Do Churches Understand the Digital Experience?
We often hear church attendance is declining. Pew Research Group has done numerous studies that back these statements up. But for church communicators, we believe something different is occurring. It’s not that church attendance is declining, it’s that church attendance is decentralizing.
What I mean by decentralizing is simple: rather than people physically attending, many are connecting digitally to their churches. Because of that, many people would say it is no longer about how many people you get into the building, but how many you engage with—regardless of the platform.
This is why a good digital experience (web, social, mobile, ecommerce, etc.) is so crucial to modern churches.
What makes a good digital experience? It is not as complex as it sounds. It begins with the idea of ecosystems then branches out from there.
Connectivity and Cohesive Experiences - Focus on Ecosystems
Many churches understand that experiences do not occur in the sanctuary alone. The church’s ministries must be in line with her mission, creating a consistent experience. Interaction—whether that is from the pastor’s message, the men’s ministry event, or children’s program—is best supported by consistent branding, messaging, and communication of the gospel and the church’s mission.
Unfortunately, many churches fail to see this consistency is necessary in the online life of the church, too. Church culture has to be consistent in the digital space as much as it does in the real world. Every church needs to understand its digital ecosystem.
Digital ecosystems are all about consistency, connectivity, and the results of that connectivity. We can think of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook for examples of great ecosystems. For these companies, the online experience, message, and branding is consistent across their platforms. You never feel like you have left their ecosystem and thus you start to associate their online presence with a positive experience.
In the church digital ecosystem, your website is the core. It is the home base of your mission and message. From there the system spreads outward via social media (Facebook, etc.), apps, and other multimedia channels (YouTube, and so on). If your church community is to benefit most, the experience, branding, and messages should be as consistent as they are in the physical church and its ministries—or perhaps even more.
As modern digital media experts advise, it also "means that in order to make an impact in [church members'] lives, you need to have a system for reaching consumers on every device (mobile, tablets, TV, computers)." When you wish to speak to specific people across multiple platforms, they must have a consistent experience of the church and must be able to easily remain connected via that ecosystem.
All of this is also known as an omni-channel experience. This experience serves your church in a deep and meaningful way. But it is also an integrated and cohesive manner, no matter how church members reach out. If your church strategy does not involve the creation of this cross-platform or omni-channel experience, you may see your church decline rather than simply decentralize. That is an avoidable path and one that starts by looking at your church's digital experience with the same seriousness as you do the physical one.