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Step-by-Step Article for Church Leaders...

How to fill your church and increase donations just by igniting engagement (without the high costs of an agency)

  • By Lauren D. | Published Dec 2, 2023

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    Home / Growth Strategies / Church Marketing

    The Problem Most Church Leaders Face in 2024.

    The biggest problem in any church always comes down to one simple thing.

    “How do I generate more attendance and donations without overspending?”

    In short, how do we market to new people and engaged members and get a good return on investment with our marketing?

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    In 2024, church leaders and boards are grappling with unique challenges—declining church membership and a rising number of Americans expressing no religious preference–making it more and more difficult to get new attendees through the door and donations, without overspending.

    The rising costs of church marketing means it's critically important that our time and money are invested in the efforts, strategies, and tactics that actually produce results.

    Today, we'll be covering the following:

    Part 1: The 4 reasons it's gotten harder for local churches to increase donations.

    Part 2: The 3 core things your church has to do in order to be attractive to new potential members.

    Part 3: The 5 Step Process we use to create an online engagement and communication engine to grow our churches.

    Part 4: How to implement this strategy in your church starting this week.

    Let's dive in...

    Part 1:

    The 4 reasons it's gotten harder for church leaders to grow in 2024.

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    Like it or not, it's more difficult now to fill pews and collect donations than it used to be. There are a lot of reasons for that but we can organize all of those reasons into the following 4 categories.

    The 4 Reasons it's gotten harder to get new customers in the last 5 years.

    1. Declining Church Membership (and Budgets)

    You've probably noticed it happening in your church and others in the local area over the last few years. Churches across the nation have been witnessing a decline in their membership—a trend that has left many church leaders puzzled.

    Additionally, a significant and growing percentage of Americans now identify as having no religious preference according to Gallop. These changes in religious demographics pose a challenge for churches seeking to connect with potential attendees and maintain a vibrant congregation.

    As lifestyles shift, the importance of religious affiliation is diminishing for some individuals. Moreover, as younger generations seek spirituality and connection in different ways, traditional church attendance is often overlooked. This calls for innovative approaches to engage these people where they frequent.

    But for many churches, financial resources are limited, and spending large sums on advertising and marketing campaigns is not always feasible. Thus, it becomes crucial to identify cost-effective strategies that yield significant results in attracting new attendees and encouraging donations.

    2. Intense Competition for Attention and Decreased Visibility in the Local Marketplace

    In the digital age, our potential attendees are inundated with information and stimuli from various sources. Social media platforms, streaming services, and online communities constantly vie for their attention. As a result, standing out in this crowded digital landscape requires strategic and creative marketing efforts.

    And far too many times, we see churches get comfortable with their place in the market or they just stop marketing to new attendees or their congregation (due to frustration, lack of time and resources, or just not knowing what to focus on). While this can work for a short period of time for more established churches, that eventually leads to all kinds of problems like unpredictable attendance and donations.

    It's incredibly important that we have a marketing plan to constantly expose new potential members to our church so that we can benefit from a steady attendance for sermons and community events. 

    3. Lack of focus on Engagement, Response, and Follow Up (and having time to juggle it all)

    One of the biggest church killers is failing to educate your marketplace about how you’re different. The general public often doesn't understand the difference between you and competing churches so it's important that we do things to help our church stand out (more on that in the next section).

    It's important to always share your faith, motivation, and stories from the congregation in order to exhibit that you're an active and thriving community.

    And it's also important boost your visibility when people are "church shopping" in your area or looking for your hours, location, and content. We achieve this by combining an increased social posting frequency with a steady flow of Google reviews -- this signals to the Big Tech systems that your church stands out and should be shown more.

    And when people reach out, smart churches are text-enabling their website for the modern age – so they are convenient to reach, fast to respond – and are able to follow up with SMS reminders and broadcast notifications as the church needs. This works because people are distracted by busy lives and overwhelming email inboxes and Facebook feeds. 

    These are easily the most effective ways to establish your church as a leader in the marketplace.

    4. Not Utilizing the Internet as a Primary Marketing Channel 

    The cheapest and most effective way to reach your audience is through the internet. And now that 92% of consumers start their search for churches on Google, it's important to be visible online when people are looking for you.

    Even your word-of-mouth referrals are going to research your church online first to see what you’re like, what you’re up to, and if they want to be a part of your community. You may lose that referral if they don't like what they find online (or can't find you, or find another church that looks more interesting as an alternative).

    A mobile-friendly, secure church website combined with social media channels are the best places to reach your potential customer base and educate them about why your church is the best choice…and it helps maximize involvement from your existing and loyal constituents as well.

    With all of those things working against us, how do we combat them and become more attractive to the potential church goers in our Local Market?

    Part 2:
    The three core things your church has to do in order to be attractive to new potential attendees looking for community.

    As a local church leader, board member, or pastor, we recognize that fostering meaningful connections within our communities requires a multi-faceted approach.

    The 3 core things that churches must focus on to increase attendance, membership, volunteerism, and donations:

    1. Increase Your Church Visibility Online and on Mobile Devices

    One of the most important things that we can do right now is to make sure that our church is a part of the "conversation" in places where our potential and current attendees are already hanging out.

    We have to seek out the places where those folks already exist normally and make our church a part of that (more on how we do that in the next section).

    An active and consistent social media presence, as well as a steady stream of 5-star Google reviews, will signal more visibility for your church in the long run, while also enhancing your appeal.

    2. Educate All Of Those New "Eyeballs"

    Once we are in front of all of those new people, we need to make sure that we have engaging content in front of them that will exhibit our devotion and community to help them wrap their heads around the spirituality they seek.

    We need to educate our market, delivering them "information in advance" and helping them explore ways to get involved and contribute.

    They can’t act on what they don’t know about. Your church has to put its needs and activities out there. This causes people to bond with our church before they ever reach out or step in the door. This creates a desire to be a part of what you're doing over other similar churches nearby.

    3. Enable Secure Modern Technology for Online Donations and Mobile Communications

    In this fast-paced digital era, accommodating the modern lifestyle and preferences of our congregation is essential. Enabling online donations offers a convenient and secure option for our members to give generously, even when they cannot physically attend our services. This not only streamlines the donation process but also ensures a steady flow of financial support for church activities and initiatives.

    Using standard credit card processing would mean you're paying too much though. You should instead use a vender that has reduced credit card fees under the standard 3% that will better serve your mission.

    And you'll need a secure website, with the lock icon showing in the top of the browser bar next to where your domain shows up. Or else, people will get a scary warning about visiting the site and will be heistant to provide donations.

    And in addition to embracing secure online donations, effective communication is also crucial for fostering meaningful connections with our congregation.

    By enabling two-way texting on our church website and communications, we open up a direct and instant line of communication with our congregation.

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    That all sounds good in theory, but how do we actually increase our visibility, educate all of those "new eyeballs" on the value behind what we do everyday in our church, and embrace secure, and modern technology to increase attendance and donations (without overspending)?

    Part 3:
    The 5 Step Process we use to grow our church by igniting online engagement and communication.

    To be successful we have to make sure that we are getting in front of our audience more easily and more often. We also have to make sure that we're doing it in a way that isn't going to cost us an arm and a leg. We've had a ton of success doing that by following the formula that we explain below.

    To ignite church growth and engagement while establishing a robust online presence, we embrace a comprehensive five-step strategy. Each step plays a pivotal role in attracting new attendees and fostering lasting connections with our congregation.

    Let's dive into the strategic process:

    The 5 Step Process that we use to Attract & Engage Members using modern technology.

    Step 1. We create an active social media presence so our church looks alive and thriving  (and various profiles never go dark again).

    Our journey towards church growth begins with an active and thriving social media presence. By leveraging social media platforms, we create a virtual community that is both inspirational and engaging.

    Through a thoughtful blend of biblical teachings, motivational quotes, and celebration posts combined with your ongoing updates on church activities, we captivate the attention and interest of potential (and current) attendees.

    This is a sample of the actual church social posts used across Facebook, Instagram, and Google Business Profiles for example that we mix in with the personal and specific ongoing posts you're already doing to boost posting frequency.

    More important now than ever is looking alive and thriving -- and open for worship -- so that people don’t wonder if there is anything going on. If your pinned post or last post is too old -- they're going to wonder if your community is still active. The worst thing you can do is start a profile and not stay active. That’s because people know that your website is a static representation of the church – they go to social channels to see what’s happening now.

    But it's not just about impressions, likes, and engagement anymore...because Facebook rewards pages with more visibility if they post frequently and consistently. That means our church can show up more in the newsfeed and have a higher "social search" rank if we're posting more content. All social networks are like this. 

    To get that kind of activity going, you need to turn on an engagement engine of content that is formulated with the perfect recipe mix of content themes:

    Niche: knowledge, facts, history, education, articles, and tips

    Church: events, projects, testimonials, behind the scenes

    Recreational & Inspirational: scripture, motivation, questions, celebrations

    The most successful content recipes focus on combining content about the church mission and members with the filler niche, recreational, and inspiration content.

    In short it's a content "mix" (that rhymes with OnlineKix -- haha).

    The fun content people actually like to like -- it's the secret to increasing your posting frequency and consistency. We have this if you need it but it's easy to create yourself with online image editors and resources available to churches now that you have the recipe. Once you build your set, you can repeat post it because not everyone will see everything you posted months ago.

    So now that we have an active and thriving online community, let’s talk about a few interesting uses of modern technology that you can use to grow your church.

    Step 2. We create a review generation process.

    This is a simple thumbs up, thumbs down request page that leads members to provide negative feedback to the church or a positive review on Google.

    First we build a simple feedback page.

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    So, we will be using this feedback to make sure members are having good experiences and take them to Google to share their message. If by chance there is a bad experience, that feedback can be routed to church leadership to influence future improvements.

    What’s great about adding a review-collection process is that Google loves review signals. A steady stream of these public-facing reviews every month and you’ll be building good visibility signals that will put your church on “the map”.

    This feedback, once you have it, is also incredibly interesting to people that are already engaged members or in the early stages of considering joining your church. So how are we going to use this to grow the church?

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    Step 3. We turn reviews into online content to further drive awareness and engagement in our community.

    First, we showcase positive feedback and reviews on our church website so the fresh content is always showing up first. This is "social proof" that your church service and people are wonderful!

    This works to make a great first impression, which is especially important when you have less than 8 seconds to keep distracted, busy people…interested.

    We achieve this by displaying 5-star review images on the website through a pop-up feature that appears on every page.

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    This is an example of how the pop up shows up in the lower left corner of our website. 

    It’s always live streaming the latest reviews from your congregation…and just imagine the encouragement these words will give church leadership, staff, and newcomers.

    This is visually appealing and it actually provides many subtle benefits:

    It’s not static and stale. You want fresh content that's always new.

    It’s always seen. You want dynamic, eye-catching movement.

    It’s not a separate page. You want instant attraction – on every web page.

    It’s not buried. You don’t want people to miss it, scroll, or search.

    It has subtle credibility boosters like review verification, directory icons.

    It inspires action. When people click to read, we can customize the call to action button.

    Because curious visitors generally like to look at reviews, we also show a "Wall of Love" too.

    Next, our reviews can be turned into content that we can share on social media to reach a wider audience.

    Are you seeing how we’re igniting engagement across the online space that works day and night to drive awareness for your church?

    To recap, here's what we're doing with the feedback we collect online with technology throughout the year:

    Live steam the latest reviews to the church website (a great way to engage online visitors

    Optimize a Google Business Profile (every new reviews increases search and maps visibility 

    Create images for social posting (every new post increases social search visiblity

    Step 4. We text-enable our church communications so that our broadcast messages are seen more frequently than email or social announcements.

    First, we build opt-in pages for two communication campaigns you could enable that would keep the congregation connected to the church -- but we do it using the most effective form of communication that is seen instantly by nearly everyone -- and that is via text.

    Our two campaigns we want to build opt-in landing pages are below: The Prayer Chain and The Church Alerts. This allows church members (or potential guests) to receive text alert messages on their mobile phones. And the chance of missing the information buried in an email inbox or social media feed is virtually eliminated.

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    You can copy what we built here exactly to enable your own mobile phone number capture pages.

    When we unlock the potential of two-way texting, it allows us to establish direct and instant communication with our congregation. It also makes the community feel connected in new ways -- on a device that's next to them all the time.

    We add a link to this feature on our church website and promote it through various channels and flyers.

    Now what's really cool?

    First, with every use of the landing pages, we're building your cell phone subscriber list that you can use any time you need to reach people in the future.

    We can even promote a contest to give away a free t-shirt when the congregation gets 5 of their friends to join (think about the power of the prayer request list for attracting newcomers!)

    This creates new opportunities for engagement with future broadcast messages, like: inspirational messages, event reminders and cancelations, spiritual reflections, prayer requests, and donation requests. 

    Adding this communication capability to your church helps nurture personal connections and encourages regular attendance. It's incredibly powerful and sets us apart from the next church.

    Leadership can even two-way text with members to enable a live chat experience (but with text messaging anywhere, not limited to the website) that reduces the need for inbound phone call management.

    So, now that we have a strong foundation in place for growing attendance and donations, how might we scale our marketing strategies from here, when we're ready?

    Step 5. We build an advertising audience from the start, so in the future, the option exists to stay top of mind with them, everywhere they go online.

    We’ve covered a lot of pieces in your online attraction-engine and many of our strategies for boosting your church’s visibility online...but now we need to extend our reach to every website, mobile app, and phone. 

    There are two additional things you'll want to do on day one to set the church up to scale their digital advertising optionally in the future. 

    It's all about building a list again, but this time it's not known cell phones -- it's the unknown people on our website and those around town that haven't revealed who they are yet.

    First, you'll want to collect your website visitors into an audience that you can re-market to in the future. These are people in your local area that know you, or might like to know you better, but may not be attending yet (or have stopped attending). 

    With online banner ads, we can stay in front of them for the benefit of the church on all the top local and national news, sports, and entertainment websites and mobile apps.

    By building this audience, it means that when you’re ready to enable monthly advertising, you could do so through Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or a Targeted Demographic or Geographic region. This kind of creative and paid media is a great way to keep your church brand top of mind.

    This is an example of where the ads would show up and what they might look like. If you think about your own online shopping habits, you've seen ads like this after leaving the eCommerce store and go about your browsing "business".

    By advertising your church's brand on all the top national and local news, sports, and entertainment websites, you drive awareness in the local market.

    Plus, it's arguably the most affordable form of paid advertising (especially compared to Google Ads where you'll pay a lot per click).

    This "Amazon-style" of advertising amplifies everything else you're already doing ... bringing people back to stay committed to your church.

    The audience starts out small and grows over time. That's why it's so important to start right away from day one.

    This should give you peace of mind that you are building something that you can scale into with time, and start small with your foundational marketing in place first.

    This is how we’re generating engagement with our churches that follow these 5 steps and run campaigns in their local markets.

    Why is this Strategy so Effective?

    It’s simple.

    By implementing this system, our local churches can stay ahead of the curve and take their engagement and communications into the modern age.

    The step-by-step approach also engages and optimizes every aspect of your online presence for maximum impact. 

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    From harnessing the power of digital marketing and reviews, to text-enabling communications, and staying top of mind through paid advertising and social media, our proven process has been honed through years of experience.

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    And what's so neat is you can increase results just by making these improvements -- and that means you could generate more results from the people you’re already reaching.

    Part 4:
    How to implement this complete marketing system to ignite your church's growth and overcome the challenges of declining membership by fostering engagement and collecting digital donations.

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    The key to making big changes in your church marketing is to take action.

    Option 1. You can implement all of the above information yourself. I didn’t hold back any pieces of the puzzle and you can source the services and solutions from your network.

    Option 2. You can send this action plan to the marketing agency that your church already works with or find one that focuses on churches. Generally those firms have the overhead to offer a beautiful high-end, custom service for you. The average price we saw was $2,500 a month just for custom social media. 

    Option 3. You can reach out to me, (Hi my name is Lauren Dillon and I'm the author, and founder behind OnlineKix...would love to meet you because I'm on a mission to spread kindness and joy) and we can talk about implementing this system (or parts of it) in your church now -- sign up here

    My step-by-step strategy ensures that every aspect of your church's online presence is optimized for success, from your website and social media profiles, to your communications and outreach, and to your reviews and ongoing advertising. 

    With my help, your church can ignite online engagement and modern communications to improve attendance and collect donations.

    My mission is to put advanced marketing strategies within reach for churches (without high-advertising costs…made possible with the power of modern technology).

    I'm also always here to answer any questions that you might have about this article (for free of course, if you're a church leader).

    You can email me here.

    I hope you enjoyed the walkthrough. 

    Send me your success stories after you put it to use! I can't wait to hear about your results.

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