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Orchestrating your online ministry

I suspect every church leader agrees on the need for online ministry. But what that means in practice is less clear. So here’s a primer on the basics.

 

Social Media

The game-changer in Internet usage clearly is Facebook, which is closing in on 1 billion users. People post photos and personal news and comment on friends’ posts.

Smart marketers insert themselves in these social exchanges. A church, for example, should have a Facebook page that church members share liberally with their friends. Once people “like” the page, every time you update it — by posting new, comments or photos — that update goes out to its “friends.”

Use Twitter for brief items such as telling people about your latest blog post. Insert a link to your Facebook church page. Go to my page tomehrich on Twitter.com to see how you can customize your Twitter home page to showcase church activities and ministries. “Follow” me.

Inviting people to follow on Twitter is slower than adding Facebook friends. But it works. Join a group, or create your own. Use the hashtag (#) to signal the topic of a post.

 

Web sites

As social media have blossomed, websites have taken on a different role. More focus on providing necessary information and showing prospects what your congregation has to offer; less focus on trying to engage visitors, to stir repeat visits and to disseminate news.

A typical marketing scenario: use your website to post photos of, say, a mission trip, then use Facebook and Twitter to drive people to those pages, and on those pages they can donate or sign up to help. Just putting up a Web page is too passive.

A second use is content. Post content on your site — white papers, study material, blog archives, e-letter archives — and use social media, your e-letter and blog to drive people to the content. Just posting the content is too passive.

 

Assertive digital communications

Think blog, e-letter, email — messages you create and send to an ever-growing list of email recipients. Keep them brief, colorful, focused. Honor people’s inboxes.

Key element: your list. Every chance you get, ask people for their email addresses. Anyone whose life your church touches should be on your list. Go to them; don’t expect them to come to you.

 

Web meetings

Wonderful new technologies make it possible to hold online meetings, online classes, online workshops. You can hold them live, or record sessions and post the recordings online. Such meetings broaden your reach and, when used with video, can be an important supplement to in-person gatherings.

People will ask about loss of personal relationships. Your response: it’s both-and, and online communications are an important expansion of the tools you use to draw people into personal engagement.

 

TOM EHRICH is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is a founder of the Church Wellness Project. His Web site is morningwalkmedia.com.

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