If someone has made a decision to look for a place to worship, I have the tools to help your church get found on the web, Google Maps, and social media. I can help you create a website that will help people make a decision to visit your church.
But what if someone isn’t looking for a church? Does your website have anything to offer? Don’t get me wrong, we need to pay attention to people who are looking. I have visited the sites of every church in the Rio Texas Annual Conference. (That I could find. However, if I can’t find a church’s website, doesn’t it really matter if it has one?) A lot of churches need first to address the people who are already looking for them. We have churches with no website presence at all or a website that might cause people to decide NOT to visit that church.
But what about the people who aren’t looking for a church? Would they have any reason to visit your church’s website or stick around once they got there? There are a lot of people out searching. Maybe they are not searching for a church. Maybe they are searching for help, hope, forgiveness or something else that the Gospel offers. Perhaps they just don’t know that the church is in that business.
I believe the Church needs to start paying attention to Content Marketing.
What is content marketing? Let’s begin with the Wikipedia definition:
“Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers.”1
That sounds a bit corporate and commercial. What does that have to do with the Church? Let me define it from a slightly different angle. Content marketing fills a need. It offers something people are looking for. It does so to introduce them to something that they didn’t know that they were looking for.
Let me give an example. I have been doing a lot of research about video conferencing. We are using video conferencing to keep to people in our annual conference better connected. I have been researching the best equipment to set up video conference rooms at churches and district offices. There are plenty of resources out there: white papers, infographics, case studies, videos, etc. A lot of these come from companies who want me to buy their equipment or use their service. They are using the information they share as a means to try and earn my business. Sometimes, it works.
So again, this sounds a bit corporate and commercial. It certainly is if you are trying to sell something. But what if you are looking to give something away? Maybe that is biblical. Let’s look at the original Christian content marketer, the apostle Paul.
Paul was engaged in content marketing? Indeed. Take a look at Acts, chapter 17. If you have two monitors or a big screen, keep it open. Or, perhaps use your iPhone or an actual paper Bible. About halfway through the chapter, Paul was in Athens, and he was upset by the number of idols he saw. He spoke in the synagogue but he also went into the marketplace. While he didn’t likely find anyone there looking for Jesus, he had something they wanted: ideas.
Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
Ideas, the content that Paul used to get the attention of his audience. He offered them what they were looking and leveraged that into an opportunity to present something even better. Paul didn’t succeed in bringing the entire crowd to Jesus, but some said they wanted to hear more and others became believers.
Content marketing can have an icky side. Sometimes when I am searching, I find someone who pretends to be willing to offer me something. I might give my email address in exchange for a resource that I need, for instance, a comparison chart of popular webcams. However, sometimes I never get the chart, I just recieve a bunch of emails about their webcam and a hard sell. That makes me unhappy.
If churches are going to venture into the world of content marketing, we need to avoid that bait and switch. If church websites are going to offer content to fill the percieved needs of people, they need to deliver. For instance, don’t offer a downloadable resource for dealing with troubled teens only to have it tell people why they should come to your church. Give them the real thing. Give them something useful. Give them something of value. Show them you actually care about them and want to help. That begins a relationship. They may come back for more. When they do, maybe that will start to wonder about this place that wants to help them. Maybe they will look up your service times. Maybe they will look at some of your other resources on Jesus, faith, and belief.
I found a great read on brilliant content marketing innovations from major companies. You can read it here:
8 Absolutely Brilliant Content Marketing Innovations from the World’s Best Brands
What if the church followed the same idea? What if church websites became sources of content that even those who aren’t interested in the church would want to see?
What could draw people? Stories of transformation? We should have those. Help for struggling marriages and families? I hope the church has something to offer. Resources for people struggling with poverty, battling depression, dealing with addiction? Some of the best resources for these issues have come out of the church. What about resources for people who just want to learn about religion or the Bible? Believe it or not, there are people who aren’t interested in coming to church who are interested in learning about faith.
This sounds like a lot of work. But let me end with two thoughts. First of all, most of these resources already exist. It is just a matter of providing links and/or access to them. Second, one church doesn’t have to provide everything. What is your church passionate about? What is your church known for or what does it want to be known for? What if your church website offered resources on those things?
What if you had the chance to overhear this conversation:
“You know, I am struggling with ________.”
“You should check out XYZ Church’s website. They have some great resources to help with that.”
Something to think about.
1. Content marketing – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_marketing (accessed May 13, 2015).
I hate it when you are right. Now I have to take a brand new look at my site. This is the scripture reference the Pastor here will be preaching on Sunday, a coincidence… I think maybe not.
If it is any relief, I am not always happy when I am right.