by Laura Hutchinson
Before you can really love your neighbours, you’ll need to let them know that you exist.
I recently moved from my hometown to a big city for work. It was hard leaving my church community behind and I definitely suffered without my weekly Sabbath School group, women’s bible studies and music rehearsals.
So I Googled. It was surprisingly hard to find any information about my local Adventist church. They were listed under an old name on Google and didn’t have any information on opening hours, Sabbath School or life groups. Their website was a template designed by the Union with a copy-paste of content for the section labelled ‘About Us’ - and that was it. They were listed under yet another name on Facebook and only as a closed group, not a page.
When my husband and I arrived to the church for the first time, there was no sign out the front. Nothing to let us know where the parking was, or even where the entrance was. We attended a few times, and once we rocked up to find no one there - it was a church camp weekend, and we had no idea.
Unfortunately, ours is not an isolated experience. Adventist churches around the country are just going with the flow, existing and running programs for the congregation who have been attending the same church out of habit for 20 years or more. Yet we wonder why we have an aging membership, and the only new attendees are other Adventists who have moved here from another city.
It’s time to get your church online. That’s where people are hanging out these days! And no, this is not another job for your pastor - it’s time for the digital natives to step up and get involved.
Listen to Burn the Haystack’s Episode 62: Getting Your Church Online with Laura Hutchinson.
Here’s a checklist to get you started.
Google My Business
That’s literally the name of the program. Google My Business is an important platform for venues because it is what provides Google Maps with information and creates the informative box which comes up when you search for an organisation on Google.
To claim your listing, search for your church and select ‘Own this business?’. Google will send you a snail-mail postcard to that address with a verification code. Once you’ve verified your listing you’ll be able to add the most important things: Your church’s name, address and opening hours. You will also be able to add relevant photos, respond to reviews, post about upcoming events and a website URL and contact details.
A website is referred to as ‘the anchor’ of any marketing plan. Think about it - if you want more information about anything, you’ll Google it. I would fiercely argue that your website is much more important than flyers, signs, bulletins and posters combined!
For many Adventist Churches there are templates which you can use to create your website, provided by the Union. If you’d like to go with your own style, ask your congregation if anyone knows how to build a website - I’m sure there will be at least one person who can do it! Set up your website with the basic name, address, program descriptions and times first. Then ask yourself, what would people be searching for to make them stumble across our church website? Add that information to your page through program descriptions or blog posts. I would suggest brainstorming with your church to come up with ideas of how people may be searching for you. Here are some sample searches to get started:
What do Adventists believe?
What is the Sabbath?
Bible studies near me
How to pray
Family events in [insert suburb here]
Does God exist?
Easy healthy recipes
What happens in a church service?
What happens when you die?
Community events near me
Christian church near me
Take these theoretical Google entries (in marketing we call these ‘keywords’) and answer them using text or videos on your website.
Some other things that are helpful to add to your website are upcoming events and prayer requests. I’d suggest Googling some other non-Adventist churches in your city to gain some inspiration on layout and content.
All of this information will be not only helpful to your local community but also great for your search engine optimisation (SEO), which means that Google is more likely to put you on Page 1 when people search for anything that might be relevant to your site. Include hyperlinks in your text to other relevant websites, as connecting yourself to a network of similar information will make your website more credible to Google. For more information about SEO, I would highly recommend visiting Kate Toon’s Recipe for SEO Success website which offers free introductory resources and affordable short courses.
Perth-based Pastor Marcos Torres also has some great tips on communicating your church to the world on his website The Story Church Project.
Avondale College Church have a beautiful, easy to navigate website that is inviting and steers clear of exclusive Advent-ese language.
So you’ve got a great website. Congratulations! How many visitors does it get? What are the most popular pages? What keywords are people using to find you? To deep dive into the data behind searches, clicks and who your audience are, set up a Google Analytics account and link it to your website. You’ll be able to see how much traffic each page gets and how people are discovering you.
There is a great guide on setting up every aspect of your Google Analytics account by Orbit Media.
As the most intergenerational social media platform, Facebook is an appropriate place for your church to be represented. Set your church up as a Page, making sure that it’s name is the same as what’s listed on your Google My Business and website. Give your Page a cover photo and profile image, a logo if you have one. Fill in your About section with as much information as you can (including a link to your website) and invite your connections to ‘Like’ the Page.
On your Facebook page, schedule content to engage with the online audience. Digital Discipleship has created an article with seventeen types of content to share on your church’s social media. Some simple examples include:
Information about upcoming programs
Going Live with a service
Images of your congregation enjoying the service, mingling time or lunch together (with their permission)
Inspirational Bible verses or quotes
Asking for prayer requests
Announcements such as upcoming baptisms, camps, youth events, marriages, new sermon series, etc
The best thing about Facebook Pages is that you can set up Events! Every time you have a youth social, a special program, a potluck lunch or games night, create a Facebook Event for it. List the name, event description and links to tickets (if applicable), information about parking and which age range the event is appropriate for. When Facebook users click on ‘Interested’, ‘Attending’ or ‘Maybe’, they will be notified when the event is coming up. You can also post within the event to give more information or reminders.
These Events will be public and are able to be found by anyone looking for things to do in your area. People who have been interested in similar events in the past will be shown your church’s event as a suggestion and hello, online evangelism! You’ve made the first step.
Following the recent information from F8, consider also creating a Facebook Group for your church. You can manage this group through the Page. There is more information about this process on the Digital Discipleship blog, however I would only suggest launching a Group if you have enough volunteers willing to help monitor the group so that it remains a safe space focused on appropriate topics.
If you need a hand with content, consider using free stock images from Pexels or Unsplash; check out Adventist Resources for tips, videos, graphics and more; and follow your local Conference and Union to see if you can share any of their posts.
Have you ever wondered why churches still print bulletins? They are not always easy to create, have limited space for information and waste a lot of paper. Plus, the only people who receive them are those attending church on that day.
An email newsletter (EDM) allows your church to have a digital bulletin which saves paper and accesses people who are not at church each week - maybe they have never been!
I suggest MailChimp as an easy-to-use EDM platform for churches. Decide on a style you like and then keep your EDMs consistent - either once per week or once monthly, depending on the availability of your volunteers. You can fill your EDM with announcements, upcoming events, reminders, prayer requests, relevant videos or a link to your latest blog post. Include links to contact forms and your Facebook page so that the recipients have a way to respond to your message if they would like to.
Create a Sign Up Form and embed it into your website. Post a link to the sign up form on your Facebook Page too! Another way to get people subscribed to your mailing list is to pass around a clipboard at church where members can provide their name and email address if they are happy to be receive the regular email newsletter.
If you’ve already got a great website, listing on Google, Facebook Page and steady EDM list… congratulations! It’s time to move to the next level and start creating content to boost your online presence. YouTube is a platform owned by Google, so optimising and integrating your videos here will also help to improve the SEO of your website.
If you search ‘Adventist’ right now you’ll find a range of content including the General Conference’s Tell the World feature film, prophecy seminars from Amazing Facts, mocking snippets from Family Guy, some alt-right fear messages about prophecies, a range of former Adventists ‘exposing’ the flaws of the denomination and others explaining why they believe Seventh-day Adventism is a cult. I think it’s safe to say that there is no information on the first page of YouTube that Millennial Australians find relevant to their modern Adventist experience.
So let’s create it.
All you need to create a video is a phone and editing software, like iMovie. Brainstorm with your youth group or wider congregation to find out not only what they would like to learn more about but also what questions their non-Christian friends ask them. Answer it in a video, upload it to your church’s YouTube channel and embed it in your website if appropriate.
Some ideas to get you started include:
Why you love your mum (ie. for Mother’s Day)
What the best thing about being a Christian is
Why you love your church
Video bible study
Tour of the church
‘A day in the life’ of an Adventist on Sabbath
Highlight reels of programs such as Pathfinder camps
Follow Adventist Media on YouTube too, they are making some amazing videos which you can share or add to your church account’s playlist.
A word on traditional marketing
Ask someone who has never been to your church to visit one day and report to you honestly how their experience was. How did they find the parking situation? Were people friendly to them? Was it easy to navigate, with clear signs telling them where to go? Did the church garden look overgrown and abandoned? How was the vibe of the sanctuary? Were the seats comfortable? Was the carpet clean and fresh or musty and covered in stains? How did it smell? Did they understand what the people up the front were talking about?
Word of mouth continues to be the most powerful referral tool for all human experiences. Traditional marketing covers more than just signs, posters and flyers - it also includes the experience that you are providing for your visitors every week.
David Asscherick has created a fantastic video on how to make a safe, ‘five star’ church.
Becoming a familiar place for the community
I’d like to take you into the mind of a daily commuter who drives past your church every morning. Just because they see it as they go by does not mean they really know it’s there, let alone feel comfortable to go back and attend on a weekend.
I personally love swing dancing. My classes in North Sydney are held in the local presbyterian church hall which has perfectly smooth floor boards and a friendly old town hall vibe. Attending swing classes every week has helped me become familiar with the venue. I know where to park, where the entrance is, what it looks like inside and where the bathrooms are located. I would feel totally comfortable to go back to that presbyterian church for any event now because it feels like another home to me.
Unfortunately many of our Adventist churches remain dormant all week until we’re ready for the Saturday morning program again. But what would happen if we opened the doors and announced ourselves as a central hub for the community to gather, meet others, grow creatively and feel safe? By running other programs in the church hall throughout the week you’ll empower people to eventually feel brave enough to step through the same doors on a weekend to discover church.
Listen to Burn the Haystack’s Episode 62: Getting Your Church Online with Laura Hutchinson.
I could bang on forever about optimising your church for the modern local community. If you’re interested to learn more, check out resources from the North American Division’s Big Data and Social Media program, the Australian Union’s Digital Discipleship, check out the free digital marketing certification course by Google Digital Garage. You can also post in the Burn the Haystack Community Facebook Group* to ask any marketing communications questions! I can’t wait to see how your church thrives.
*You’ll need a secret password to enter, which you can only get by listening to our podcasts! See you there.
Laura Hutchinson lives in Sydney with her husband Sebastian and is passionate about performing arts and creativity in the church. Laura graduated from Avondale College of Higher Education in 2016 with a Bachelor of Business & Arts, specialising in Marketing and Communications. She is currently employed as a professional marketer in Manly and helps to promote Burn the Haystack Podcast online through social media and SEO.