Since the beginning of the new year, at Rite One Consulting, we have fielded numerous inquiries by congregations interested in redesigning their church's website and assisting with social media deployment. The "pandemic reality" is the driving force behind the demand. Churches and their members rely more than ever on internet resources to worship, communicate, connect, and be the Church in the world. Websites and social media accounts have become the store-front windows to the world, especially during this pandemic.
In this current era, churches are eager to reshape their web presence and (re)establish an identity on social media. The biggest challenge is that an excellent web and social media presence requires a great deal of time and management. It is effortless to plant a seed in the information superhighway but to abundantly grow that seed requires relentless cultivation and tireless labor.
A few weeks ago, I visited a new primary physician and found myself filling out the litany of required forms. I hate the question that asks, "how often do you work out a week?" I want to check the "4-5 times a week" box, but I must check the "1-3 times a week" box if I am honest with myself. Many churches want to believe that they have the people resources and content to be a "4-5 times a week" web and social media content producer. However, given the demands on both clergy and lay leaders, most churches are lucky to post a newsworthy item each week beyond the online bulletin or serving rota for Sunday.
Scalability is the most critical aspect a church needs to implement in website and social media deployment. Suppose you are a small church with very few people resources; we recommend starting simple. Launch a website with a few pages and pair that with one social media account. Trust me that will be plenty to manage weekly. Unfortunately, too many churches launch massive websites that soon fall into disrepair, filled with outdated information and visible unfinished online projects. Leaders struggle to manage even one of their six social media accounts. Eventually, audiences dwindle and lose interest. Any capital built-up from launch quickly fades.
We have learned: Far too many church websites and social media accounts are "DOA"--dead on arrival.
We work with our clients around the issue of scalability. The goal is for our clients' web-based technologies to be a flourishing ministry, not a burden. When outlining scalability, we have developed four general classifications of website and social media deployment. Of course, every church and every church's websites and social media accounts are unique.
Ground-floor: It might be a little barren, but it is a start, nevertheless. A ground-floor approach likely means one static webpage (or maybe a Facebook Page), not a whole website with a slew of pages. The information is updated monthly or quarterly and during Christmas and Easter. There is excellence in simplicity! However, churches will need to invest more time in other "non-tech" ways to raise their visibility with their members and the broader community.
Static: Most churches aspire to run "dynamic" sites but run static websites and social media accounts instead. These sites are easy to spot—most have many webpages and multiple social media accounts. Still, they are updated inconsistently and sometimes rarely. Usually, the management and content generation falls upon a single person; the rector/vicar, church administrator, or a lay leader. Static websites and social media accounts masquerading as dynamic sites and accounts poise the most significant challenge to improving the Church's digital footprint. Stalled websites and social media accounts significantly hurt the brand, hinder new membership growth, and can promote unhealthy communication. In our opinion, we would rather see a good "ground-floor" approach rather than a messy and chaotic static style.
Dynamic: Excellent dynamic sites have a clear vision and purpose supported by a management group and a core team of content generators. Just like a good liturgy, there is a weekly or monthly production schedule planned well in advance. The website is updated approximately three times a week for its members and fairly consistently for newcomers and the broader community. Social media content is generated regularly and paralleled across a few accounts. Often a paid staff member is allocated at least ½ time to shepherd this ministry and take responsibility for its overall success. The church's website and social media accounts deploy video-generated content to extend its brand identity and marketing effectiveness. Dynamic websites and accounts that thrive are well-organized, updated regularly, and full of mission-driven content.
Hyper-Dynamic: Building upon the dynamic model, the "hyper-dynamic" approach demands daily and full-time leadership to manage and generate content. A daily schedule is developed and executed--exceptionally well. Website and social media accounts are updated daily. This approach aims to split your content across your various platforms evenly between your internal and external audiences. External content tends to focus heavily on evangelism and advocacy. Internal content seeks to find a balance between essential information and feature-driven stories. Video-generated content is vital for expanding the church's brand and outreach to the community. In most scenarios, the hyper-dynamic approach demands a significant investment in people and financial resources.
What model best currently describes your congregation's approach? In an ideal world, where would you like your congregation's approach to be in the next 1-3 years?
At Rite One Consulting, we want our clients to select a realistic goal at the initial launch. Over time, as we support and coach-up our clients, the goal is for our clients to realize their "ultimate web and social media presence." In the end, the best approach is always the most realistic approach. If a church can only deploy a static model, then deploy the best static model possible. With all things in the Church, our websites and social media accounts are merely tools for building up the Kingdom of God. These technologies do not replace the Word and Sacrament. However, these technologies certainly can enhance and empower our message, connect us with others, and help us transform the world to reflect God's Love.
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The Reverend Ryan D. Newman is an Episcopal priest and the founding principal of Rite One Consulting with over 25 years experience in both professional ministry and technology. Rite One’s mission is to serve those who serve others by helping make excellence happen.