Since its launch in 1998, Google has been the go-to place to search for just about anything. But when it comes to finding a church, search engines aren’t the only way new people stumble into your congregation. In just the last 10 years, the way people use the internet has drastically changed, and, in turn, so has the way they discover churches.
10 years ago, people found churches through:
- Word of mouth
- Google (or another search engine)
- Phone books, local advertisements, billboards, etc.
- Their denomination
- Maybe Facebook
Now people are using new methods to choose churches:
People learn more about you before showing up
People want to join churches that align with their values, ideals, and theology. In the past, when someone wanted to know what your church cared about, they had to either attend a service or talk to a member of your church. That’s not the case anymore.
Your denomination can help give people an idea of what your church might be like, but it’s only one part of the equation. And the growing number of non-denominational Christians may suggest that denominational alignment is becoming less important. According to Ed Stetzer, over the last four decades, there’s been a 400 percent increase in the number of people who identify as non-denominational Christians. Similarly, his studies have shown that non-denominational Christians as a percentage of all Christians has significantly increased as well.
People who care about causes are scouring your website for podcasts, sermon recordings, blog posts, testimonies, and other media that communicates your church’s ideology, theology, and mission. They can even read public reviews of your church from people who have been to your services.
Your website doesn’t just give an address and a picture anymore. It’s a launchpad for people to explore who you are and decide if that fits with who they are.
Word-of-mouth happens on social media
Social media was certainly around 10 years ago, but it wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. Facebook first became available to anyone with an email address in 2006. Two years later, it boasted 100 million users. Today, Facebook has 2 billion users, and almost 70 percent of all Americans use social media.
That means people are seeing their friends check in at church, share sermon clips, and talk about where they’re going on Sunday. People can publicly ask about churches to get a wide range of suggestions, or they can privately ask people they trust for an honest recommendation. They can even message you on social media with questions about the things that matter to them—and you’d better have someone on the other end to respond.
Most people trust word-of-mouth more than any other recommendation. When people want help making important life decisions (like choosing a church), they talk to their friends and family. And in today’s world, their friends and family are often most available on social media.
Advertising is a lot easier to target
Taking an ad out in the paper or investing in a billboard is still a good way to put your church in front of a lot of people. But how many of those people are even interested in going to church? Do enough people who see these ads actually show up to justify the cost?
Instead of promoting your church to anyone and everyone, digital advertising lets you use data to tailor your ads to people based on their age, interests, and location—you can even advertise specifically to people who visit your website! This means more of your money goes towards reaching people who might actually show up, not just whoever happens to drive by or read the newspaper that day.
Targeted advertising lets you play a more active role in someone’s decision-making process. As they’re comparing local churches, your targeted ads show them that:
- You want to meet them.
- They’re welcome at your church.
- You’re worth taking another look at.
- You’re relevant.
These are all things any local church that is serious about reaching its community will prioritize in its targeted advertisements. While targeted advertising is an effective and indispensable way to get your message to those who need to hear it, you’re not the only institution doing it. Your church will be just one advertisement among a thousand others competing for the attention of the viewer scrolling through his newsfeed. Your message needs to strike home if it’s going to be any good.
Now that you know, what will you do about it?
Technology plays an integral role in how we make choices and weigh our options. If you want church shoppers to choose you, it might be time to:
- Start a blog for your church.
- Publish sermons online.
- Update your church website.
- Encourage your congregation to write reviews of your church or “check in” on social media.
- Learn more about digital advertising.
Your digital investments are far more important than they were 10 years ago. Your newest church member could be exploring their options online right now. How are you helping them make the right decision?