What does and doesn’t go on your church blog? In an email? And what on earth are you supposed to put on your app?
Churches have been creating material for two thousand years: sermons, catechisms, courses, etc. For most of that time, it wasn’t easy for churches to get those resources to their people and communities. But now, churches face the opposite problem: with all the options available, where should churches publish their materials?
Brian, one of the Disciplr designers, and I have put together this “what goes where” guide to help you know where to publish all this awesome content you’re creating. (You can download the infographic at the end of this post, too.
Audience and permanency
When we ask the question, “Where should my church content live?” we’re usually looking for a simple “this goes there” answer. It would be a lot easier if we just said images go to Facebook, event announcements go in the bulletin, and sermon videos went on our blog. But of course, it’s not that easy.
Because choosing a channel has just as much to do with the people you’re communicating to as it does with your message.
That’s why, before we even look at the right channels to publish church content on, we need to understand two important messaging dimensions: audience and permanency.
We already know what these words mean. Audience is the people you’re communicating to. Permanency relates to how long that message will be relevant. But it gets a little more nuanced when you start looking at how these apply to the content your church is creating.
Determining the audience of church content
You could divvy up audience categories many, many different ways, but for the purpose of choosing a channel, I suggest looking at two factors: specificity and scope.
Specificity pertains to whether or not the message is appropriate or anyone or just someone in particular. At the high end of the spectrum, you have audience-specific content. This content is only appropriate with a certain audience. At the low end, you have audience-agnostic content. These messages can go to anyone and everyone.
Sidenote: there’s a good chance you’ve heard the word “agnostic” in the context of a person’s belief in God, specifically, the belief that there may be a God, but we can never know for sure. This isn’t the same. The word “agnostic” literally means “without knowledge.” When we talk of audience-agnostic content, we don’t mean the audience identifies as agnostic. In this case, “agnostic” means we may not know who the audience is (and we really don’t need to).
Let’s look at a few examples.
- Suppose you email your church members asking them to nominate candidates for eldership. This email is only relevant to members of your church. It is audience-specific.
- Now, let’s say you want to tell your city about your upcoming Easter Sunday. You print yard signs to stick into the ground on street corners and give them to your congregation to put up in their lawns. You want everyone and anyone in the city to see it. That content is audience-agnostic.
- A message to the youth group on preparing for college: audience-specific.
- A billboard for your divorce care ministry: closer to audience-agnostic.
As you can see, this is a spectrum. Some content will be very specific—so much so that it might be harmful for anyone outside the intended audience to read or see it. Some content will be so general that it applies to almost anyone. But most content will be somewhere in between.
Specificity will help you determine where to publish church content, but it’s not the only factor to consider when looking at your audience. The other factor is scope.
Scope deals with how many people should hear the message at the same time. Some content is meant to be consumed by large groups of people. Some should be given to smaller groups. And some should be only given at the individual level.
I like to think of it as a spectrum from individual (the content makes sense for only one person at a time) to corporate (the content makes sense for large groups).
Let’s go through a few examples to help us understand this spectrum.
- Suppose your worship pastor wrote a new song that he wants to teach the congregation. That’s a piece of content that he will probably teach to the group as a whole on Sunday. (It’d be weird if he went to each member’s house during the week with his guitar and said, “Got a minute? I need to teach you a song.”) That’s a corporate
- Now let’s say you’re in the tough spot of initiating church discipline. You’re not sure if the person in question is even doing anything wrong, but there have been some complaints raised. Are you going to send a mass email to the church saying you are beginning the church discipline process with the person? No! You’ll speak to that person in private first. That’s an individual
You can see why scope is so important when it comes to where you publish your content!
Now that we’ve looked at these two spectra, let’s put them together.
The scope/specificity matrix
This is where it gets fun.
As you can see below, I’ve put together a matrix with specificity running right to left and scope running up and down. We can use these two scales to generally lump messaging into four categories:
Audience-agnostic, corporate. This is the kind of message you can say to large groups of total strangers and it probably won’t be too awkward. Example: “Merry Christmas!” This might be the best example of a message you can holler to almost anyone: coworkers, grocery clerks, party guests, and even wonderful old building and loan enterprises.
Audience-specific, corporate. This kind of messaging is meant for groups of specific people. In other words, if you give this message to the wrong crowd, you’re not going to accomplish what you wanted. A good example of an audience-specific corporate message?
Yell “Roll Tide!” in any Applebee’s in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and you’ll win some friends.
Yell “Roll Tide!” in any coffee shop in Bellingham, Washington, and people will look at you like you’re from Neptune.
(Disclaimer: I have never yelled “Roll Tide.” Don’t hate.)
(Another disclaimer: I don’t know if Crimson Tide fans say things like this in tender moments to one another. I’ve only ever heard it in the context of a rallying cry.)
Audience-agnostic, individual. These messages aren’t for a very specific type of person, but they only make sense on an individual or small-group basis.
A good example would be the classic movie theatre question: “Is this seat taken?” You don’t necessarily know the person you’re directing the question to, but you’re only asking one person (or a few, at the most). You wouldn’t walk into a theatre and call out, “Are any of these empty seats taken?” because 1) that’d be weird, and 2) the incoherent mix of a hundred people answering, “Yes,” “No,” and “Shaddup, I’m watching a movie” wouldn’t really help you anyway.
At first glance, it may seem like you’d never send any kind of messages like this for a church. Why would you make content for individual strangers?
But when you consider the messages someone needs to receive when they make the journey from new visitor to member, a lot of that messaging will fall into this category. It’s meant to be communicated to anyone, but on an individual or family basis.
And now, last but not least …
Audience-specific, individual. This is the realm of one-to-one and one-to-few communication to small, specific groups of people. This is the kind of message you wouldn’t send in the context of a large group, and it’s very, very important that the right person receives it.
An example of this would be a marriage proposal: “Will you marry me?” You don’t ask a group of people to marry you, and you need to be very, very intentional about whom you send this message to.
In church, you might use this kind of content for onboarding new members, developing staff, interns, and volunteers, marriage counseling, and other sensitive messaging.
Now that we’ve got a good look at scope and specificity, let’s look at the next big factor: permanency.
This one’s super simple! Permanency deals with how long a message can or should last. As we will see, this will also influence where we publish certain bits of content.
Some content won’t change very much over time. Your church’s mission statement. Your statement of faith. Your contact information. These don’t change all that much from year to year.
And then there are messages that expire quickly. The week’s announcements. Fundraising needs for a youth mission trip. Meals for families with new babies. These messages are only relevant for a little bit of time.
Why is this important when it comes to choosing channels for your content? Because some channels are more permanent than others when it comes to keeping the content alive. You want something as long-lasting as your statement of faith to live as a long-lasting Web page on your site. And you don’t need something as short-lived as a “Potluck tonight!” announcement living on your website forever.
So now that we’ve looked at scope, specificity, and permanency, we’re finally ready to answer the question: where should your church publish content?
Channels for publishing church content
There are many, many channels a church can publish content on. Here are some of the big ones to use, along with the best kind of messaging they support.
Your church website is your online home. It’s where you’ll make your first impression online, and it’s where the general information about your church should live. That general information isn’t likely to change often, and your website should be a consistent experience for people; therefore, content on your church’s website should be relatively permanent.
Your church blog should be relatively audience-specific. Most of your traffic is going to come from your own congregation or people considering attending your church. That means that, while anyone could read your website, it’s more likely to attract people who are already part of the church or wondering if they should be part of your church.
Examples of content to publish on your church website:
- Statement of faith
- Staff bios
- Calendar of events
- Program descriptions
A note on church websites: Content written by “the organization” (that is, it’s written as though it were written by the church itself and not a personal message from one staff member) should live on the general website. Content that’s coming from an individual will probably make more sense on your church blog. Speaking of which . . .
Specificity: audience-specific, sometimes audience-agnostic
A blog is a place online where you consistently publish new pieces of content. It’s best to make this part of your main website. This is where you publish content from individual authors (lead pastor, communications director, etc.) about specific topics.
Because your blog will have regular readers from your church, a good deal of the content will be audience-specific to your congregation. However, since it is a public channel (anyone can view it), your should be approachable for first-time visitors to the site.
Blogs are very, very versatile. You can publish a blog post about an upcoming large event. You can publish your family pastor’s review of the latest blockbuster. You can link to articles and infographics you think your congregation would enjoy. You can publish long-form articles handling difficult passages.
That means the message you might want to post on your blog may or may not be permanent, but the blog post will be up until you take it down. You can post timely content to the blog—but ideally only the kind of content you wouldn’t mind being found online years from now.
Examples of content to publish on your church blog:
- Sermon videos and notes
- Thoughtful analysis of current events
- Bible study tips
Specificity: audience-specific or audience-agnostic
Scope: corporate or individual
Your blog will be the publishing hub of church content, but email will be the channel you use most often to reach specific audiences. Sometimes your church will have content that doesn’t make sense to publish exclusively on the public Web—and that’s where email saves the day!
Email will fit a variety of audiences, from big groups to individuals. And although email stays live in the inbox until it’s deleted, it’s best to think of it as a mid- to low-permanent channel. People forget about emails rather quickly!
There are four main kinds of emails you might send as a church:
Sometimes you need to send a one-time message to the whole congregation. Some examples:
- Upcoming baptism dates
- Announcements regarding the building fund
- New staff members
Now, a general blast to your whole congregation can be a great way to get the word out about something everyone needs to know. But sometimes you want to hit a smaller section …
Targeted emails are more specific than the mass emails we’ve described above. These emails are sent to very specific groups within your church email list. Some examples:
- Discussion questions for the small group leaders
- A “Happy Mother’s Day!” note to the moms
- The next leadership team meeting agenda
As you can imagine, having a church management system can really help you in this area!
These are timeless messages that are automatically sent to certain people on your email list based on their behavior. They’re kind of like targeted emails, in that they don’t just go to anybody—only to the people who trigger them. Some examples:
- A letter from the pastor that automatically goes to visitors who fill out a contact card on Sunday
- A weekly devotional that is automatically emailed to subscribers at 6 a.m. in the morning
- A four-week intro course on your statement of faith
This is the kind of email we send all the time! Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to email someone through your church’s email service provider. If it’s only for one person (or a really small group), a personal email will do the trick. Examples:
- Proposals for the elders board
- Training plans for small group leaders
Specificity: audience-specific or audience-agnostic
This is a rough one to tackle as a whole. There are many social media platforms, and each is for a specific purpose. However, for the sake of this article, you need to know that social media is generally for reaching large groups of people with not-so-permanent content. A social post quickly gets buried under the other posts, so you don’t want to rely solely on social for communicating important messages.
This doesn’t mean you have to avoid posting links to anything timeless on social media. (In fact, it’s a really good idea to post high-permanency content to social.) The trick is to think of social media as a place where conversation takes place. So if you write a 2,000-word blog post, expect most of the conversation around that piece to take place on social media.
- Link to your video sermons
- Bible verse art
- Links to local news articles requesting prayer
Your church app
Specificity: audience-specific or audience-agnostic
A lot of churches have their own apps nowadays. Some develop apps in house. Others build on app platforms like Subsplash’s Church App. Either way, more and more churches now have their own mobile apps to publish content to. That’s pretty awesome for two main reasons:
- Churches have a mobile-specific channel to connect with their congregations.
- Churches can pretend it’s 2009 and say “there’s an app for that!” after their name.
Seriously, though, church apps are great. They let you publish church content in ways that make sense in our mobile world. But they also give rise to the question, “What sort of content do I publish to my church app?”
The answer really depends on what your app can do. If you’re using Subsplash’s Church App, you can publish:
- Sermon and worship recordings
- Sermon notes
- Blog feeds
- Online giving opportunities
I suggest treating the app like your church’s “mobile home” of sorts. This is where your announcements, sermons, and general church content should live—along with links to other destinations your congregants want to access when they’re thinking of church (like The City).
And since your app can be downloaded by anyone, I suggest publishing the content that is applicable to anyone curious about your church (mildly audience-agnostic, corporate content). If your app can serve up different content depending on whether or not the person using it is a member, you should consider publishing some audience-specific, corporate content, too.
Congrats! You have a general understanding of what goes where when it comes to publishing church content (and we’re only scratching the surface). Remember: before you publish that next piece of church content, ask yourself about the audience and permanence of that piece. Then choose the channel that works best.
Your readers will thank you!