Effective Church Outreach on the Internet

Hard times tend to bring more people to church. According to a December 2008 article in The New York Times, evangelical churches around the country have experienced a swelling in their ranks by up to 50% with each recession cycle since 1968. This current recession is definitely no exception! So what can you do on the Internet to extend and leverage your church outreach efforts to reach both your new members and people looking for a congregation to join?

First, effective church outreach on the Internet necessitates a great website. That doesn’t mean bells and whistles. It means the site is easy on the eyes, offers simple and clear navigation throughout, and provides content that is both useful and fresh. 

Useful church outreach content answers the question, “What’s in it for me?” Sure, people need to know your service times, who is the pastor, and when to show up for upcoming events, but they also need to know why they should come to your church rather than the one down the street. What is it about the pastor, ministries, and congregation that will help the reader’s family get though these tumultuous times with peace and tranquility? How does your youth ministry influence the reader’s teens to stay out of trouble and grow in Christ?  How are people helped through grief, whether by losing a loved one or getting laid off from a job they held for 30 years? You get the picture. Speak to the reader, not yourself.

Second, effective church outreach requires that people can easily find your site, and they want to keep coming back. Once you have a website that speaks to the reader’s needs, there are some simple online church outreach strategies you might want to try.

  1. Sign-Up – You need an email list for the strategies below to work. You can ask people to provide their email addresses in various ways, including through your church bulletin. You can also invite people to sign  up online, asking for their first name and email address in exchange for some benefit, such as a free download of some kind … a special message, a regular eNewsletter, etc. The sign-up form needs to be located in the upper left of you home page because that’s where people’s eyes first go. The form needs to link to More Info on a dedicated landing page that outlines the benefits of signing up.
  2. Traffic Conversion – once you get people to sign up, then you want to pull them deeper into the goings on of the church. You can get more contact information by offering to send something in the mail … a book, a bookmark, a prayer journal, etc.
  3. eWelcome Series – This is an online church outreach version of your welcoming committee. The intent is to introduce people to your church and its ministries. You can send one email a week for 5 to 7 weeks. Each email introduces a different portion of the website or the church –all spelling out the benefits to the reader of the various aspects of your church, ministry, congregation, and church outreach.
  4. Autoresponder Plan – Pathmaker Marketing LLC has worked with a large church in Chicago that challenged people to fast from wrong thinking for 40 days. We helped them set up a 40-day autoresponder system to allow people to participate in the fast from wrong thinking and receive a daily email message about a topic from which they would fast for that day. What kind of multi-day message could your church develop to minister to people during these tough economic times?
  5. Prayer Walls – Pathmaker  has helped several ministries install an interactive Prayer Wall to their websites. This is an effective church outreach strategy because it specifically ministers to people in a non-threatening way, and it helps people realize that they are not alone. The Prayer Wall invites people to leave a prayer so others can pray for them – and of course to pray for others who have left their prayer requests and praises.
  6. Blogging Tool – Pathmaker uses a blogging tool that is a powerhouse for getting your website seen in search engines. It’s based on extensive keyword research. We help churches and ministries develop keywords that are strategic to their church or ministry, and then help them develop a blog that will maximize their church outreach by multiplying each blog entry into several entries that entice search engines to, “Come find me.” This not only increases the visibility of your site in search engines, it provides ministerial content that can benefit readers around the world.

The tough economic and political times in which we find ourselves have people searching for your church. Your church outreach efforts can be extended and leveraged when you employ the strategies listed above. Pathmaker is experienced in helping ministries implement these tools. Call 623-322-3334 to schedule a time to discuss how we might help you.

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Strategic Web Communication Principle #2 of 5 Part 2B

Practical Tip #2: Implement an electronic welcome series.

The primary goal of your electronic welcome series is to accelerate the process of getting acquainted with your new friends. Don’t make email fundraising part of your welcome series – that would be like asking someone to marry you on the first date. Instead, after you’ve convinced them to opt-in initially on our website, say “thanks” on a landing page and/or auto-responder email, then offer them ministry freebies or some other incentive-based opportunity in exchange for their snail mail address. Pathmaker Marketing has established metrics that indicate that for every 100 emails you collect by asking for First Name and Email Address, you will be able to convert 63-65% into full name, phone and mailing address in exchange for a Welcome Kit.

For example, let’s look a this example to see how this process works. Here’s the incentive-based landing page that we’ve helped various not for profit organizations establish:

The Presidential Prayer Team
Jewish Voice Ministries
Gregory Dickow Ministries

Click through the process in each case to notice all the incentives for signing up. The email sign up page asks the visitor to exchange their name and email address for the goodies offered. You don’t need to ask for more than two pieces of information: First Name and Email address. With these two things you can correspond with someone in a personalized way by email. Anything more can cause anxiety and lead to reductions in signups.

If you walk through the process online, you come next to the “Thank You” page that appears after the sign-up process occurs, with links to the promised benefits pages.  Usually the Welcome Kit offered will convert 63-65% of your email signups into snail mail addresses, when properly strategized.

Notice how it includes another incentive-based offer – a Free Welcome Kit in exchange for mailing address?  Once this transaction occurs, you now have a full range of marketing data: Full Name, Email, Snail Mail, and Phone to begin a dialoge with your newfound friend. In addition, your Member Benefits page can provide for immediate downloads of prayers, helpful tools, and more that were promised at the beginning of the eWelcome series. This entire process can happen in a few minutes. In addition, auto-responder emails are sent at each transaction point, repeating the information.

The eWelcome series is completed through a series of automated emails that go out over a period of weeks to the new signups.  Typically, your first email goes out the same day and is followed by one email each week thereafter, for up to 6-8 weeks total.

Your website eWelcome series is a strategically critical component in your lineup of small business marketing strategies for the internet.

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