September 30, 2020 Tony Morgan

How to Build a Digital Engagement Strategy – Episode 162 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

The New Front Door of the Church (Part 2)

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Any effective ministry strategy begins with the end in mind. Ultimately, we want to help more and more people become fully devoted followers of Jesus. We want to help them move from where they are today to where God wants them to be.

Spiritual Condition =

This is Part 2 of this series on The New Front Door, so if you haven’t yet, go back and listen to the first part (Episode 161) on the three strategies churches need for connecting new people to faith and church. Digital strategies aren’t the only way to help people along that journey, but they are a component in our new reality.

An effective digital engagement strategy will help people take steps in that faith journey from beginning to end.

In this conversation, we give you an overview of what a digital engagement strategy looks like today and how to think about building one, but we really didn’t have time to do a deep dive. For that, make plans to join us for our next Masterclass on October 15, 2020 on 4 Keys to Expanding Your Church’s Front Door with Digital Strategies (if you can’t attend live, you can also register and get access to the replay).

In this episode, Amy and I specifically overview:

  • The steps in the spiritual journey most ministries in most churches are focused on, and why putting too much emphasis there leads to decline
  • Why we have to design our strategies with specific people in mind
    (People outside the church are different people with different needs. We have to meet them where they are. Their needs. Their language. Their platforms.)
  • How to clarify the engagement goal, determine your primary message/content strategy, and determine your primary medium (content delivery strategy)
  • Real-world, practical examples of steps people can take digitally in their faith journey
Church answers using church programs can work for people in the church. Church answers using church programs will most likely not connect with people outside the church. #unstuckchurch [episode 162]Click to Tweet The digital strategy for connecting with people who are not interested in faith needs to look different than our digital strategy for engaging believers. #unstuckchurch [episode 162]Click To Tweet

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Links & Resources from the Episode

Strategic Planning for Digital Ministry

Your weekend experience is no longer the front door of your church—

digital ministry is.

It’s time to shift away from defining your digital ministry strategies as putting your services online and to start thinking about how to really connect with people outside the church and the faith, and how to better engage with people who are already connected to your church. We can help. Let’s talk.


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Transcript 

Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Everyone you’re trying to connect to the front door of your church is already online. To reach new people, you’re going to need a digital strategy that helps people outside of the faith take their first steps on their journey. The question is how do you build a digital strategy that’s really effective? On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy will share some insights to help you begin to identify the digital strategy for your church. Before you listen today, make sure you subscribe to get the show notes. Every week you’re going to get one email to go along with that week’s episode, including the leader conversation guide, access to the podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.

Amy (00:56):

Tony, I’m looking forward to today’s conversation about building a digital engagement strategy and opening, as we called it last week, a new front door for churches to reach new people. Anything you want to highlight before we jump into today’s conversation?

Tony (01:09):

Yeah. So the first thing, honestly, you need to go back and listen to last week’s episode. It’s episode 161. We talk about three strategies for connecting people to faith and church. Today, we’re only going to focus on one of those three and in isolation without the other two, it’s really unlikely that what we’re going to talk about today is going to help you reach new people. Secondly, we’re going to give you an overview of what a digital engagement strategy looks like in today’s conversation, but we really don’t have time to do a deep dive. And because of that, we’re offering a new one day masterclass on October 15th. That is solely going to focus on this topic, and we’re going to go much deeper on October 15th. And so if you’re interested, you can learn more about that upcoming masterclass at theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass.

Amy (02:06):

Great. All right. Well with that intro, let’s dive into how we’re encouraging churches to build a digital engagement strategy. Where do you want to begin there?

Tony (02:14):

Yeah, actually, I’d like to begin with the end in mind, and ultimately we want to help more and more people become fully devoted followers of Jesus. We want to help them move from where they are today to where God wants them to be. And because of that, as we’ve been talking with churches about this digital engagement strategy, we’ve wanted to make this less about the digital and more about the ministry strategy, the discipleship strategy. And ultimately it’s about addressing where people are in their spiritual journey beginning with someone who’s not interested in the faith to becoming someone who is spiritually curious to crossing the line of faith, becoming a believer, to being discipled and then ultimately to become a disciple-maker. And so, as we’re talking about, well, it’s normally we’re just talking about ministry strategy, but for today’s conversation, as we’re talking about digital ministry strategy, it’s on the foundation of wanting to help people move from someone not interested in the faith, so where they are today, to ultimately helping them move to where God wants them to be, which is not only a disciple of Jesus, but also becoming a disciple-maker themselves, and an effective digital engagement strategy will help people take those steps in their faith journey from beginning to end. With that in mind, here are some of the key observations from the churches that we’ve served. I described those five steps — not interested, spiritually curious, believer, being discipled, disciple-maker. Most ministries in churches are focused on steps three and four in that faith journey, and the churches that we’re seeing on the declining side of the church life cycle are typically only focused on steps three and four. I mean, that’s the primary reason they’re on the declining side of the life cycle. They’ve become inward focused. In other words, they’re only focused on helping believers and helping people be discipled. They’re not thinking about people outside the church and outside the faith. So the three strategies that we discussed last week for connecting people to faith and the church are more focused on steps one, two, and five, if you will, on that entire faith journey. We, in other words, we need to figure out what are our strategies going to be for connecting with someone who’s not interested in the faith, somebody who’s spiritually curious. And then how do we mobilize people to actually become disciple-makers where they’re reaching others for Jesus? The digital engagement strategy should help people and all seasons of their spiritual journey, but it’s especially critical if we’re going to engage people who are not interested or spiritually curious, and this may be obvious, but we have to remember that people who are not interested or spiritually curious, they’re currently outside the faith and most commonly outside the church. And that means they’re different people with different needs. They’re not believers and because of that, their needs, especially spiritually, but even in their daily lives look a lot different than those that have a faith in Jesus. And we have to meet them where they are. We have to meet their needs. We have to speak their language. We have to be on their platforms. In other words, church answers using church programs, they work for people in church, but church answers using church programs will most likely not connect with people outside the church.

Amy (05:55):

Well, with that foundation, let’s dive into the key components of building a digital engagement strategy. What does that strategy include, Tony?

Tony (06:03):

Yeah. So here again, I want to begin with the end in mind. Eventually we want to help everyone move from where they are to where God wants them to be— a fully devoted follower of Jesus. And so the first step when you’re creating a digital engagement strategy is you have to clarify your engagement goals. And I would encourage you to consider clarifying a goal for each step along that continuum of a person’s spiritual journey — from not interested to becoming a disciple-maker. So as an example, the goal for someone who is not interested may be to simply introduce the church to new people. For someone on the opposite end of the continuum, somebody who’s a disciple-maker, the goal might be to build relationships with people outside the faith. But again, what I’m suggesting is for each of these five steps in a person’s spiritual journey, we need to identify first, what does the win look like? Because then we can build a strategy around those wins so that we can encourage people to take next steps toward Christ. The second step, then, is to determine what your content strategy or your primary messaging is going to be for each step on the continuum. So again, for someone who’s not interested in faith, as an example, my strong encouragement is that you build your content strategy around providing help and answers for living life. So, I mean, it can be around things like relationships, parenting, emotional/mental health, purpose, financial health. I mean, these are all challenges and there are many more I’m sure that just normal people are facing in their daily lives. And what’s encouraging to me is scripture has a lot to say about all of these topics, but our first opportunity is to connect with people where they’re living around some of the opportunities and challenges they’re facing. And so the second step in a digital engagement strategy is really to define a content strategy to connect with and engage with that person.

Amy (08:16):

That actually sounds, Tony, like the things that I’m having challenges with right now. So I think it might reach both audiences.

Tony (08:23):

Yeah, it’s funny because, you know, and we mentioned this in last week’s episode, pastors and church teams wrestle with designing weekend experiences and whether they need to be for believers or unbelievers or both, and commonly, I’m just thinking, just design the church with people in mind and make sure you don’t use churchy language, because very likely if you do that, you’re going to be designing your content in your services to engage both people that follow Jesus and those that don’t. And likewise, with content strategy for people that you’re trying to engage online that are outside the faith, my guess is a lot of this content is actually going to be helpful for people that are following Jesus as well.

Amy (09:08):

Can I just add one more thing? The other thing I heard in that, though, when you’re talking about determining your content strategy, if you’re talking about in the not interested category, there is a topical bent to that, right? It’s more overt. We actually want to be probably topically minded when we’re in that space, in that phase, that not interested phase, because that’s what they’re going to see, you know, like they have a need for it.

Tony (09:35):

Yeah, yeah. That’s absolutely right. So with believers, we can begin with the Bible and then talk about how that scripture applies to daily life. With people that don’t have faith in Jesus, beginning with the Bible is probably not going to help us connect with them. We have to begin with daily life and then introduce scripture. So it’s kind of a reverse strategy.

Amy (09:55):

Alright, so we’ve got clarify the engagement goal, and then we need to determine our content strategy. What’s the third step?

Tony (10:02):

Yeah. The third step is to determine how are you going to deliver that content? So what are the primary platforms that you’re going to use for each step on the continuum? And it’s not just about creating the right content. It’s also about engaging people where they are rather than where you want them to be. So what that means, again, we need to do this for all five steps, but for people who are not interested in faith, we want them to be in church, but that’s not where they are today. And so that means we have to provide this practical content on their platforms where they’re living life and using those platforms that they’re engaging. In other words, we need to speak their language in their environments. And so here, I think, the digital content, rather than being online services, which is where a lot of churches are focused right now, and I get it. And you need to make sure that you have your service experience online for the people that are in the very first steps of this faith journey, I think here, we need to be thinking about shareable content rather than requiring people to show up to either watch a service in person or to watch a service online. So, in other words, we need to think Facebook, we need to think Instagram and YouTube rather than our sanctuaries or classrooms in our churches.

Amy (11:27):

And by the way, Tony, I think these are great spaces. This whole, those three components you talked through, to get some native technology users around the table with you, people who have grown up in this, who understand this. I like to think I’m good at this and understand it, but nothing like my 20-year-olds.

Tony (11:47):

Yeah. We need our kids in this conversation. Don’t we? Yeah.

Amy (11:52):

We do. All right. So let me just what we’ve covered so far. So first we need to be thinking about how we’re going to help people take next steps towards Jesus through all five stages of a person’s spiritual journey from not interested to becoming a disciple-maker. Second, the digital engagement strategy includes engagement goals, a content strategy and a content delivery strategy, again, for each phase of the spiritual journey, and then maybe most importantly, the engagement goals, the content strategy and the content delivery strategy are different for every step in the spiritual journey. So in other words, the digital strategy for people who are not interested in faith needs to look different than our digital strategy for believers. Did I get that right?

Tony (12:38):

You did and isn’t it interesting? I mean, before COVID, and before we were talking about digital engagement strategy, I think you and I were trying to convince churches that weekend services aren’t going to be the only way that you’re going to help people move through their complete faith journey. Things haven’t changed. Only we’re talking about digital now, but the same environments are not going to help someone take their next steps toward Jesus online either. You’re absolutely right.

Amy (13:08):

It’s really driving us to be, I guess, in a good way to get even more strategic so that we aren’t missing one or two or three of those five stages for our ministry approach. Yep. All right, so Tony, what’s next?

Tony (13:22):

Actually, that’s exactly the question we need to answer, Amy. We need to clarify what’s the next step we want people to take at each point in the faith continuum. That also is a key piece of this digital engagement strategy. And here, it’s important to distinguish between the big next steps that we want people to take and the small next steps that we want people to take. So just to give you some examples, for someone who is not interested in faith today, a big next step would be to make themselves known to us. In other words, they’re willing to let us know who they are by name and some way for us to continue to communicate with them going forward. A small next step would be to just encourage them to engage our content on an ongoing basis or maybe even take a nugget of the content we’re sharing and encouraging them to apply what they’re learning to their daily lives. That would be a small next step. Let’s talk about somebody who’s spiritually curious. For that person, a big next step would be for them to put their faith in Jesus or another big step would be for them to start watching or attending one of our Sunday services or experiences. A small next step might be for them to ask a spiritual question, for them to ask for prayer or for them to engage with somebody who is already connected to your church or to one of your ministries. That be a small next step that we want to encourage them to take. The key thing here is we need to think about both the big next steps and the small next steps that we want people to take, each step through the spiritual continuum. And these steps may be obvious to us, but we’re going to have to make sure that we get very specific about what we’re asking people to do next.

Amy (15:15):

And some of those small steps you can’t measure, which I know is frustrating for people, but I even think about my own spiritual journey. When I got connected to a great local church, I did what you said. I just kept listening to more and more of the previous messages because it was helpful in my life and it paved the way for me to actually take that next step. And so now thinking about our digital content, we want to have kind of evergreen products out there that people can access and learn more about Jesus. So once we define the big and small next steps we want people to take through our digital strategy, what do we need to consider next?

Tony (15:51):

Well, the final question is we just need to ask are we winning or not? Is our digital engagement strategy actually working? You know, having a Sunday service that includes great worship and biblical teaching, that isn’t the win. Helping people become disciples of Jesus and then disciple-makers, that’s the win. And likewise, having a digital strategy isn’t the win. Helping people become disciples of Jesus and then disciple-makers, that’s the win. So the good news is that if you do the hard work of clarifying those big and small next steps for each step on the faith continuum, then all you have to do, where you can, and you just alluded to that. Some of those small steps, we’re not going to be able to measure, but where you can, you need to start measuring the number of people that are taking those next steps. And that becomes your new dashboard to monitor is our digital strategy actually working? Is this healthy? We do this at The Unstuck Group, by the way, we measure all the next steps we want church leaders to take through our digital strategy. And we have a continuum that we use to help church leaders lead healthy, thriving churches that are making a growing kingdom impact. And because of that, we have a digital strategy supporting every step along the continuum that we want church leaders to make, and we’re measuring and monitoring what’s working and what’s not working at least on a monthly basis. We know podcasts, as an example, are working and that’s why we continue to do that. And we’re monitoring the next steps of engagement with our podcasts just to see are our church leaders continuing to take steps on the continuum that we have to encourage leaders and to encourage churches to have more kingdom impact? And I want to encourage you to develop a similar dashboard, not like the one we use, but one that’s going to help you measure and monitor how many people are taking their next steps through your digital engagement strategy. And that’s going to help you identify what’s working and where you have some gaps that need to be addressed so that you can continue to improve this strategy over time. We have not found a church yet that has launched a perfect digital engagement strategy from day one. And I’m guessing we’re never going to find that church, Amy. So, but one of the ways that we can continue to improve is to make sure we have a dashboard, we have a way of monitoring the steps people are taking in their spiritual journeys.

Amy (18:26):

And I can hear our marketing director, Tiffany, in my head saying whatever you measure, it should help you make decisions. If it doesn’t help you make decisions, then you probably don’t need to measure it.

Tony (18:37):

That’s right. That’s right.

Amy (18:39):

Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (18:43):

Well, as you can probably appreciate after hearing this conversation over the last number of minutes, it’s really difficult to explain how to build a digital engagement strategy through a podcast. I mean, this has been very challenging. I’ve tried to do my best. But this is one of the reasons why we’re offering a masterclass on October 15th. Amy’s going to join me. As I mentioned last week, we’ve invited special guests from seven different churches who are going to offer some of what they’re learning as they implement a digital ministry strategy at their churches. We’re going to cover these four topics. How do we clarify who we’re trying to reach? Secondly, what does an effective engagement strategy include? We’ll talk about how to put that engagement strategy into action. And then as we talked about in last week’s episode, this may be the most critical piece of the conversation, but how do we structure our team to support a digital strategy going forward? And if you want to learn more about that class coming up on October 15th, you can register at theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass.

Sean (19:53):

Well, thanks for joining us for this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast and it’s been helpful for you, we would love your help in getting the content out farther. You can subscribe on your favorite podcasting platform, give us a review or tell somebody else about the podcast. As always, you can learn more about how we’re helping churches get unstuck by visiting us at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.

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Tony Morgan

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.
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