Reaching the Unplugged

The rise of the Internet, new media, and mobile technology has ushered church communications into a new digital era. As a result, churches have worked hard to create a flawless user experience, engaged social networks, and search engine optimized Web sites. We’ve come far, but I fear we’ve left people behind. Meet the “unplugged.”

Myth: The Unplugged are all Senior Citizens

The unplugged are not just those eligible for the AARP. Simply put, the “unplugged” are those in our pews who are not regularly visiting the Internet or socially engaged online. They think Facebook is a mystery or a joke. They may have an email address, but rarely access it. They tend to be employed in vocations that don’t require frequent computer use. To label any one age group is a vague generalization that dismisses the idea that everyone needs access to information despite their tech level. So how do we keep up our online strategies while still caring for the unplugged?

Think Hub and Spokes

I look at communications as a bicycle; two wheels (online and offline) move the bicycle forward. Just like using Facebook, Twitter, E-mail, and other tools to bring everyone back to points on your Web site, use platform announcements, signage, posters, people, etc to point back to one central hub with all your communication pieces.

Designate a central area in your church where all your communication connects (Information/Visitor Center). If this doesn’t already exist somewhere in your space, it’s time to make one.
Determine whether the space should be staffed or stand-alone and the pros and cons of each.
Place it centrally in your space and visible from as many points as possible.

Begin With the End in Mind

Undoubtedly, you’ve spent much time thinking through and strategically addressing your online audience. If you haven’t, consider crafting content that can translate easily from Web to print. Each page on your Web site exists because it presents valuable information to the curious churchgoer.

Display the information on printed cards, recycling Web site text and adapt it as needed for an offline audience. Remove the hyperlinks, and include any titles of documents to pick up, the name of a person to contact, or how to register.
For dynamic online content that changes week to week such as calendars, blog posts, E-mail campaigns, and prayer requests, compile a stapled booklet of printed copies, and make it available as a weekly or monthly touch point.

Maintain a Simple Event Registration Process

Keep the offline registration process simple, universal, and immediate. Rather than create a new way to register every time, create a one-size-fits-all system that people become familiar with using, and point them to the same system for every event. Every time you announce an event from the platform, there should be a universal event registration card in the seat back that can be filled out and placed in the offering (or however it is collected).

Use Face Time

Never underestimate the power of the personal invite or time spent casting vision for involvement by a staff member. Communications is every staff member’s job. Full buy in from your senior leadership is vital for the rest of the staff to jump on board.

Convince senior leaders of the need to be involved in the communications process as well as promote and use it.
Be sure they are familiar with any systems of recruitment or registration.
Craft clear objectives for weekend service conversations by staff with members of the congregation. Include an idea of volunteer needs for upcoming churchwide events, event attendance goals, and other pertinent communication points.

Some Final Cautions

Don’t reinvent the wheel. The “unplugged” typically represent a small percentage of your overall audience. Create a simple, sustainable way for them to have access to the same information that the “plugged in” do.
Avoid conflicting systems at all costs. Someone will always want to post a sign up sheet for something even if you’ve created a thoughtful process for collecting registrations. Conflicting systems only confuse people and weaken the system.

Remember, it takes both wheels spinning together to make the bicycle move forward, and it takes an online and offline system to move the people in your organization toward the unique calling God has for them.

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Jon is passionate about three things: functional digital tools, good espresso and purposeful messaging. Being creative is good. Being creative with a mission is better. He seeks to be the visual voice to further each organization’s personality and reputation by threading their mission as the fundamental element in each design.