Every month, almost 2 million people search on Google for some variant of “church near me.” These are believers who don’t belong to a church. They also likely include tens of thousands of unbelievers. This type of search tells us there are millions of people who don’t have a relationship with a Christian in their community who has invited them to church.
Activating the people in our churches to develop relationships within their community is imperative, but that doesn’t change the immediate truth: People in our communities are looking for us and either not finding us or not getting the information they need to decide to visit our churches.
The problem comes when we make the decision that our outreach strategy must be focused on one or the other. The ways people in our communities consume content, research and even make decisions have changed, and if we truly want to win our neighborhoods, towns and cities for Christ, we must be willing to adapt.
We also shouldn’t try to spiritualize our lack of desire for change. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians shows that a holistic approach to outreach is the biblical one:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:19-22, ESV)
Here are some statistics and how they impact your church that should really drive home the reality that digital outreach must become a priority. Though these statistics are for secular products and services, people don’t suddenly change their habits when dealing with spiritual matters.
81% of consumers conduct online research before buying a product. (Source: GE Capital Retail Bank)
People research everything. Even if a person is invited to a church by one of your members, more likely than not, on-line research into your church will happen. They want to learn about you and your church, but most churches don’t make that easy.
73% of consumers use multiple channels to shop for a product (Source: Harvard Business Review)
You can’t rely on a single approach to your digital outreach. You need to understand that different people groups will look for your church in different ways. By having a holistic approach to your digital presence, you are better positioned to be where those who are seeking your church are looking.
87% of consumers looked online for local business reviews (Source: Brightlocal)
People make inferences about your church based on your digital presence, whether you make it a priority or not. Even more concerning, your church has a digital presence whether you’re involved in crafting it or not.
In 65% of search results, Google gives people the information they need without the requirement of visiting your website (Source: Search Engine Land)
These are called “zero-click search results.” Your off-website online presence often will be the only encounter someone ever has with your church. Focusing all your efforts on a website isn’t sufficient in a world where Google is attempting to keep more and more traffic on their platform and off of yours.
9.8% of all Americans move every year. (Source U.S. Census)
People are becoming more and more transient. Gone are the days where people are born, grow up, live their adult lives and die all in the same community. Many of these people are believers who don’t have a connection to their new community and are looking for a new church home. Do you make it easy for them to find you?
The way the people in your community are searching for your church has changed. This doesn’t replace the necessity for your members to develop deep and lasting relationships with their neighbors, co-workers, etc., but refusing to prioritize crafting a well-thought-out digital presence is, in fact, underserving your community.
Published February 15, 2022