Effective church stewardship obviously involves people who attend church. So what about the
reported decline in church attendance, isn’t that going to affect stewardship? Yes it does. Can
the Internet help? Maybe. Here are a few suggestions, some found on, of course, the Internet.
An Attractive Church Website
A 2016 Pew Research Center study reported that nearly 60% of adults under 30 used the Internet when searching for a new church. That compares with 12% of adults over 65.
Here’s a true personal story. When my wife and I were in Tucson last February and were looking or a church, I used Google (though I’m over 60!) and found a number of churches of our denomination. One church still listed its Christmas service schedule on the home page…I moved in from them immediately. Another church’s website was hard to navigate and looked really dated. One website, however, stood out in its inviting look, clear sense of mission, attractive photos and so on. Our visit to that church the next Sunday confirmed it was the one for us. Without an attractive website we would never have gone there.
Not to say that an attractive website signals an attractive church, or vice versa… but an
ineffective website won’t attract people in the first place.
Clearly the first step is to have an effective, attractive website. Easier said than done, sure, but
the highest priority. A future blog will offer some tips in this department, but for now let’s
assume your website is doing its job well. So how do you get people to see it? Here are some
- Submit your website to Google
- Use informative keywords on your webpages
- Optimize SEO on your site
- Use links between your website and social media accounts (oh and have at least 1 social media account - Facebook is probably still the best bet across generations)
- List your church on online directories (including a Google listing with pictures and reviews of current members)
If the above suggestions look like gobbedly-gook to you, you need the assistance of a
webmaster or someone who can help you optimize your Internet presence.
Encourage Online Giving
This seems so obvious, and probably most readers of this column already provide
electronic/online giving options (if you don't watch our webinar), though one 2018 study indicated that about 40% of smaller churches did not. An Internet search, or a conversation with fellow pastors/stewardship chairs, can easily show any number of online giving platforms. The bigger issue now is getting people to use online giving. Some suggestions…
- Put a donation button on your website, make it easy to see and easy to use. Encourage people to set up a recurring gift. In fact, during your annual pledge drive (you do have an annual stewardship campaign, right?), put a pledge button on your website and/or on the Annual Pledge Drive information page.
- Since most people bring their smartphones to church, set up a mobile app, either as part of your website or separately. And tell people about it. List it in the bulletin, verbally encourage people to use it. Encourage people to make their online donation during the offering time. People are more apt to use the mobile app if it also provides info about your church such as previous sermons, staff contact info, news, photos, etc. Donation-only apps are OK, but it’s better if the donation button is part of a larger church resource app.
- Be sure your online donation platform is simple to use. Don’t clutter it up with unnecessary fields that might discourage a visitor.
- Studies suggest that 30% of annual giving occurs in December and that 10% of annual giving occurs on the last 3 days of the year. You want to make it as easy as possible to give electronically any time, but especially in those high-giving times.
- Finally, make an “I Give Online” card available for when the collection plate is passed. I’ve given electronically for several years and was OK when I simply put nothing in the plate. But just last month our church started providing “I Give Online” cards and I’ve been amazed how many people (me included) have been putting these cards in the plate. Obviously they fill a need, maybe a bigger need than I would have guessed.
The Digital Church
This is a controversial topic, and many argue the digital church isn’t really a church at all. What
it is is a virtual gathering of people in worship… they aren’t physically present at all. And there
are a variety of these gatherings. Sometimes it’s simply a streaming service for stay-at-homes. Though this generally streams the Sunday morning service, it can be broader…one church community I’m familiar began streaming an evening prayer service once a week. Sometimes it’s a streaming for a group that gathers more or less intentionally. Some members are beginning to attend church virtually, as if is one more option similar to the regular physical gatherings at the church. Generally this is a generational issue, with younger people more inclined to view virtual
communities as real communities.
The future of these virtual (digital) church communities is unclear. Also unclear is the giving
results from the digital church. Some churches feel online viewers (whether part of a larger
community or not) contribute as much as the physical community – others disagree. But all
would agree that if people are able to access your service online (whether real-time or delayed,
at-home or in a group), they need a way to contribute. The bottom line: provide as many giving channels as possible for as many people as possible in as many different settings as possible.