Amplify. What is the cost of not solving this problem? 

S – Solution. What is the solution to this problem? 

T – Transformation. Share a story of a life that has experienced positive change due to solving the problem

O – Offer. Explain the solution being offered

R – Response. Ask for a response

I have a sign in my home that reads, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” 

You probably know that just because you ask for a response, it doesn’t mean someone is ready to make a response. On average someone needs to hear the gospel 7.2 times before they are ready to respond. But you will get a response more often than if you never asked for a response. 

But asking someone to make a choice to follow Jesus isn’t the only response you can ask for.

Think about a response in terms of building a relationship. You probably wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on a first date. Instead, you might ask for a phone number or a second date.

So what is a logical next step to start building a relationship with that first-time viewer? Ideally you’d like to be able to reach out and start a dialogue.

As I mentioned in this post, every digital service should offer some type of digital connect card that people can fill out. You do not need fancy technology to make this happen! It can be as simple as posting a link to a free Google form you create.

You can encourage more people to fill out these forms by asking them to submit prayer requests that you will pray over. 

Or consider offering to donate a specific amount of money (e.g. $5) to your local food bank or some other COVID-19 response organization for every connection form that gets filled out.  

Another way to encourage a response, is by offering a free download that helps people further implement whatever you talked about in your message. This could be almost anything.

You could offer a prayer and meditation guide, or a list of people offering free online counseling, or a handout on how to rethink your budget in times of crisis, or a free ebook on overcoming fear. The possibilities are endless! 

For the next few weeks, you’ll need to be clear (and repetitive) about specific ways for people to plug into your digital community. Keep publishing encouraging content on your social media pages and keep seeking opportunities to connect with those who may be far from God. You might even consider starting a new preaching series on Easter and encourage people to come back the following week to hear the rest of the story.

PLAN YOUR FOLLOW UP

Your Goal: To turn a one-time viewer into a regular viewer and potential future visitor to your church.

I’ve talked with plenty of churches who theoretically had a “follow-up plan,” but their execution was lacking. Make sure you know: 

  • HOW you will follow up (text, email, card in the mail, etc)
  • WHO will follow up
  • WHAT TIME FRAME you will follow up

Last Christmas I was visiting family and we visited a local church on Christmas Eve (a Tuesday) because the service time worked well for our family. A few weeks went by and one morning I received an email from a church thanking me for “my visit last Sunday.” I knew that I had been at my home church the past Sunday and my first thought was, “Has someone been using my email address?” 

It took me a few moments to figure out that email was from the church we had visited on Christmas Eve. While I am glad that the church followed up, their follow up was neither timely (three weeks later) or accurate (I did not attend the past Sunday).

 I could make excuses for them and say that the person responsible for follow up was probably on vacation, but the truth is that their follow up would have been a lot more effective if they had simply tweaked their message and then either had someone else send the follow-up message or automated their follow up. 

A simple text or email might be the difference between someone never watching your service again and someone eventually becoming an active part of your congregation.

Services like Text In Church are designed to help you effectively follow up either through text or email. (Note: They are currently offering 60 days free for new members). 

A simple text or email might be the difference between someone never watching your service again or someone eventually becoming an active part of your congregation.

However you choose to follow up, your plan should include MORE THAN ONE touchpoint. The goal is to build a relationship over time. That does not mean rushing to a commitment, but rather cultivating curiosity that leads them to want to hear and learn more. 

FOLLOW THROUGH 

Now that you and your team have developed an intentional process for connecting new people to your church digitally, follow through with it.

Remember, you are creating open doors for new relationships. As with any relationship, getting to a place of trust will take time. You may get discouraged because this method is not nearly as simple as counting the number of visitors who attended on an Easter Sunday and then counting how many visitors returned for another visit.

But the door to reach MORE people who would not normally visit a church is open to you. And if you are faithful in the slow path of building relationships over time, you may be surprised at how many visitors you do get, once you can physically begin meeting together again.

But you must seize the opportunity! 

Be intentional and consistent in your planning, execution and your follow up. I can’t wait to hear how God works through your church in the coming weeks and months!