How to engage your people online
At the beginning of the pandemic, did you experience a huge surge in your online engagement only to see it fall off and never return to the same level months later?
The reason you had this experience is that crisis creates engagement with little effort. People are looking for hope and community, which leads to a dramatic increase in views for even the smallest local church’s livestream and social posts. The crisis provided a massive surge initially, but as the weeks continued engagement began to slowly trend lower. If you were like most, by summertime you were spending more money and effort on your online church with diminishing results.
Don’t feel discouraged in your drop in online engagement as the year progressed.
Most churches faced the same problem.
The crisis created results without strategy, and as the year went on most churches have struggled trying to get back momentum online that requires a strategic approach.
The good news is that you can gain back momentum online with a digital engagement framework that works. Here are the 5 D’s of Digital Engagement that I’ve seen actually work:
1. Design—Aim For The Heart.
First things first: Who are you designing for?
Are you designing for those already involved in the church or those outside? Are you designing for an urban or a rural crowd? Younger people or older people? You may even be trying to reach a combination of many different groups of people, but the main idea is to at least recognize the people you desire to reach.
Once you have recognized your target audience, everything you design should be created with those particular people in mind.
Designing with a heart for the audience means caring about their needs and listening to what Jesus wants to speak to them. If we choose to mindlessly design without any consideration for the people who will be viewing it, we are missing a huge opportunity to minister to people and show them who Jesus is.
We must always remember that engagement is not about numbers and statistics, it is about real people who need to know the love of God and experience a transformed life.
Your design matters because it stops the endless scroll, grabs the attention of your followers, and encourages them to get engaged. This first level of online engagement can make or break your ability to reach people online depending on the design of your graphics, videos, and more.
If you are struggling with online engagement, start by examining your design from your website and every piece of content you release.
Good design is like speaking the language of the person you want to reach. You cannot reach a Spanish speaker with English. In the same way, you cannot reach a young family with design that speaks to the over 60 crowd.
Creating digital engagement online all starts with good design tailored to those you want to reach.
2. Discussion—More Than a Like or Comment.
Discussion is the next level of engagement, where your passive followers become active participants in the online conversation. In other words, the people who are struck by your design make a decision to comment, like, or share your content.
When someone really likes a post, they will most likely comment on it or like it. But when they love a post and are convinced others have to see it too, they may make the decision to share it.
Sharing content on social media has a lot of power because it expands your reach as a church exponentially. Think about it, your content (as incredible as it is) is truly only exposed to your limited follower list.
But when someone chooses to share your content to their feed, story, or profile, your content is exposed to a brand new audience. This simple act of sharing opens up a door to those outside your reach who may choose to follow you and even interact with your content further.
Good content starts a conversation with the person you are reaching and all of their friends. It has the power to create rapid growth online for a ministry that speaks into the heart of what people want to know today.
This level of engagement is often the level where many churches stop at and gauge their level of success. Discussion is often a sign that your design has yielded the desired result (i.e., likes, comments, etc.), but it is not the end of engagement.
The discussion online should transform into a real-life habit of discovery.
3. Discovery—Binge-Worthy Content.
Discovery is the level of engagement where passive consumption and posting a comment morph into a real-life pursuit of growing and going deeper. The discovery stage is where those engaged take in the messages and content your church has produced and take it into their own hands.
Much of the success of YouTube is providing the ability for us to learn and discover more about almost any topic or subject available to mankind. A library of content is available for the seeker to learn and grow in their desired area.
For your church to succeed in the discovery level of engagement, it requires a library of binge worthy content online. If you started a discussion with people and they like who you are, they want to know more. They liked the video shared with them on social media and now they want to go deeper into additional messages and content from the church.
This is exactly what happened with Pastor Michael Todd of Transformation Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A young girl shared a video of his that went viral. People began to search for the church on YouTube and found a library of past messages of binge worthy content. They went down a path of discovery with Transformation Church and the online ministry exploded.
This level of engagement is also where we as churches and organizations cannot just stand idly by and merely share our content. We must be actively involved in the discovery process with those who are engaging. This is where we can walk alongside people by answering their questions and inviting them into something deeper.
4. Discipleship—Doing Life Together.
The ultimate goal of engagement is to see someone go from a passive consumer and learner to someone who actually follows Jesus. Discipleship is when things get real and growth with transformation are experienced.
Think of it this way: Discovery is the free trial and discipleship is the paid subscription. Engagement at the discovery level is merely dipping your toe in the water to see what it’s like, but discipleship is diving right in.
Our digital engagement also goes hand-in-hand with discipleship. We live in a highly digitized age where the majority of people spend a huge chunk of their time online consuming and engaging with content. The church is positioned in a unique time where people are looking for answers and often turn to the content they find online to find those answers.
We can meet people where they are (i.e. online) and invite them into the greatest relationship they will ever know—a relationship with Jesus.
Jesus had 12 disciples and he trained them in community while doing life together. From small groups to training of all kinds, we must look to foster community online and physically.
Jesus had 12 disciples and he trained them in community while doing life together.
People won’t get involved in something just for the sake of the appeal anymore—they want a true community, a mission to believe in, and a place to belong.
Discipleship is a life long journey of doing life together and continuing to grow spiritually in the process. This level of engagement is where people join a community and become part of the mission.
5. Deployment—People on a Mission.
When you hear the word deployment, you typically think of a soldier getting sent away to serve his or her country. The basic definition of deployment is the use of something or someone in an effective way or movement of soldiers or equipment to a place where they can be used when they are needed.
Just as a soldier gets deployed to serve, when someone puts their faith in Jesus, they are eventually sent on a mission that is much greater than themselves. This does not mean everyone is destined to leave their home, move to a third world country, and dedicate themselves to mission work. What this means is that every believer has a distinct purpose over their lives that they will use to advance and strengthen the kingdom of God.
Once you have joined the discussion about Jesus, discovered who He is for yourself, and chosen to follow Him as a disciple, the next level of engagement is embracing deployment into the world for the sake of God’s Kingdom. Deployment goes hand in hand with discipleship, but deployment is where you go from simply following Jesus to inviting others to follow Him too. It is where you go out into the world, using your God-given gifts and servant leadership, to effect change in the world.
The church is not a building but people on a mission. The last step in digital engagement is to raise up a digital team and give them a mission. Your digital team should be part of the discussion and building relationships with the seekers online.
The last level of engagement is not so much as the final step on a list, but the last aspect of the overall engagement cycle. As you step into a new level of leadership, you are compelled to not only engage more people but lead them to Jesus. This emphasis on relationships in the deployment level leads you right back to the start where you can use your gifts in media, teaching, writing, and more to engage those hungry for hope.
Engagement is not just a hot button concept that begins and ends with a few comments on a social media post. Engagement is a lifelong process that brings us to a place where we discover who Jesus is, go deeper in our relationship with Him, and invite others to do the same.
First published on CareyNieuwhof.com. Used by permission.