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Being The Church In The Digital Age

"Fishing On The Other Side" by Mark Weible is a guide for churches who want to be more effective at reaching people where they live in the digital and physical worlds.   

Click to Read "The Golden Rule of Evangelism?"

Fishing On The Other Side: A Guide To Being The Church In The Digital Age

Fishing On The Other Side is about following Jesus and obeying His command to make disciples. Jesus told His first disciples that if they were to follow Him, He would teach them how to fish for people. They already knew how to catch fish, but now they would be catching people with the gospel.

This book has a particular focus on utilizing the technological tools available to churches today to reach people whose lives are shaped by those same tools. In a time when the majority of churches are in a state of decline all over North America and the old tools and techniques of evangelism do not seem to be working as well, it is time that we adjust our techniques and start fishing on the other side. Available at Amazon.com,

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Mark Weible is available to speak in church worship services and at special events. Complete the form below to request more information. 

Reaching The 99

Ninety-Nine percent  of the people who visit your church will visit your church website first and 99% of the people who visit your church website will never visit your church. To validate this statistic, take a look at your church website analytics and see how many unique website visitors that you've had over the past 30 days. Now, count how many people visited one of your church gatherings for the first time over that same period. Ask those who visited for the first time if they visited your church website before they visited your gathering. 

If the purpose of your church website is to get the people who visit the website to come to church, then the average church website fails 99% of the time. But we can change that! In my new book, Fishing On The Other Side, I outline steps that churches can take to evaluate the effectiveness of their websites from the perspective a person who is looking for a church to visit. 

Try this simple test: look at the home page of your current church website and count how many times a first-person pronoun (we or us) is used. Then, count how many times the second-person pronoun (you) occurs on the page. You can easily count word occurrences on a web page from most internet browsers by using the command+f or ctrl+f keys and typing a word in the search box. Try this on several pages of your website and compare the number of occurrences of first- to second-person pronouns. If the website is more about “we” and less about “you” then it is more church-focused than visitor-focused.

Here is another test: Look to see if your church location, especially city and state, is one of the first things that you see on your church’s website. Current church members already know where the church meets, but potential visitors need to know immediately if they’ve even landed on the right website. For example, if you conduct an internet search for “Calvary Church,” you will notice on the search engine result pages that there are many churches with “Calvary” in their name. Some of these results will have the location clearly marked with city and state either in the head title link that takes you to their site or in the search snippet below the link. For some of the search results, it is difficult to tell whether or not that particular “Calvary” is even in your neighborhood, city or state. If you were a potential visitor, which one would you click? Try clicking on several of the links in the search results. When you land on a church web page, look at it through the eyes of someone unfamiliar with the church. Does the church website clearly indicate the church’s location without having to scroll to the bottom of the page or click to another page?

Now, go back to your own church website. How does it look to a prospective visitor? Is the location clearly indicated at the top of the page? Ideally, the location should be in the header, next to or below the logo. Is there a phone number? Are there links to social media pages? Is there easy to find information about what to expect or what to do on Sunday mornings including worship times? These are all things that you can look for as you diagnose your church website for visitor friendliness.

In Fishing On The Other Side, I also share Search Engine Optimization Tips and information on how churches can relieve the Google Ads Grant for $10,000 per month in online ad credits.  I also ghave an online course on Renovate.Digital with Michael Woods, Social Media Director of First Baptist Church of Orlando.  If you need website, SEO, or social media help for your church, you can reach me at mark@renovateconference.org.

What Is The Golden Rule of Evangelism?

While speaking to a group of pastors in Jacksonville, I asked this question, "What is the Golden Rule of evangelism?" No one in the room answered the question. Perhaps, they had never been asked that question before and they were expecting some clever answer from me. I simply shared Matthew 7:12 with them:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

I reminded the group that there is only one Golden Rule  (the one that Jesus gave us) that we apply in any situation; including evangelism.  So we could say that the Golden Rule of evangelism is this: 

Evangelize others in the way that you would want to be evangelized. 

If you were spiritually lost, hurting, afraid and alone, how would you want someone to share the life transforming message of the gospel with you? Would you prefer to hear it from a complete stranger while you are walking to your car with coffee, keys and briefcase in hand? Would you want to hear it from someone randomly knocking at your door while you are watching a nail-biting game on TV? Or, would you prefer to hear the gospel from someone who has been spending time with you, listening to you, empathizing with you and showing kindness toward you. Would you be more responsive to a loving friend or relative who knows you well and who's advice you trust because they have lived the kind of life that you wish you had? I know that I would rather hear the gospel and would be more likely to respond positively to the message if it can from someone like that. In fact, I did hear it that way. I first heard the gospel from my Dad. 

For me to follow the Golden Rule of evangelism is to develop loving, serving relationships with people so that as they are hearing the gospel, they are seeing it lived out in front of them. I like to describe it in reverse like this:

  • Evangelize those that you love
  • Love those that you serve
  • Serve those that you know
  • Get to know those that you don't

The Golden Rule of evangelism is the Golden Rule. Should there be any other?

Who Wants To Be Reached?

After reading the Introduction to  Fishing On The Other Side, Pastor John Alexander emailed his response regarding "people who want to be reached". As I stated in the  book, there are thousands of people who live near you and the place where your church gathers for worship who want to be reached with the gospel. However, not everyone knows that they want to be reached and not everyone wants to be reached. John breaks it down this way:

  • I think there are some who want to be reached, 
  • some who don't know they want to be reached, 
  • and still others, because of their hardness of heart, who don't want to be reached at all. 

In Fishing On The Other Side, I am only dealing with the first-two categories. I am not interested in trying to reach people who don't want to be reached. Yes, God can change their hardened hearts and if you have a relationship with someone who does not want to be reached; my advice is to continue to be Jesus to them and pray earnestly for them. However, I want to encourage you to find and reach out to people who know that they want to be reached and people who don't know that they want to be reached. 

People who know that they want to be reached are open to the gospel and are waiting for someone to introduce them to Christ. They are more likely to seek out a church to visit than the people in the other two categories. That is why it is important that Christian churches maintain a visible presence in their communities, both online and offline.  However they are most likely to respond to the gospel in the context of a relationship with someone who is already a follower of Jesus. George Barna, who has done a significant amount of research in this area breaks it down like this:

Looking at the data, among all non-Christians and lapsed Christians, three in 10 (30%) say they prefer a “casual, one-on-one conversation.” But the percentage is higher among those for whom spirituality is significant (40%) than among those for whom it is not (27%). Similarly, non-Christians and lapsed Christians who agree strongly that they have unanswered spiritual questions are more likely to say they prefer one-on-one conversation (45%) than those who don’t have such questions (20%). www.Barna.com

Those who don't know that they want to be reached are not hostile to the gospel, they just don't know that they need to gospel. They may pay attention to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but they have not yet connected their inner longing with Jesus The Way. These are the ones that I refer to in the book as people who are not searching for a church, but are looking for something that they didn't know a church had to offer. In other words, they may be looking to fill a non-spiritual need in their lives such as day care for their children or simply the need to connect with other people. They may do internet searches for child care centers or things to do near them. A church with a properly optimized website may show up in such search results if they offer what these people are looking for. However, even those who don't know that they want to be reached are more likely to come to faith in Christ through observation and conversation. Observation of the lives of friends and relative  who have been living out their faith and conversations with people who are, "...prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (I Peter 3:15)

From Conversation to Conversion

In Fishing On The Other Side, I talk about putting together a digital outreach team with the responsibility of engaging church website visitors and social media contacts in online conversations that lead to face-to-face encounters with gospel sharing people. These encounters can happen in your church's small groups, worship services and special events. In this process, we are looking for the plentiful harvest that Jesus talks about in Matthew 9:37.  These are people who know that they need God in their life and are open to being guided to Christ. 

Online conversations can happen most easily on social media platforms where people like, share and comment on content. Conversations can also happen on church websites. An effective church website is one that encourages conversations that lead to relationships. When web content is written in a way that encourages interaction, conversations are more likely. If your team views the church website merely as a place to post information, then conversation is stifled. Bear in mind that a person’s first interaction with your church may be due to an internet search which lands them on a random page of your church website and not necessarily the home page. The challenge for your team is to create content that fosters conversation and to be creative in how that conversation can take place. Website visitors can be encouraged to email a contact person for more information, complete an online form, sign up for a newsletter subscription, download a document, join a social media group, comment on a blog post or even call the church office. Remember that communication is a two-way process, so be sure to allow for and encourage online conversations in any way that you can.

In the digital age, we have numerous opportunities to evangelize and disciple new people in very personal ways. 

The Difference Between Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization

In my book, Fishing On The Other Side, I talk about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) for churches.  SEO is all about non-paid or organic optimization of your church's website so that it performs better in internet searches. SEM involves purchasing paid advertisements that display at the top of search engine results pages (SERP's). While SEO can take a long time and can be somewhat elusive, churches can see quick results with SEM. 

The good news is that your church can apply to receive up $10,000 per month ($120k per year) in advertising credits from Google, via Google Ad Grants. I discuss that in my book and go into greater detail in the Renovate.Digital online course entitled: Being the Church in Today's Marketplace: Reaching More People With Social Media and Search Marketing.  While there are some hoops that churches have to jump through in order to get and maintain the Google Ads grant it is well worth the trouble. With the grant, you can create target ads that reach people who are searching for what your church has to offer. 

Your church can reach people from anywhere in the world who are spiritually curious and want to know what the gospel means or why Jesus died on the cross. You can also connect with people who are spiritually ready and are searching for information about local churches to attend. You can also use Google Ads to start building relationships with people who are not yet ready to hear the gospel, but they want to participate in an event or opportunity that your church provides to the community. 

For more information about the Google Ads grant, feel free to reach out to me at mark@renovateconference.org.

How to Evangelize Like Jesus

In his classic book, In His Steps, Charles M. Sheldon challenges us to always ask, "What would Jesus do?" in each situation. Although the phrase has become trite in recent years, I think that Sheldon's words are still good advice. As disciples of Jesus, we want to pattern our life after the life of Christ. As the Apostle Paul said:

...fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Jesus is our model for life as well as our model for evangelism. Whenever you have the opportunity to share the gospel with someone, why not ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?" In Fishing On The Other SideI talk about The Golden Rule of Evangelism. There is only one Golden Rule that Jesus gave us and He said that it applies in all situations: "...do to others what you would have them do to you..." When we evangelize like Jesus, we imitate His methods and motives of evangelism. 

Jesus met each person where they were and He spoke directly to them using lingo that they would understand. As you read through the evangelistic encounters in the gospels, you will see a pattern of Jesus lovingly engaging individuals in conversation about the greatest need in their life. Evangelizing like Jesus takes the pressure off the person doing the evangelism and allows the Spirit of Jesus to shine through as we lovingly share life's greatest treasure with people in need. 

Search Engine Optimization For Churches

You can optimize your church website to make it easier for search engines to crawl, index and display information about your church. You’ll want to do this because, since 2000, search engines have been the #1 source of information gathering in America. Internet search engines are relied upon more than family or friends as sources of information. It is simply good stewardship of church resources and good missional strategy for churches to make sure that their information is discoverable over the internet through SEO. 

A search engine is a computer program that is designed to search the internet for information. That information is organized into an index, much like what you would find in the back of a book. However, instead of displaying information in an alphabetical table, the search engine sorts information according to relevance to search queries and displays it on web pages called search engine results pages (SERP’s). A simple search query may produce thousands of pages containing hundreds of thousands of results. Search engines are so good at returning relevant results, that most people do not look beyond the first page and may hardly ever look below the fold (top half) of the first page of search results. Therefore, if a particular web page does not appear near the top of the first search engine results page, its content is not likely to be seen by anyone using a search engine. Furthermore, since more people are used to getting more of their information through internet searches, if they can’t find your church on a search engine, the assumption is that either the church is poorly run, or it does not exist.

Search engines rank results based on what the search engine’s algorithms determine to be the most relevant to the search query. Try this: do an internet search for your church’s name and see where your church website ranks in the search results. Are you #1? Great! If not, try adding the name of the city that your church is located in (example: “Grace Church Orlando”). If your church website ranks in the top three organic (non-paid) results, that’s good! But not everyone knows the name of your church.

Try doing a search for “church near me” without the quotes. What results did you get? Was your church listed? The results for this type of query will differ based on your location and the type of device (phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) and internet connection that you are using. If you are not physically located near the church address when you conduct this search, your church website may not rank at all. If you are in the church parking lot and searching for “church near me” on your phone, your church’s listing should show in one of the top map or organic results. If not, you have an optimization problem that is easy to fix. Find out more in my book: Fishing On The Other Side: A Guide To Being The Church In The Digital Age or contact me at Mark@RenovateConference.Org

Going Viral With the Gospel

Click here to see an example of how one church created a video message that went viral. It is a great message of gratitude, but it is not the gospel. If you find any examples of gospel messages that went viral, please provide links in the comments below. 

When a message goes viral, it multiplies and spreads rapidly from one source to the next until it saturates a region with its contents. In Fishing On The Other Side, I talk about taking the gospel viral. As the body of Christ, we have the tools and resources to spread the salvation message of Jesus to every person on the planet in a very short period time. 

Viral messages are spread through social media when people who perceive the value of a particular message share it with their friends who share it with their friends who share it with their friends.... Sometimes that perceived value is humor.  It works like this: I watch a video of a cute baby making silly sounds with her mouth that appear to sound like real words and I share it on my Facebook page. I share it because I want you to watch it because I think that you'll think it is cute and that it will make you smile the way that it made me smile. There is nothing profound in that video. No information is shared that is going to change the world or anyone's life, but in 24 hours it reaches 100,000 people. In 48 hours, it reaches 1.5 million and in 72 hours, it has surpassed 10 million viewers. 

The gospel message is profound and life-changing. It not only has perceived value, but it has real tangible value.  It is the power of God that brings salvation:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith." 

Romans 1: 16-17

The gospel has the power to make blind people see and  make dead people alive. If any message deserved to go viral, it should be the gospel. Not only is the message powerful, but those who have already heard and accepted the gospel are commanded by Jesus to take the gospel to every group of people on earth and to every creature.  Not only did Jesus command us to take the gospel to every person, He also empowered us with His Spirit to do so. 

So, we have the most compelling, most powerful, most life-changing, most eternal message that we have been commanded by the most amazing person to share with everyone. Why not pass it on? Post it, tweet it, YouTube it, Instagram it, text it, like it, share it and watch it go viral!

Mark Weible serves as the Strategic Director of Renovation National Church Revitalization Conference, Director of Church Planting for Greater Orlando Baptist Association and Directional Leader for ReproducingChurches.com. Mark is an experienced Search Engine Optimizer and Google Advertising Professional.