Location, Location, Location
Let’s be real for a minute, you wouldn’t launch a capital campaign and build a multi-million dollar facility that no one could access. God bless the early medieval hermit monks from Georgia in the 6th-9th century, but the Katskhi pillar monastery (pictured above) doesn’t follow the three rules of real estate. Location, location, location. Your church planting coach will not be pleased when you inform him you are launching a Bible study on top of a 130 ft tall rock. Sure you might draw the mountain climbing crowd the first week or so but it’s not going to last. Yet, while this mentality would never fly in our physical meeting location, the digital location of our churches isn’t far off. And we seem to be cool with that.
We recently had Ryan Wakefield from Church Marketing University (CMU) join us for a Nexus Webinar, Prioritizing Your Digital Presence. In it, he shared an ‘aha moment’ that he and his team were saying even before Covid hit. CMU suggests that “your digital location is now more important than your physical location.”
So what is your digital location?
Well, just like a physical location, your digital location has highways that lead to it, it has a specific location on that highway, a front porch to have a conversation, windows to see inside, and it even has cars in the parking lot. All of these things look different online but make no mistake, they’re there.
1. SEARCH ENGINES are like the HIGHWAYS
If you knew that 3.5 billion people would drive by your location on a daily basis, wouldn’t you do everything you could to get your church building to sit there like a billboard on the Interstate? That’s what search engines are. They are the highways that are directing 3.5 billion searches every day! But search engines like Google aren’t just 8 lane highways giving you exactly what you searched for. They’ll show you every location from every backwoods, potholed, dirt road on earth. But no one sees those locations because almost nobody goes past page one of Google search results. That’s why your ranking is crucial.
2. Your RANKING is your LOCATION
Did you know that some crazy number like 95% of people never go past the first page of Google search results? That means that if someone searches “churches near me,” they most likely won’t even notice your church exists if it’s not on the first page. That’s why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a big deal. You can have an incredible facility, killer music, and an epic children’s ministry but if people can’t find you, it doesn’t really matter. Now obviously a personal invitation is always your number one marketing tool. But for those you have yet to meet that are searching for hope, don’t you want them to connect with your church?
There was a meme going around some time ago that said, “the best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google search results.” But there’s a lot you can do to get your church in the top results in your location.
- You can get a knowledgeable friend to optimize your website for SEO.
- List your church EVERYWHERE: Yellow Pages, Bing, Church Angel, Church Finder, etc.
- You could sign up for the Google Ad Grant and get Google to give you $10,000/mo in Google Ad Words. Church Marketing University has a course to help you apply for the Google Ad Grant and set it up! (That’s probably one of the best-kept secrets in church marketing.)
3. Your WEBSITE is your HUB
Nearly everyone visiting your church, or considering it, will visit your website ahead of time. Your website is one of your organization’s first impressions for most people. Make sure it’s communicating what you want. You should treat your website like a staff member. It should be the most effective, hardest working team member you have. Think about it. Your website is out front meeting people in your community, building trust, inviting them to church, helping them plan their experience, and helping them take their next steps. So is it effective?
There are a ton of great things to have on your site but keep in mind, your website should be focused on outsiders seeking to learn about your church. Here are a couple of key components to an effective church website:
A good website won’t win someone to Jesus. But a bad one could potentially keep them away. People are used to seeing excellence. Get a great platform like Omega by Ministry Designs and update it regularly.
4. SOCIAL MEDIA is the FRONT PORCH
There are nearly 3 billion people on Facebook. Yep, that’s billion with a “B.” Social media for your church is not optional. There’s so much to be said about social media but we’ll keep it short and sweet. One church marketer suggests that not learning to use Facebook in our culture for ministry is similar to a missionary refusing to learn the language of a people group they’re trying to reach. But social media isn’t SEO, it’s really the front porch where people can come and sit and see life happening at your church. It shows life, highlights events, outreach, and encourages followers. So be active. Oh yeah, and don’t add multiple social media platforms just because you can. Only add what you can do well. It’s better to have one or two accounts done well than to have several that are neglected.
5. PICTURES are the WINDOWS into your digital location
Buildings or vans with no windows give you a creepy feeling. Don’t let your church be that way online. Your website or Facebook page shouldn’t have people guessing what’s going on inside. Photography is the secret weapon for your church’s digital location. Photos make every aspect of your digital presence way more effective. So add pictures! Lots of pictures. Lots of smiles. Posting verses and announcements on Facebook is fine, but if those are the only ‘photos’ on your page, you might be in danger of driving a creeper van! You may want to check that right now.
6. REVIEWS are like the CARS IN THE PARKING LOT
Ever pulled up to a restaurant you’ve never been to before around dinner time and there isn’t a single car in the parking lot? It makes you rethink your decision. Conversely, it’s a totally different feeling when a new place is jam-packed with customers. The same can be said about reviews.
Don’t believe me?
When was the last time you were in a new city and needed to find a place to eat, a place to stay, a mechanic, or anything else? What did you do? If you’re like most people, when you pull up the map on your phone, you’re not just looking to go anywhere. You’re checking out the reviews. How many are there? What’s the average rating? It’s the same when you’re shopping on Amazon. We want to know what people are saying and experiencing. Let’s say you’re checking out a new coffee shop, you see one with 70+ reviews and another with 2 reviews, most people would choose the more popular one because it must be good! Also, the one with 2 reviews is probably only reviewed by the owner and their mom. It’s a concept called “social proof” or “social influence.” Basically, the actions of others help determine the best course of action for ourselves. Even though we don’t like to admit it, we’re sheep. We tend to follow others.
It might seem weird to seek reviews for your church, but the influence of reviews is a common occurrence when people search online for anything. Including a church. So find a natural place in your culture to ask on a regular basis for Google and Facebook reviews from your church. Maybe it’s your new members class? You could even be creative and do it in service once a quarter and offer a Starbucks gift card to the 5th review sent in. Whatever it takes. Fill up that parking lot!
When Paul went to Athens in Acts 17, he was a student of the culture. He understood what people valued, quoted well-known local poets, and engaged people where they were at. We need to do the same thing. While Google or Facebook may not have the gravitas of the Areopagus, it’s where the people are. It’s one of your Entry fields from The Four Fields discipleship tool. The mission to make disciples of all nations never changes. Methods change. Our model of ministry has to be held loosely and constantly adapted. Even in a pre-pandemic world, you should’ve been prioritizing your digital presence. How much more so post 2020?
We want people to find our churches. But more importantly, we want them to connect with the life-giving Savior that we preach! Prioritizing your digital presence isn’t just about looking cool online. It’s about connecting people far from God to your body of believers so that their lives will be radically transformed by the Gospel.