Make the leap (of faith) online

It’s a very stressful and unprecedented time right now. A lot of folks rely on their faith and their church to help them through tough times but because of COVID-19 concerns, most churches have shutdown. If you are a minister, layperson or committee wondering how to navigate the online ocean you are now floating in- fear not. Here are a few tips to help you part the sea and connect with your congregation.

1. Audit what you have

A lot of faith based organizations have already started reaching out to their congregation via some sort of electronic method. It could be an email list, a virtual newsletter, a Facebook page or a YouTube channel. Gather up all of the methods of communication (as we in the biz call ‘channels’) and review them. How many people do you have in your congregation? 100? Are only 15 on the email list? Are 45 on the Facebook page? How many have internet access (can be challenging in rural areas)? You want to get the best bang for your virtual buck so list your channels and then prioritize them by which ones reach the most of your folks. Don’t know what people have? Do a poll! You will have multiple channels and there are tools like HootSuite that helps you corral all of your social media efforts into one place as well as project management software like Trello to help keep you organized.

2. Check your brand

Some faith based organizations are part of a larger umbrella (like the Greenwood United Church is part of the United Church of Canada) and those larger organizations already have logos and guidelines and colours. Great! Find out that information and tuck it away for later. If you don’t have an existing brand- now’s the time! Think about how you want your parishioners to feel when they see images from your church and then pick out a small (3-5) palette of colours that represents you. The key to effective branding is consistency. By using the same colour palette and tone, you’ll make an emotional connection with your audience which builds trust over time.

3. Schedule your sermon

Some churches went full on Star Trek years ago and some are left scratching their heads right now. Depending on the time, energy and budget you have to work with-there are a lot of options. The broadcasting option I use for my own Open Office Sessions and Branding & Marketing Basics Workshop is YouTube Live & StreamYard. StreamYard is a mini broadcast studio where you can invite other people to virtually join you (so if you had your organist at home they could play from their home on your broadcast!), folks can ask questions in the chat and you can present your sermon via screenshare/powerpoint. It even records it if anyone decides to sleep in on Sunday! Get in touch if you’d like a demo!

The most important thing is that you choose something and stick with it for a little while, build up your audience and let your regularly scheduled sermon become part of everyone’s new normal.

4. Make a communications plan

Now that you’ve got some channels to work with (and who is covered by which ones), some branding info tucked away and a goal (Sunday sermon!)- now is the time to put it all together and make a plan.

Make a calendar (on paper or using a program like Trello or google) and slot in what you are going to say to who and when.

Each entry in your calendar should have your message, what channel and what day/time it’s happening

<- A typical week could look like this

Now, once you have your plan then you get to do it!

Make time in your work schedule to execute the plans you have made. If you have relationships with friends, family or congregation members who can help you with a bit of graphic design and social media- great! If not, you can use a program like Canva to do it yourself. There are lots of helpful tutorials about everything from twitter to instagram out there, have a google!

<- Here’s an example of an image for a Sunday sermon (based on a sermon from Greenwood United)

It doesn’t have to be super fancy but just get the basic message across. In this one I’ve used the United Church’s brand guide to get the colours I needed. 

I could post this on my Facebook and Instagram channels and send it out via email. You’ll notice that each channel has a slightly different size. If you are using Canva, you can create a document based on a template and then copy/paste the same elements into the sizes you need.

And voila! You are online! Good luck!

If you need help, please reach out and I’d be happy to help you.

BONUS: Setup a virtual collection plate

Churches are notoriously on shoe string budgets and it’s hard to keep the heat on or invest in some new virtual tools when the collection plate is empty. You can make it easy to folks to donate to you online via Paypal by adding a button to your website or by a service called Tithely. Have a read of this article to help you compare options for your church.