Evan Englezos (Digital Team Coach and Digital Ministry Hub, left) interviews Jackson king (Digital and Music Ministry Support, Robina Anglican Church, right)
The COVID-19 pandemic, with its associated lockdowns and meeting limits, accelerated the use of digital technology in many churches. Many of these changes were hastily implemented during 2020-2021. The challenge and focus now is to make the most of new digital technologies to invigorate the church toward revitalisation.
Jackson King from Robina Anglican Church has generously shared his experience and observations of the role of digital technology as an encouragement to his brothers and sisters in ministry.
EVAN: WHAT DID THE DIGITAL SPACE LOOK LIKE WHEN YOU JOINED IN 2020?
Jackson: The digital space for Robina Anglican was nowhere near as imperative as it is now and during COVID-19 lockdowns. Pre-COVID, we had a functioning website, a social media presence, printed bulletins and online communications with members. During COVID we needed to redesign our whole communication strategy. We also needed a live streaming system that was easy to use and produce content with. We’ve made progress through trial and error, experimenting with both software and hardware solutions. We see a need for continual change in the year ahead.
EVAN: WHAT DOES DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY LOOK LIKE NOW?
Jackson: We now have a more integrated system where Planning Center Online provides a central, online hub for member data, events, check-ins, calendar, and service planning. We have a live streaming system that is smooth and easy to run on a limited budget. We’ve settled on The Church Co to create a new look for our church’s website and integrate with Planning Center Online. All our digital functions are more integrated and streamlined.
EVAN: WHY IS DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY IMPORTANT FOR THE REVITALISATION OF THE CHURCH?
Jackson: In one sense, COVID-19 was a blessing since it helped us understand how digital ministry can serve a lot of people. We have a lot of parishioners in our community who are immuno-compromised. Travelling out in a COVID-rampant world wasn't ideal for them and they still needed to be part of a spiritual community. With the revitalisation of digital space, we found that we were able to connect with people in all stages and could meet them where they were comfortable.
From a staff point of view, although it's nice to think that everyone can come here, through an online platform we can go to them where they are comfortable in their own homes. There are people in places all around the world who are wanting to receive content and find something that suits them. The digital space allows them to do that more quickly and efficiently, and do it from the comfort of their own home with their families. Digital platforms enable us to spread the good news to people who physically can’t come to us. Churches that revitalise their digital space are going to help more people. It's going to help more people feel connected to God, to the community, and to their families and it's absolutely imperative.
EVAN: HOW DO YOU MEANINGFULLY ENGAGE AND CONNECT WITH THEM AND HELP THEM HAVE A COMMUNITY WHEN THEY CAN'T PHYSICALLY CONNECT WITH YOU? HOW DO YOU OFFER THAT SENSE OF COMMUNITY WITH THEM?
Jackson: We have tried a multitude of approaches! At the moment, our key tool is called Church Online Platform which we use to livestream our services. It has chat functions, private prayer, online giving and many more features. The best thing is that it’s absolutely free.
Zoom was great during COVID-19. It helped to maintain community but there were limitations with reaching new people and moderating so many people with cameras and microphones. Church Online Platform helps to extend our reach and improves the quality of interaction by offering small and big steps for wherever people are at. Some people tune in from half an hour’s drive away, others are an hour and a half ’s drive away, and even a few from other continents. We’re thrilled at how this system brings people together and creates community.
Our previous experiences with Facebook Live and YouTube were okay. We found that there was limited communication and connection with those who joined online. By making the Church Online Platform our primary livestream platform, we could make better connections with this online community.
EVAN: HOW DO YOU HELP PEOPLE TO FIND AND ACCESS YOUR CONTENT?
Jackson: We’re continually trying to improve our communication. At the moment we're posting a lot of bible study resources on our websites. All of our sermons get edited and trimmed and republished as videos (hosted through Vimeo) on our website. We also have podcasts so content can reach people in a way that suits them. They feel spiritually connected by hearing the word and some commentary on it.
Social media is useful too. We do a lot of cross-platform promotion. We upload a sermon as a podcast or video, share that on Facebook, post an image on Instagram with all the links that they need. We promote this during the service for people and point them towards our website Resource page. On average, I spend 10 hours per week adding and monitoring content on all our social platforms. We don’t want multiple people posting content and so overwhelming viewers with mixed priorities, overlapping content or inconsistent quality. The goal is to make it as simple as possible for our viewers.
It's all about creating the simplest pathways for people to access those resources and promote it well so they can see
It takes time to set up the pathways and the workflows but when we make it easier they're more inclined to come back and continue to connect and that's all we want.
EVAN: HOW CAN YOU MEASURE THE EFFECTIVENESS AND THE FRUITFULNESS OF ALL THIS DIGITAL TECH WORK?
Jackson: Raw numbers can be disappointing, but individual stories encourage us. We recently had a woman watch our service on Facebook, then she joined us on Church Online Platform and started chatting with us there, but left before the end of the service. She tuned in a couple more times then actually started to attend in person.
The digital space has largely replaced church foyers. People use online search engines to find churches near them, and preview the church experience through their online content.
Last week, a young woman from Canada moved here to study. She searched Anglican churches in our area and found us and three other churches within a 20 minutes drive. We met at our office and she is now interested in being a part of our church. That's all because we had an effective digital presence in online ministry.
We may not get the same numbers online as we do in person.
We care about fostering connection with individuals, or two or three people.
Evan: Can other churches start to replicate some of these simple pathways and workflows that you've been setting up?
Jackson: Definitely! Social media is a great tool for reaching people because that’s where many people are today. Most churches have websites. They can create resource pages and link a Word document or PDF with some reflection questions. These resources can be promoted on a Facebook page, which expands their reach.
We produce a weekly email newsletter and blog article.
There's a big button in the newsletter that takes subscribers straight to the blog. Again, we share that on Facebook, and through our website. It’s two clicks to get to the blog. For all our content, we aim to make it as easy as possible for different groups to access it. For example, how can Linda, who lives in a retirement home and gets access to the computer once a week, access the sermon?
Or how do we make it easy for Ben who is a Year 12 student, who loves listening to podcasts while he goes to the gym? Two different people in two very different scenarios, can both access our content in two clicks.
An easy and effective way for many churches to expand their digital reach is through links on social media platforms and promotion in email newsletters.
Intentionally target the types of communities you want to reach.
EVAN: IT TAKES TIME AND INTENTIONALITY TO SET UP AND MAINTAIN THESE SYSTEMS AND WORKFLOW. REALISTICALLY, WHAT IS REQUIRED TO GET THE DIGITAL MINISTRY OFF THE GROUND AND RUNNING EFFECTIVELY?
Jackson: Given the limited skills and time resources you have from both staff and volunteers, it makes sense to pay specialists for things like building and maintaining a website. We are now using a company called The Church Co for our website design and maintenance. It is tailored for churches and has features including sermons, podcasts, age-specific groups, weddings, baptisms and so on. Almost all of our media (photos and videos) for our website is taken by staff and parishioners.
The best websites I've seen are the ones that have fewer words on their homepages. Most people won’t read multiple paragraphs about everything that goes on. We like to use lots of images and big bold titles. For example, “our services are at these times, here’s the directions to our church, watch the livestream here, if you have any questions call this number or contact us here.”
If you spend the time creating the communication and being available to answer questions based on that, the best church websites are simple, easy to navigate and easy to find.
EVAN: MOST CHURCHES DON’T HAVE A PAID STAFF MEMBER WITH DIGITAL SKILLS AND EXPERTISE LIKE YOU. IF A CHURCH HAD A VOLUNTEER WITH ONLY A FEW HOURS EACH WEEK TO FOCUS ON DIGITAL OUTREACH, HOW CAN THEY HAVE THE MOST IMPACT?
Jackson: The most impact comes from good communication with your congregation. Newsletter emails, social media, and letting people know directly what is going on is a great start. When people know what's going on, they feel like they are welcome to participate and contribute. For example, small groups and Bible studies, and communicating that across multiple platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and newsletter emails. The social media platforms help to increase participation and enthusiasm, and spreads into the wider community in person and online.
To save time for posting and moderating, we use Meta Business Suite (which is free) to simultaneously work on Facebook and Instagram. There are lots of email newsletter tools. We have used subscription services including Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor and they’re both really good.
With all this, persistence and consistency is really important. We’ve had lots of roadblocks and made mistakes, but we are driven by our mission to reach people for Jesus. The digital space is a great opportunity to reach and engage people wherever they are. Work at understanding who you are trying to reach. Take the steps to make it easy for them to find you and access your content and create workflows that will make it easy for you to produce and share your content.
Evan Englezos Director of Digital Team Coach and Digital Ministry Hub - digitalteamcoach.com, digitalministryhub.com
Jackson King Digital and Music Ministry Support, Robina Anglican Church - robinaanglican.com
Resources mentioned - There is no affiliation to any of these resources;