“Crisis,” Clint Rogers notes, “tends to create community engagement with little effort.”
Consider just two examples from recent memory:
In the days following 9/11, thousands streamed into churches to process life’s fragility and ultimate meaning after the twin towers fell. Many heard the gospel and came to faith in Christ.
Similarly, last year as the pandemic was ramping up, online church engagement also began to rise. (I personally know of a church that averaged 150 attendees on a normal week, pre-pandemic. After sheltering-in-place began, they saw nearly 3,000 viewing their online live stream).
Our point, of course, isn’t that we should hope for a crisis — there’s beauty and brokenness to be found around every corner. Rather, how do we maintain momentum, when typically, “as the crisis wanes, so does the engagement”?
Rogers, Founder of Pro Media Fire, suggests the following ‘5 D’s of Digital Engagement’:
1. DESIGN — AIM FOR THE HEART
To communicate effectively and foster engagement, you must know your audience — their language, contexts, and culture. So who are you designing your online engagement for?
Rogers asks, “Are you designing for an urban or a rural crowd? Younger people or older people? You may even be trying to reach a combination of many different groups of people, but the main idea is to at least recognize the people you desire to reach.”
We see this in the Gospels, as Jesus spoke to different people in different ways. He engaged a Samaritan woman differently than the paralytic lowered through the roof or the religious leaders. Of course he knew their past, and often he engaged his hearers with good questions that were aimed at the heart.
“Once you have recognized your target audience,” notes Rogers, “everything you design should be created with those particular people in mind. Designing with a heart for the audience means caring about their needs and listening to what Jesus wants to speak to them.”
‘We must always remember that engagement is not about numbers and statistics, it is about real people who need to know the love of God and experience a transformed life…’
Are you speaking the language of your audience? Missionaries to foreign lands appreciate the importance of this, often spending years learning the intricacies of a language and culture so they can communicate most effectively.
2. DISCUSSION — MORE THAN A LIKE, OR COMMENT
Creating a discussion — rather than just pronouncements — encourages dialogue — a key to engagement. This is the beginning of an actual relationship, implicit in “love your neighbor.”
You begin by aiming for your audience to become “active participants in the online conversation,” says Rogers. “In other words, the people who are struck by your design make a decision to comment, like, or share your content. When people love a post, they may make the decision to share it.”
Excitement and interest rise when people want to engage, and they typically want to share it with others. Rogers continues, “When someone chooses to share your content to their feed, story, or profile, your content is exposed to a brand new audience.
This simple act of sharing opens up a door to those outside your reach who may choose to follow you and even interact with your content further… discussion online should transform into a real-life habit of discovery… we can walk alongside people by answering their questions and inviting them into something deeper.”
3. DISCOVERY — BINGE-WORTHY CONTENT
People love video — it engages the senses — and Youtube and other video sites have given us a library of engaging online content to learn from.
So too, Rogers says, “for your church to succeed in the discovery level of engagement, it requires a library of binge-worthy content online. If you start a discussion with people and they like who you are, they want to know more. They liked the video shared with them on social media and now they want to go deeper into additional messages and content from the church.
This is exactly what happened with Pastor Michael Todd of Transformation Church in Tulsa, OK. A young girl shared a video of his that went viral. People began to search for the church on YouTube and found a library of past messages of binge-worthy content. They went down a path of discovery with the Transformation Church and the online ministry exploded.”
4. DISCIPLESHIP — BUILDING COMMUNITY TOGETHER
The church isn’t a building; rather, it’s people in community who belong to one another by grace. Together, they are learning (like the first disciples) what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
As Rogers says, “engagement at the discovery level is merely dipping your toe in the water to see what it’s like, but discipleship is diving right in.
Our digital engagement also goes hand-in-hand with discipleship. We live in a highly digitized age where the majority of people spend a huge chunk of their time online consuming and engaging with content. The church is positioned in a unique time where people are looking for answers and often turn to the content they find online to find those answers.
We can meet people where they are (i.e. online) and invite them into the greatest relationship they will ever know — a relationship with Jesus. Jesus had 12 disciples and he trained them in community while doing life together. From small groups to training of all kinds, we must look to foster community online and physically.”
5. DEPLOYMENT — PEOPLE ON A MISSION
“Just as a soldier gets deployed to serve,” Rogers says, “when someone puts their faith in Jesus, they are eventually sent on a mission that is much greater than themselves.
This does not mean everyone is destined to leave their home, move to a third-world country, and dedicate themselves to mission work. What this means is that every believer has a distinct purpose over their lives which they will use to advance and strengthen the Kingdom of God.”
Every Christian, by virtue of being the body of Christ in the world, takes on the mantle of ambassador:
“We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” 2 Cor. 5
To be deployed as an ambassador means we not only follow Jesus as disciples but lovingly invite others to as well.
So says Rogers, “The last step in digital engagement is to raise up a digital team and give them a mission. Your digital team should be part of the discussion and building relationships with the seekers online… the last aspect of the overall engagement cycle…
This emphasis on relationships at the deployment level leads you right back to the start where you can use your gifts in media, teaching, writing, and more to engage those hungry for hope.”
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