By Vince Williams
May 9, 2012
The church has rarely been seen as an early adopter of technology. In past decades we tended to stand on the sidelines when something new entered the marketplace and waited to see the implications of the technologies use in the world at large. Of course, there have always been the forward-thinking early adopters looking for ways to use new technology to spread the gospel. But the vast majority of churches seem to wait until technology is forced on them.
Today, I see a lot of progress in the realm of technology and the church, especially with the Internet. I have also seen us start to explore a few ideas without fully understanding where we, as a church, fit in. We can hurt our effectiveness if we don’t understand why people are using these technologies and what they expect when you use them as well.
Specifically, here are three online technologies that are getting misused by many churches. Let’s look at the infraction and see if we can’t figure out a way to use them correctly.
1. QR codes. These square, barcode-looking tags can be found everywhere around you look these days—direct mail, realtor signs, magazine ads, even milk cartons. So why would these handy little marketing tools make it on a list of should nots? In fact, you may point out that our team at SermonView offers these little codes free on our printed materials. And you would be right.
The issue is not with the code itself, but with how it gets used. Proper QR code usage has become synonymous with the idea of “bonus.” The goal for the intended user is to get something that they could not get without the code. This drive to receive, or see, something special impels people to download a QR code reader, and to view your content. If your content does not deliver the goods, people’s expectations are not met—and you’ve lost both their interest and their trust.
QR codes are not simply for taking people to your website. People can get to your website without your help. Most smart phones make getting to a website easier than opening a QR reader app and scanning your code. So if you want someone to go through the work, make it worth their while. Take them to a landing page focused on your print piece, or better yet, take them to a page with unique content. One church placed QR codes on the back of t-shirts. When passerby’s scanned the code they were taken to a video from the pastor. The campaign was a huge success.
2. Social media. Churches have been trying to find a way to use social media to reach out to young people, but many times that is simply not a good fit. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace are designed around people you have already engaged with previously. Before someone follows your Twitter feed, or likes you on Facebook, they need a reason. You must do something first to catch their eye. This means that social media is not effective for reaching new people; it’s more about developing relationships than establishing them.
Social media is also about content. Social media can only be used to reach new people if interesting content has been released into the wilds of the Internet. This means you should be focused on relevant content instead of the idea of just having social media accounts. If you are looking to grow your social network, you’ll need other outreach efforts to engage people in the first place. Once you have those relationships you can use social media to rally the troops, invite people to participate in other activities, or simply remind people that God loves them. Whatever you do, remember that social media is a powerful internal communication tool, but rarely an effective strategy for external outreach without unique and inventive content.
3. Outdated website. The novelty of the world-wide web is long over. You don’t get points for having a website, but you do lose points for having a bad one. Today’s websites, similar to social media, offer relevant and updated content. They allow people to find out basic information, but they also paint a picture of who your church is and what you do in your walls and in the community. If your website does not accurately reflect your church family, then what good is it? Look around at websites today; quality sites are clean, easily navigated and offer the reader something of interest. If you haven’t evaluated a website update in the last 5 years, then your website may be doing more harm than good for your outreach efforts.
Technology is a powerful tool that has real relevance for Kingdom purposes, but simply acknowledging we use technology does not make our efforts effective. Use technology as a way to expose lots of people in your area to your message and your content. By staying focused on the quality of the information and events you have going on, in and outside your church, you will automatically create a more valuable use for the technology you use today.