Developing a Purposeful Online Presence for Churches and Schools

A very real challenge facing Seventh-day Adventist churches, schools, and organizations today is how to communicate effectively in a digital society. A well-organized online presence doesn’t just happen. Churches and schools need to get serious about what they are communicating (whether intentionally or unintentionally) and develop a communication plan that works.[1]

As Seventh-day Adventists, we have an important message to communicate to a dying world. A distinctive Christ-centred message of hope and wholeness. It’s not only a good idea; it’s our responsibility as Christians. The reality is that we oftentimes have a difficult time communicating this message, not because we are not willing but because we don’t know or understand how to communicate effectively. Here are some points to consider about developing a purposeful online presence for churches and schools.

 

Identify Your Purpose for Existence—Your Vision

The first step in any effective communication, whether it be online or not, is to identify the purpose for your existence—your vision. This ultimately means clarifying who you are as a church/school, why you do the things you do, and where you are headed. For example, when I pastored at the Kelowna Adventist Church, we met as a board three or four times over several months to specifically identify a five-year vision for the church and to come up with a statement of purpose that was consistently repeated week after week—in our case, “Sharing the Christ Who Cares.” What we were saying was that the Kelowna Seventh-day Adventist Church existed for this primary purpose. Everything we did as a church, whether it was cooking schools, CHIP programs, computer classes, preaching, or social events, focused on this purpose for existence.

 

Develop a Communication Plan

Once you have identified your purpose for existence, the next thing you should do is develop a communication plan that helps determine what, when, and how you will be communicating. While a communication plan involves numerous stages and forms of communication, for the purpose of this article I will be exclusively focusing on aspects that relate to online communication.

As part of a communication plan, identify your “brand” by developing key organizational message points (see below for examples) and a visual identity (through logos, graphics, banners, etc.). Your organization will start to become recognizable to individuals through the brand you consistently put out there. Appoint someone responsible with the role of following through with the communication plan. Other parts of a communication plan should include (1) what needs to be communicated, (2) who the target audience is, (3) how often communication happens, and (4) the communication medium, and (5) ways of measuring results.

 

 

Using Social Media

In today’s always “connected” culture of social media, mobile devices and lightning-fast Internet, more and more people are relying on the always-on, always-connected attribute of the Internet to connect, find, and share. In fact, research is finding that the Internet is more than a technology; it has become an extension of our brains.

This reminds me of a Bible text found in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (NIV).

The Internet has become a place to bond and belong. If that’s where today’s society is at, if that’s where people are going to ask, seek, and knock, then we must find ways to connect and provide the information that will lead them to Jesus.

Learning to use social media to communicate your message well is a must in order to have an effective online presence. Remember, your organization’s reputation hinges on the message being communicated online. Things that are said and shared on social media can never be taken back. It’s also a good idea to create a social media policy for identifying guidelines that apply to the organization’s online communication, such as who is permitted to communicate on behalf of the organization. It’s important to have a consistent message across all forms of communication.

 

Domain Names

Domain names are extremely important to the accessibility of your website and brand of any organization. A good domain name gives your organization credibility. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada (SDACC) and NAD have been encouraging conferences to replace “SDA” from domain names with “Adventist” for approximately eight to 10 years now because “SDA” is generally misunderstood by non-Adventists and does not rank well in search engines in connection with Seventh-day Adventist key terms. Several Canadian conferences have purchased “adventist.ca” domain names for each of their churches for consistency, better web presence, and overall representation (e.g., airdrieadventist.ca and gardenroadadventist.ca). And since the .CA domain represents a Canadian entity, a .CA domain name will rank higher in Canadian search results. Purchasing a relevant .CA domain name for your church or school is an important step in developing a purposeful online presence and building a more credible brand online.

 

Websites and Content

Did you know that in 1995 there were approximately 18,000 websites available online, and today there are over one billion?[2]

It is true that if your church or school is not on the Internet, to most people you don’t exist. This is a fact the Seventh-day Adventist Church communication and media departments have been aware of and addressing for many years already. That is why in 2005, the NAD decided to offer every church and school in the NAD a powerful and easy-to-use, mobile-friendly website management system, free of charge, called Adventist Church and School Connect (ACC). According to the ACC website, the purpose and goal of providing this technology back in 2005 was (and still is) to encourage Seventh-day Adventist churches and schools in North America to use the Internet to reach their communities.

The North American Division has contracted AdventSource to provide customer training, support, and marketing for Adventist Church and School Connect for the approximately 3,600 church and school websites.

Many people are intimidated by the word website because it has gained a reputation from the past as being a complicated and highly technical procedure. Well, that is not the case anymore. With ACC’s content management system, you don’t have to know a website programming language like html or php to add content and photos to your website. You can edit pages as you would in a word processor similar to Microsoft Word.

When writing content for your website, proofread the final draft for spelling mistakes (double-check names and places), grammatical errors, and incorrect dates before submitting. Avoid clichés such as “Ten precious souls attended our meeting,” “the watery grave of baptism,” and Adventist jargon such as “Our worship services are every Sabbath,” “three angels’ messages, and “Sabbath school.” Also, when shortening our denominational name, call us Adventists rather than SDAs. To the public, many of the Adventist terms and abbreviations we use are misunderstood or not understood at all. Reread and then re-reread everything you write, removing every unnecessary word—less is better. And, out of respect and love for all our members, please be culturally sensitive.

One more thing to keep in mind about websites is that they now need to be mobile friendly in order to be properly loaded and viewed on the growing number of mobile devices. In Canada alone it is estimated that two-thirds of Canadians own a smartphone. That is approximately 20 million people. Mobile is huge.

 

Final Thoughts

I want to add a few final thoughts about developing a purposeful online presence before I conclude. I feel that we as a North American Division are falling short in a few areas relating to our online presence and that we could do more to improve. One of the areas is more consistent Adventist branding across all our institution’s websites and social media. I wish we all had a similar and recognizable format for domain names, logos, websites (not everyone is using Adventist Church and School Connect), social media platforms, and signage, just to mention a few. Maybe an organized effort from the NAD to provide regular content (videos, graphics, message points) and links that can be easily and quickly shared across websites and social media would help.

 

Conclusion

To conclude, I am reminded of a Bible text in 1 Chronicles 12:32, which says, “from Issachar, men who understood the times and know what Israel should do…” (NIV). I think this verse is very relevant to us today because the more we can understand about online communication technologies and the digital society we live in, the more effective we can be today and the more prepared we are for the future. Remember, you are not alone when trying to figure all this digital confusion out. If you have questions, please contact me at the Alberta Conference, or you can contact the Adventist Church/School Connect office. Together we can more effectively tell the world about Jesus.


Troy McQueen
Communications/IT Director
Alberta Conference

  

Resources:

Curb Appeal, produced by the NAD communication department.

NAD office of Communication four-book series:

Mobile Ministry by Joel J. Sam and Jason Alexis; Crisis Boot Camp by Celeste Ryan Blyden; Media Outreach by George Johnson Jr.; Social Media by Jason Caston

 ACC signup page:

www.adventistschoolconnect.org/article/11/sign-up

 ACC help page:

www.help.adventistchurchconnect.com

[1] A good resource to help you get started is a periodical called Curb Appeal, produced by the North American Division’s (NAD) communication department.

[2] www.internetlivestats.com.

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