1996 was a good year.
Independence Day was the top grossing movie.
The Summer Olympics were held in Atlanta, Georgia.
Tickle Me Elmo was causing fights at malls during the Christmas shopping season.
I graduated high school in 1996.
When I graduated high school, there was one computer in the entire building that had internet access. It was located in the library behind the librarian’s desk. You accessed the internet via Netscape on a dial-up connection. You had to get permission from the librarian to use the internet connected computer. She almost never granted permission. After all, why would you need the internet? There wasn’t much to do.
Times have changed since 1996.
In 1996, there were around 100,000 websites Today, there are billions.
A recent study by USC Annenberg found that the average American spends 24 hours a week online. 40% of respondents reported being “online constantly.” A vast majority of online time is spent on some form of social media.
Many churches communicate like it’s 1996. The primary means of communication is a weekly printed bulletin, live announcements on a Sunday morning from the pastor, a monthly mailed newsletter, or a sign in front of the building. Many churches still pay to have an ad in the yellow pages or newspaper. Some send an email version of their newsletter and have a tired looking website. All of these methods were available in 1996. The digital revolution has taken place in the last two decades, and churches are slow on the uptake.
The way most churches communicate is outdated, ineffective, and should be a source of embarrassment (or at least some serious reflection).
This is truly sad. The church was on the cutting edge of the last major communication revolution. The Bible was the first mass-produced book printed on the printing press.
The fastest growing churches get the importance of digital communication. For the last two decades, megachurches and startups are the fastest growing types of churches. They are also the two types of churches most likely to spend a higher percentage of their budget on digital communications. Think about that. Startup churches, who typically aren’t flush with funds, are spending a higher portion of their budget on digital communications than established churches.
If the fastest growing sector of churches are using digital, then why are most churches so far behind and snuggling to keep up with the pace of change?
Is it lack of money?
Facebook is free.
Instagram is free.
YouTube is free.
Twitter is free.
Snapchat is free.
A basic website can be set up for free. A good one for cheap.
Is it lack of staff or people to manage digital communication?
Having a staff or staff person dedicated to digital media helps (a lot), but it is not necessary. Churches are full of people who live online every day. They can contribute, given the right vision. Most churches likely have several members/attendees who work in a digital marketing field.
Is there a legitimate spiritual reason for churches not to fully engage in the digital world?
No. Just no.
Then, what is it?
Why do most churches communicate like it is 1996?
I think the answer is simple: A lack of imagination.
Many pastors do not personally realize the importance of digital communication in the church. As a result, they are not casting vision in this area.
I was at a ministry conference recently and noticed a bored looking pastor sitting next to me browsing Facebook on his smartphone during a presentation. I know this guy’s church. They have a basic website and no social media presence. I checked, they do have paid listing in the yellow pages. Why did this pastor realize the value of a smartphone and social media for his personal life, but not for his church?
Here are three questions to help you discern if you are communicating well in the digital age.
1. Do you spend at least 1% of your annual ministry budget on website design/content and paid social media reach?
2. Do your primary social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram) have at least 4x your average weekly worship attendance?
3. Do you have an annual communications plan?
How do you rate in this area? Let me know.