As the landscape of church has shifted in 2020, many questions still abound around the future of church, particularly online.  Even though there are a lot of questions around the online church movement, I’m convinced that the answer for the church of the future is more online, not less.  I’d rather plow forward with an online strategy and make a few mistakes than to ignore it and be completely irrelevant in the very near future.

We are called to remain faithful to the Gospel, but we also have a call as God’s church to be fruitful.  God is passionate about growing His kingdom and He uses the local church to be His expression in this world.  This expression can and should take many forms, but every expression of Jesus should be pursuing faithfulness and fruitfulness. 

If we look at the church of Acts 2, one of the often-overlooked qualities about this church is their ability to grow rapidly.  Anytime you are growing rapidly it requires many pivots from leadership, something we have seen happening in 2020 in all of our churches.

Just look at the statistics of this church:

By the end of the book, in a period of about 20 years, there were an estimated more than 100,000 people that were a part of the early church.

Church growth sometimes has a stigma attached to it.  Get rid of the stigma and begin pursuing church growth.  Every single number is a person who has a story and God cares about every person and every number.

While much of the attention has been focused on the online worship experience, there are some simple things you can do to help your church thrive in a digital world.  Even before 2020, many people were checking out a church online long before they checked out a church in person. 

When people are checking out your church?

In this blog, I’ve got 4 easy and free tips that should each take less than an hour to accomplish.  These tips are low-hanging fruit that will give your church an incredible return, and by the grace of God, allow you to reach more people for the ultimate purpose of glorifying God.

  1. Pursue 5-Star Reviews

Just about everyone is using Google.  Research shows that it accounts for 95% of mobile searches and 75% of desktop searches.  When a person is searching for a church on Google, right below your church name is a place for a visitor to read reviews about your church.  In Google’s algorithm, the businesses, industries, and even churches with the most reviews rises to the top.

In past research of our visitors from church, somewhere between 15-20% of our first-time visitors first heard about us from a Google search!

Here’s a snapshot for us of a month prior to coronavirus of what was happening on Google alone.

Why in the world would we not put some time and intentionality into our Google page, the reviews, the pictures, etc.?

If people are using this platform and if reviews are important to rising to the top, it is poor stewardship to not invest in pursuing 5-star reviews. 

Do you think that it’s unbiblical and consumeristic and a little bit weird to have people rate and review churches in the same way they would rate and review the burger at the local burger joint?  So do I.  My advice is to get over it.  It’s happening, whether you like it or not, and you might as well use it for your advantage.

I suggest you reach out first to your staff, then to your key leaders and volunteers, then to your regular attenders, and ask them to write a 5-star review for your church.  While you ask them, ensure them the reasoning behind this is because we want to reach more people for the purpose of glorifying God.  Make it easy for them by providing links for them to go directly and write their 5-star review.   The whole process should take a person between 1-10 minutes.

Also, I would keep a close eye on your staff.  If a staff member has an issue with writing a 5-star review for your church, it’s probably not a good fit anyway.

And why stop at Google?  Ask for Facebook reviews, Yelp reviews, and anywhere else your church might be found online.

  1. Install a ChatBot on your website

There are hardly any church websites that are using a chatbot to incorporate with visitors or guests.

Over a year ago, I installed a FREE chatbot through Hubspot on this website. It proved to be a worthwhile tool as it helped acquire new customers, answer questions, and give confidence in our business as real people were answering real-time questions.

Not long after seeing the success of the chatbot, our church implemented this same chatbot on our website.  In the year that has followed, we’ve had hundreds of chats.  We’ve been able to answer questions about service times, directions, next steps, small groups, and link to past sermons that would be helpful for a person.

Chatbots give the owner the control to mark themselves available or away at any time.  If unable to have this feature available 24/7, a great place to start would be to train someone on your team to be available to chat on Sunday mornings with those who visit your website.  We have found that this is when the most questions get asked and people are extremely grateful to get real-time answers.

  1. Leverage Past Content by Categorizing and Tagging

The past decade has seen a meteoric rise in streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime.  This year alone we have been introduced to Disney Plus, Apple TV, and Peacock.  Based on the popularity of these streaming platforms it’s easy to see that people love binge-watching their favorite content.

What can the church learn from this?

Michael Todd, pastor of Transformation church, has seen incredible growth at his church.  One of the reasons for his success is when he preached a sermon series in December 2015 called “Relationship Goals.”  What’s amazing is that it wasn’t until December 2017, when a woman found and posted 2-minute clip of this sermon series on Youtube that explosive growth happened.  In a matter of 48 hours, the clip was viewed 2 million times and Transformation Church went from 1,800 YouTube subscribers to 100,000 in less than 45 days.

It is likely that every single week your church is creating new content.  While the content is relevant in the day it is created, it is likely relevant in the future as well.

The content you produce has the ability to swing open wide the front door of your church.

Too many of our churches do not feature or highlight our content beyond the week that it was first made available.  It would be a great next step to go through past messages and categorize and tag them for certain topics.  It would also be wise to rename past messages.  Focusing less on a catchy sermon title and more on what the sermon is about will help drive more engagement.  Though catchy titles are fun (I’m a sucker for alliteration, puns, and wordplay), it’s more important to simply tell what the sermon is about to a visitor.

Our churches should be storing up content and displaying it in a way that will allow for someone to engage with entire series or meaningful topics at any point.  Looking at analytics, it is also wise to place whatever content is most viewed at the top.  After someone repeatedly engages with content, it is now more likely that they will become more engaged online or in-person.

  1. Create a Fun Staff Webpage

Your church’s website is the frontline for your ministry.  It is single-handedly the most important marketing tool that you have.  It’s where first impressions are formed, where you get discovered, and the first opportunity you have to introduce yourselves to visitors.  Decisions are made about your church based entirely on your website.

Brady Shearer, church technology guru of ProChurchTools, ran a test and found out that 96.2% failed the first impression test with their visitorsWhen was the last time you thought about your website from the perspective of a first-time guest?

While we need to display content that will engage with visitors and offer clear next steps, one thing I would have never predicted from his findings was that the second-most visited website page for a church is the staff page. 

When people visit your site, they want to know who you are. They’re looking to get to know the faces that make up your church—the people who will be welcoming them in when they show up on Sunday morning in person or online. They want to literally know who the people representing your church on staff actually are!  A page devoted to highlighting the who of your church staff is essential.  It should feature big, vibrant pictures that are engaging.  Why is this important?  Because knowing the names and faces of the people who represent your church helps make a visitor more comfortable.

As we continue to navigate complex times the ability to minister and disciple people online is an incredible opportunity.  There will be lots of complex conversations to have and hard questions to answer, but why not take an hour and catch the low-hanging fruit today?

Are there any other low-hanging fruit, easy tips, that you would recommend to help a church thrive online?