Knowing who you want to reach through your online media is vital. Your answer impacts the following three areas: Quality; Content and Platforms
The aim of this article isn’t to provide you with your individual answer. I understand there are many different nuanced answers to this question so I will keep to broad generalities. I’m also not going to focus on what a “biblical” answer is to who you should aim to reach. Instead I want to help you understand why having an answer to this question is vital and then to outline how your answer impacts each of the three areas.
Also, it's important to know where the platforms fit in and how to use them. For more on that, take a look at "The benefits of being your own gatekeepers".
When thinking of who you want to reach there are four probable answers:
In this article, I am not going to look at the 3rd group. You could call them “church hoppers”. This group will gravitate towards churches that offer “superior” experiences when it comes to online media, or are seeking a specific message or “type” of message. You attract them by default or reputation rather than by design. They are also often looking for the big church experience from the comfort of their living room.
Here, I’m concentrating on the other 3 categories and will expand my thoughts on how your desire to reach them impacts on:
For many churches during Covid, their main focus was to provide a connection point to people in their congregation through online church. As we now start transitioning back to in person meetings, this is still needed. But this is also a great time to look at expanding your vision. If though, for now, you decide that your primary aim is to continue reaching your existing audience, then this is how the 3 areas play out for you.
Quality – this is less important for you, (I am not saying we shouldn’t always try for better quality – we should – rather that people who know you will be more forgiving of your quality). Consistency is the primary aim you should have. Whatever you do, do it as well as you can all the time.
Content – you can adopt a more parochial approach to your content. It’s OK to use language that only people who know you would “get” and its even OK to not focus your content towards your online audience as they are already connected to you.
Platforms – you should concentrate on platforms where you can build community the easiest. Zoom is a good choice for you and your website is a great option, but also look at platforms like Churchonline that have extra features you can utilise. You don’t need to be in places where you can be “discovered” instead your focus should be in building deeper connections with the people you already have. One of your key components regardless of the platform(s) you choose should be offering ministry and prayer to your online audience.
I know many churches who through Covid started streaming to continue connection with their congregation but, have also found that they now have drifted into the second category above – providing a place for Christians to go who are looking for a new home.
Quality – this is more important as you are being compared with all the other options they come across. You also need to be aware you won’t have long to grab and keep people, so making sure your quality is consistent throughout everything is important. If you can’t do something well online then don’t do it – or (better still) work out how to do it better. Concentrate on producing consistent sustainable quality rather than trying to deliver a level of production that you can’t sustain.
Content – You want to prioritise content that will attract people to you. Content that has a clear message of who you are and what you offer. The crucial thing here is to realise that your content must be welcoming to everyone. It’s important that you tailor your content to your online audience through things like graphics, presenters etc. and make people feel welcome. You also want to make sure you provide ways for people who want to go deeper to connect with you as well.
Platforms – This is the hardest audience to work out the best platform for. Its more important to have a promotional (outreach) strategy than being on a specific platform. Enlist your existing congregation to promote where their friends can find you. This will produce the best results. You can also look at Social Media campaigns etc. for promotion. The key when it comes to platforms is to be where it is easy for people to access you. I would recommend you always have your stream on your website and also look at YouTube as it offers a good viewing experience that is better than Facebook. It is more akin to watching normal television and this will help you develop a consistent audience.
Here is how your desire to reach this audience impacts on you.
Quality – you need to ensure your quality is very high. There can’t be anything poor about how your media comes across. If you are going to reach this audience, you need to make sure you have consistent quality across all the material you produce. People who are “looking” for some spiritual input will be put off by poor quality output.
Content – you must create content that will engage people who want to find out more about the Christian faith. Think “evangelistic” content - testimonies, stories and short messages are the way to go rather than long sermons - and avoid Christianise. Whilst poor quality will immediately push people away, the right content will keep them coming back for more. For this audience, you cannot do “church as normal”. You also need to have a very engaged church as THEY are the ones who will be inviting friends etc to watch – which leads me onto Platforms.
Platforms – You want to be where people already hang out and can find you – so Facebook and YouTube are good. But, you also want to be able to build a long term relationship so you need to integrate this with your website and other places people can access help, prayer and ministry. The follow up aspect is very important. You may also need to consider what content works on which platform and consider a more platform specific approach to your output.
I hope this has been a helpful overview, breaking down how to reach different audiences and the impact that has on quality, content and platforms.
Of course, the reality is that most churches want to reach many different audiences, and that is important. But, that will mean creating different content and placing it on different platforms that work for each audience. The thing you need to avoid is the one size fits all approach as, in reality, one size fits no one.
How clear are you on who you want to reach and what you want to say to them?
If you are interested in reading more on how you can research who is watching your content then can I recommend you read "Do you know who is watching your content".