Why Church Communications Is Stuck in 2004 – Episode 61 | The Unstuck Church Podcast
Navigating the Biggest Communication Shift in 500 Years
What’s one thing we almost never see a church doing well? Even the big ones? Content strategy. And that’s just one reason why church communications is stuck in 2004.
We’re living through the biggest communication shift in 500 years. As fewer people attend church and more utilize the web for every aspect of their lives, our churches can’t afford to not have a strategy. This isn’t an add-on to our ministry; it’s a full scale shift.
In this episode, Amy and I interview The Unstuck Group’s Marketing and Communications Director, Tiffany Deluccia, about how the world has shifted, why your church needs to be thinking about “inbound marketing,” and the tools you can use to make it happen.
In this conversation, we discussed:
Why it matters that your church’s marketing is stuck in 2004
What “inbound marketing” is and how it could change your ministry strategy—from expanding your front door to better serving people along their discipleship path
How churches are losing the “content battle” and the shift we need to make in our thinking
Tools and strategies to help you get started
Join the Conversation
We’ll be talking about this more on Facebook and Twitter this week. Listen to the episode and then join in.
Some things we are hoping to discuss:
What percentage of your community can you reach in a single hour on a single day of the week?
What if we invested more time and energy in finding ways to connect with people outside the walls of our church in an on-demand culture?
How could we be better leveraging technology to help serve people as they take their next steps with Jesus? Let’s think beyond just getting them to sign up for events at church.
Particularly on iTunes, your ratings and reviews really do help more pastors discover the podcast content I’m creating here. Would you take a minute to share your thoughts? Just open the the podcast on iTunes on your phone or computer, click Ratings & Reviews, and leave your opinion.
Many pastors have reached out to us and mentioned noticing both declining numbers in their current congregation and the lack of new people engaging. We cannot wait and hope for things to “go back to normal” or think that in-person services will bring people flocking back.
We need to shift our strategies to meet people where they are: online.
Our Shift from Analog to Digital session in the last masterclass resonated with hundreds of church leaders around the globe. It’s time to dig deeper and really unpack the 4 keys to growing your digital front door.
Clarity around how your digital ministry strategy needs to change to thrive in the post-pandemic world
The specific skills and practical next steps for the 4 keys to growing your digital front door:
Foundations: Clarifying Who You Are Trying to Reach
Creating an Effective Digital Engagement Strategy
Putting Your Digital Engagement Strategy in Action
How to Structure Your Team to Support the Digital Strategy
Today, churches must focus on growing their digital front door—or they won’t survive. Register now and be equipped to grow your church’s digital front door and build a healthy digital ministry strategy.
Tony: 00:00 Before we start today’s conversation, let me tell you about our episode sponsor plain Joe Studios and how they can help your church. You know, basically you’re telling a story, the one about Jesus and your church and Plain Joe works with you to get that story right and the most important and visible places. This includes your logo, your website. They help with facility space, theming and signage. They’ll assist with your communications strategy and the staff development for your communications team. They’re really helping you tell your story and all of these areas, so check them out online at plain Joe Studios Dot Com.
Amy: 00:51 Hey, welcome to the podcast. I’m Amy Anderson and each week we share a conversation. Our team’s been happy about getting churches unstuck and today I’m here with Tony Morgan, but also a special guest, Tiffany Deluccia
Tony: 02:51 So Tiffany, you actually are the one that suggested we should call this episode, why church communications is stuck in 2004. What’s the big deal about 2004? And why do you say church marketing is stuck there specifically?
Tiffany: 03:07 There’s a reason for that. We didn’t have the iPhone yet in 2004. That’s the year that Facebook was invented. I think in general, in 2004, the world just wasn’t mobile centric yet. It wasn’t social media centric. The phrase web 2.0 was popularized in 2004. And if you’re still using that, you should stop. It is old at this point. I think in 2004, the Internet was just about to move beyond this sort of basic website for information, email for communication existence and become what it’s become now. And, from what I can see, I think you guys would agree with this. Most churches still live there. Dabbling in social media, investing very little in a very basic website that’s not designed for mobile, that’s presenting simple information in a simple, I’m not saying simple in a good way, but simple and they’ll just basic way a using email without any particular strategy. And definitely without analytics or testing or trying to figure out what’s the best way to get the information out. And besides those things, 2005 was the year that inbound marketing became a phrase and it’s been exploding ever since. And I think most churches are still not doing this, not exploring this. We almost never see a church with a content strategy, at least in what I see from my role. And you guys can speak more to that. I mean, do you see churches with the content strategy?
Tony: 04:34 Yeah. So I wanted to dive in because I know Amy wants to dig a little bit more on that phrase, inbound marketing, but as you were just describing 2004 and the website was all about getting information out now. Really the same thing. It’s just about us giving you information that we think you need and none of the we want to, we want to provide the content you’re actually looking for or we want to somehow develop a relationship with you or we want to generate an emotion that resonates, none of that, that, that wasn’t part of 2004. It was just about information going out one directional and really try and for churches to promote next step. And that I think, you know, it really did work a decade ago or more. Uh, but we’re seeing now today for the churches were engaged with us. It’s just not working anymore. And, I think part of the reason is because other organizations, and I would actually include The Unstuck Group in this, we’ve become more savvy. We’ve become more in tune with how people are actually engaging, particularly social media. But the reality is web and email marketing and things like that, that’s still very critical to how we connect with the people that were wanting to help take their next steps in leadership in our case and your case. Hopefully that’s taking a next step toward Christ and connecting with the Ministry of your church. But yeah, inbound marketing.
Amy: 06:08 Wait, can I just say one thing too? But what I heard you say, Tiffany, is that we used to put a website up there and everyone already knew who we were and they could just come get information from us. But what you’re talking about these days is you have to draw people to your website through content and through these other strategies. Right?
Tiffany: 06:27 Right. And, you need to have a reason for being there once they’re there. I think most church websites are still designed to answer questions. People aren’t necessarily asking a lot of them. We might get there again later. The specific thing I think of a lot of times the church website is listing all of the things we believe on this super nitty gritty denominational level or I’m putting out information about every class and ministry that we offer. Well, people who show up at that website and unless you’re, unless you do have a great strategy to drive the people who already attend your church there for next steps. I mean in general, people who are on your website ought to be people checking out whether they want to come to your church or not, and if that’s the case, unless you’re just trying to track other Christians, the information about your denominational beliefs, that’s not the questions they’re asking, but we can come back around.
Amy: 07:33 You’re so smart, Tiffany. That’s why everyone should have a Tiffany on their team. Right, so you threw out that term inbound marketing. Can you give us the rundown of what that even means?
Tiffany: 07:44 Sure. I know it sounds so corporate and scary. It’s a synonym for content marketing, which is a term I think most people have heard, but the basic premise is you’re going to attract people through relevant, helpful content and try to add value at every stage in their journey. From the business perspective, they’re talking about the buyer’s journey, but we’re not selling something so we can be thinking about how do we add value at every stage in a seeker’s journey. Somebody who’s trying to figure out if they’re interested in the church, how can we help them along that path or somebody who’s new in town, you know, what? How would you think about attracting them and be helpful at each stage in their journey. So there are different ways to approach it from a church perspective, but the basic thing is unlike traditional marketing, you are creating content to address the problems and the needs that people are feeling and then you’re building credibility because you’re being helpful along the way. You’re not just trying to push something at them. You’re offering them something that they can use and something that speaks to where they are. And I think for churches, it could really be the new front door, it can, uh, it can be a way that we’re answering the questions people are actually asking and attracting them in. Taking a content strategy is not saying we no longer are trying to get people to gather or come to church, but it is a potentially a new front door to get them to connect with your church. Sure. To take the next step.
Tony: 09:19 Yeah. And that’s what I was just going to emphasize actually, I liked the fact that you were focused on the front door for the church, helping people that are outside the faith and outside the church take some initial steps and as you’re suggesting it will help us do that if we can create content that it really addresses the needs that they have in their life currently. But I think this approach to marketing actually works also for the people that are already connected the church and are still trying to figure out what their next step looks like as well. So it works in both context. Uh, so tiffany, I was talking with a few staff members recently at a larger church that I’m connected with and they’re actually on the cusp of figuring out what this means for their church. In your opinion, why should churches care about this? Why should churches care so much about this? Because as you suggested, this does kind of sound like business strategy. So why? Why should we care?
Tiffany: 10:16 Yeah. I wrote an article I think last year called “Churches are losing the content battle” and I think truthfully, most of us aren’t even dressed for battle. It gets back to where we’re not answering the questions people are asking. So Google has answers to every question people are really asking. And I was looking at a site earlier today, actually shared this link with the Unstuck team. If you’re not familiar with the school of life content, you should go check it out. The school of life is an atheist organization that is putting out killer video content, helping people answer what is the purpose for my life? What, how should marriage work? Am I ready to get married? How do I determine my worth as a person? I mean these basic human questions that the church has felt like it had the market on for years. The school of life answers those questions blatantly, unapologetically from an atheist perspective saying, we can help you with psychology and philosophy and we can help you figure out what you’re doing here. And religion has some good things to offer, but we assume God isn’t real and we know you assume God isn’t real. So let’s, let’s help you along your journey and find the most happiness you can find. their videos on youtube have millions and millions and millions of views there. They’re killing it. I think that the primary thing for me is that the church is still trying to address those questions people have on Sunday morning, once a week. And then we may put out a podcast episode afterwards or we may throw up a blog post, but there’s no intentional focused strategy to say we have a perspective on this. We have the answers that you need. And so when somebody starts with, I’m not sure I want to keep living, and they type that into Google and you would be surprised. I mean that’s what people type into Google people ask their biggest questions there first. It’s anonymous and they’re going to find a community of other people who have an answer. And I think that that’s one of the big things that we’re missing by not engaging the strategies. We’re just, we’re not even, we’re not even at answering the questions in a way that people are finding them
Tony: 12:31 And it goes beyond just addressing the questions that they’re really asking. It goes beyond the content itself. There’s actually some additional strategy behind this. Isn’t there, tiffany?
Tiffany: 12:43 Yeah. I think that we all, hopefully all realize that targeted communication is the new norm. Whether you get creeped out by that or not. We’re used to seeing ads for things we like. If you, if you don’t believe me, look at your facebook ads and then go look at your husband or your wife’s. I mean, my husband’s facebook ads are all related to college football. I mean, every single one of them at this time of year out, my husband is looking for a pellet grill because it showed up in one of our feeds. Why do I keep seeing ads? Yeah. And he makes fun of me because my ads are all farming and organic life products and you know, but we’re, we’re used to it. We’re used to seeing targeted ads for things we’d like. You may not realize it but you’re seeing search results for things from news outlets that you like. If you were looking for information during the election and you type in just a candidates name, you’re gonna see results from the news outlets that you already read and you’re not going to see anyone else’s perspective. And they do that because they’re trying to get you to click. They want you to visit what their article instead of someone else’s. But the thing is, I think it used to be more, more creepy and now people are just kind of used to it. And we’re in this zone where we don’t really tolerate getting asked for things we don’t want to see anymore, we don’t tolerate when our email inbox getting filled up with things that we weren’t looking for, we consider it spam. And so in general, if you’re going to be more effective communicating, you’ve got to start thinking about how to segment your information based on who needs to know this. Who is this relevant to
Tony: 14:18 At the risk of being too transparent. Can you give an example, Tiffany? At the unstuck group we’re trying to connect with different pastors. Can you give an example of what that looks like for us?
Tiffany: 14:35 Sure. So if you’re reading the unstuck group’s content and you know, you’re reading a lot of articles about multisite, for example. Well to us that tells us that’s either you’re either currently leading a multisite church or you are thinking going multisite, that that’s a topic that’s interesting to you. We don’t want to keep sending you content about something that’s totally irrelevant. So, you know, we, we always make sure it’s transparent, you have a chance to opt in and tell us what you’re looking for, but we’re gonna be more likely to let you know about another webinar about how to lead an effective multisite church. Then maybe we would be letting somebody know who is leading at a small rural church. So that’s one example is we can make sure your most helpful and that you’re not spamming people are not giving people things that are not helpful to them by tailoring it.
Tony: 15:24 And I could imagine for churches the way this could play out, is it a, you would give people an option and kind of monitor how they’re engaging with the content based on stage of life?
Tiffany: 15:37 Yeah. For example, we talk a lot about with your stage announcements, not announcing things that don’t apply to the, to the majority, maybe 80 percent rule. But with email you can, you can speak exactly to who you’re wanting to speak to. So, with parents of young children, you can be really targeted. Or maybe the fifth graders rising up to middle school. You’re not gonna send information about that to the whole church. We’re going to send it to the parents that matters. And so it can be segmented by stage of life. I think we’re, there’s potential, I don’t know any church is doing this now, but are more related to your discipleship path. I think you can be really thinking about how do we help people take a step from new believer to the different steps on your discipleship path and your content strategy can be one component of that because hopefully churches are tracking that and they know kind of where people are in that process and it’s not at all saying that people aren’t responsible for their own steps in their journey to follow Christ and the Holy Spirit’s role in any way diminished, but it is about us being more aware of where people are and how and how do we be as helpful as possible. I think the role of the church is to help people take steps along that journey and to follow Jesus better, and if we’re not, if we’re not leveraging our communication strategy effectively, we’re not being helpful.
Tony: 17:01 All right tiffany, so if the listeners buy into what you’re talking about here and actually think this is something we need to lean into a little bit more, can you share some tips for churches to get started when it comes to approaching their communications differently as you suggested?
Tiffany: 17:18 Sure. I would say start by thinking about the content. Start by thinking of the person you’re trying to reach and, and really spend some time identifying what are the questions that they’re asking and, and then think about how you can be creating content to, to answer those questions and content. It can be through your blog, it could be a video strategy, it can be an email strategy. Social media applies probably across the board. You’re going to have multiple channels, but start by getting really clear on what kinds of content do we need to be producing, reach the person we’re trying to reach.
Tony: 17:51 Yeah. So on that note, I’m always shocked amy knows this part of our process when we at the unstuck group engage with the churches, we help the church identify who’s actually in their mission field and we do that in a number of different ways, but it does include taking a look at some of the demographic information that’s available about the community. It’s always shocking to me how churches tried to defend who they perceive is in their community and what the data actually. But I mean, I think a, a baseline here, tiffany, don’t you agree? Is it really try to dive in and figure out who’s in your mission field. Who, who are you trying to reach? Right?
Tiffany: 18:31 Absolutely.
Amy: 18:33 Yeah. We haven’t talked about when you plant a church, you, you asked a lot of the right question. Who lives there, what do they do, what are they interested in? What are their problems? But um, for whatever reason, we lost sight of that a little bit in the church world even though our churches are right there.
Tony: 18:48 That’s right. All right. So beyond who you’re trying to reach, uh, what about the tools you’re trying to use? What can you tell us about that? Tiffany?
Tiffany: 18:56 You need to think through the different channels that you have available to you to get information out. I would start by saying email is not dead. I know that that’s been a, a common mantra. I think some people went straight to social media and think, okay, we don’t need to do email anymore, but I was looking at a study recently. Even 78 percent of teenagers still use email. We just need a better approach to using it and needs to be tailored. It needs to be segmented so that you’re sending email people want to get in and that it’s that you’re tracking analytics that you make sure you’re not spamming people. People will tell you if you’re spamming them, they won’t open your emails. I’d say the tool is important to all of this probably sounds really vague until you start looking at a tool. We use a tool called Hubspot which allows you to define out the different types of people we’re trying to reach and build your email campaigns to target those people and social media campaigns to speak to those people. And it’s a great tool. There are lots of others. Infusionsoft is one that comes to mind there. They’re available. All different price points. You will have to invest in it. I think that’s the biggest issue right now and why I say communications stuck in 2004 is there’s still not somebody to own a strategy like this at most churches and you’ve got to have somebody on. It could be a volunteer, you know, if you’re a smaller church, it doesn’t have to be a full time paid staff, but you have to have someone to own it. And, even if you, if you do invest in a tool, something like Hubspot, the tool can do so much, but somebody has got to own the strategy and, and that doesn’t mean that person has to create all the content. You’ve got a whole ministry team. I would assume you’ve got your different pastors and your leaders and even your key volunteer leaders who knows. I mean those volunteer leaders a lot of times really know the audience that they need to speak to. Your children’s ministry. Volunteers are a great window into what the parents in your church needs be hearing or or their friends if you’re trying to reach outside of your church so you can. You can have a strategy that involves lots of people and creating content, but you do need someone to own the strategy.
Tony: 20:58 Yeah, and the reality is at the unstuck group, Tiffany, you do contribute some content, but the vast majority of it, it’s being created by others on our team and I think the same would be true for churches. You actually have content creators on your team, pastors, Directors, people and lay people. This is a great opportunity for lay people to engage to in the Ministry of the church, but you do need one person that’s going to own it to run point on this whole process and then build teams around that person and for the smaller churches listening, this is probably going to be teams of volunteers. The larger churches. I just challenged one of the larger churches I was working with recently. Think about all of the staff dollars, equipment, everything that you’re investing to pull off Sunday morning services. Now step back and realize your platform online is probably two, three, four times larger than that and how much. How much are you investing in staff tools, other things related to that platform. Right now, there’s quite a disparity in churches, in businesses. They’ve recognized that is our primary platform and we need to make that investment both with staff and other solutions that we’re using and I really believe for the church to engage today’s culture, we need to be making that site. Same type of investment and so for many churches it’s gonna be a challenge because we can’t just add new people to our staff, we just can’t just open a blank or write a blank check for the types of tools that we’re talking about here. We’re actually going to have to step back and ask why do we do what we do, who are we trying to reach? And then probably a shift a prioritization of allocating staff dollars and other financial resources to really invest in this platform that’s hopefully going to help you connect with people that are far from Jesus right now and not yet connected to your church. So tiffany, I love the challenge that you’ve given. Amy, any other, uh, any other tough questions?
Amy: 23:04 No, but as you were talking about shifting those dollars, shifting resources, I just get a picture and probably because I’ve been thinking about this topic for the last week as we were talking about it on our team call incremental change. While it’s good, how can we take a few first steps is good to talk about, but I think churches are going to need to move much quicker and more broadly in this area before they, they lose their influence in that area.
Tony: 23:32 And let me just double down here. I actually think this topic and this episode could be the most pivotal conversation that your church is having to accomplish the Gospel mission of your ministry. So, if you don’t know what we’re talking about around share this episode and then begin this conversation at your church because I really believe this is critical for you to accomplish God’s mission for your ministry.
Amy: 24:10 Well, thank you tiffany. Great job. Thanks for coming on the scene from behind the scenes for a few minutes with us, the listeners for joining in. We do have more resources on this topic for our listeners, and you heard Tony say it a couple times, episode 61. The way you can get to those resources in the show notes is just go to the unstuck group.com/episode 61 and you’ll find it all there. And by the way, if you liked this episode, would you leave us a review on itunes? It will really help other churches discover content like this and also we’d love to hear your reactions on this topic. So joining the conversation we’re having around this topic on social media this week, using Hashtag unstuck church.
Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, theunstuckgroup.com. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
View all posts by Tony Morgan
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