In part one of this article, I talked about changes that have been happening over the last 20+ years to our ministry landscape as it relates to communication, community, and societal connectedness to Christianity. Today I’ll share some of my ideas on how we can use the same technology churches are increasingly using during this pandemic to engage with social media platforms as part of our mission field.
Let’s dive straight in.
1. Help people find answers to felt needs using shorter form content. Platforms: YouTube, Facebook, and other places where people might share video content.
I don’t know about you, but if your pastor is like ones that I’ve worked with, they provide well-thought-out messages that clearly communicate the Gospel and how to apply it to our life… as part of a service that can go on for 40 minutes or more. They may address many felt needs people in the church and community have, as long they sit through the entire service. I’ve said it before, to build our outreach online we need to do more than simply put our messages online. Speaking frankly as a believer I wouldn’t be likely to watch your churches service if it was shared with me, that is a huge time commitment, and I know this is the same for many who are unbelievers. On YouTube and similar platforms, the most popular videos are 5-10 minutes long, with the most viewed videos on YouTube being about 3 minutes long.
If your church is one that already shares your messages online, you could cut out shorter poignant segments that speak to felt needs that people in your community and church have online, and encourage people in your church to share them. This might not work for every message, but when it does work, it can act as a starting point, an introduction so to speak, to your church and the greater message being shared. These videos could even be hosted by a volunteer or church staff to quickly provide additional context.
In addition, your pastor or someone else on staff could create some shorter segments of content to speak directly to felt needs (Marriage, Addiction, Mental Health, Divorce, Loneliness and so on) in your community and church. During this pandemic we don’t just need to reach the un-reached Millennials, Gen Z, and others in our community, but those who were/are part of our own church as well.
2. Help people find answers to felt needs on platforms like Facebook through Google services.
Try this. Search Google for some felt needs. Divorce, Marriage, Loneliness, even Jesus Christ who is the cornerstone of our faith. Do you feel like the responses you see are ones that would take people closer to the truth, or further from the truth?
Over the last 20 years we have moved towards a reality where we have more access to information than we ever have before, but the quality of the information varies widely, and it has caused our attention spans to become pretty short. It’s lead to a world where it can be very difficult to connect people in our community with felt needs to our own ministries which can help provide for those needs. Over the past few years one of the best answers I have found for this is targeted marketing.
Regardless on your feelings toward the word marketing, the reality is that it is one of the best ways to specifically reach people (yes, with ads and other promoted forms of content) when people are searching for a felt need that you can help provide for, or when services such as Facebook categorize people as being in a group that has a felt need that you can provide for. There are many great organizations that can help churches with marketing to help them more effectively reach people in their own community. I would really encourage you to contact one of them, or try your own marketing campaign on Google or Facebook targeting people with needs that your church can respond to. It will cost some money, but I believe that it is worth it so strongly, that if your church wants to try it and you reach out to me, I’ll try to help fund it personally for a few months.
3. Help our own people “live by the truth” and be a good witness online.
This one is complicated. However, it is my firm belief that when we post or even say things that are objectively false, we hurt our own witness. I don’t know about you, but I am increasingly seeing my own friends, and sometimes people I respect very much posting things that are objectively false, and it causes them to lose some credibility with me as well as others. I am still working through how to deal with situations like this in my own life, many times posts like this have some kind of political connection, which makes them especially sensitive.
I think the bible makes it clear that we are to be people who live in and by truth. John 3:21 says “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” I sincerely believe that if we pursue truth in one part of our life, but present that which is objectively untrue in other parts of our life, we are hurting are witness, and may prevent others from “see[ing] plainly that what [we have] done has been done through God.”
I believe it is very important for us, as a church to minister to this area of our own people’s lives. It will be messy, we should embrace the mess just as we embrace them. The best, most sincere and genuine way to address this part of our own peoples lives is within some kind of small group setting. I think often the way we live our lives digitally is not really addressed within the Body of Christ, and I think it is important to allow God’s light to shine in all areas of our life, and having loving conversations about what we post online as well as what we say in person is an important part of that. As it says in Ephesians 5:9 “(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”
A final thought on physical and felt needs. In John 6, we can learn with the feeding of the 5000 a little about the importance of addressing peoples physical and felt needs. In John 6:10-12 we see Jesus meeting their physical needs. Later in John we see the importance of providing more depth than just physical needs (John 6:26) “Amen, amen I tell you, you seek Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate all the bread and were filled.” We also see the importance of leaning into conversations about harder truths, with people who are part of our church, or engage with our ministries (John 6:60-61) “So when many of His disciples heard this, they said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can listen to it?’ But Jesus knew His disciples were murmuring, so He said to them, ‘Does this offend you?'”
When we are trying to reach people in our community, meeting felt and physical needs is just as important digitally as it is with current physical ministries churches already have in place, but in either space this isn’t the end of our ministry engagement with people, it is only the beginning.
Here are of few of the ways that I hope we can continue to work toward reaching everyone in our community. Do you think that your church is doing well with reaching the digitally un-reached? Are there things you have tried, or wish you could try? If there is anything I can do to help your organization, even as a volunteer, use my contact form to let me know. We’re in this together.
“Reaching the Digitally Unreached Part 1” is available here