Churches reach through online engagement
By Johanna Willett | May 19, 2023
It took three Facebook ads to convince LaRey Bond to give The Church at Estrella in Goodyear a try.
The first ad for a seafood broil piqued her interest, but she didn’t go to that event. Nor did she go to the second event she saw advertised.
Instead, it was the summer soccer camp that hooked her. Her kids didn’t even play soccer, but she was looking for ways to keep them busy that summer, and the camp in the Estrella Mountain Ranch area was five days long and free.
Bond had casual churchgoing experience, and while she didn’t consider herself a Jesus follower, she was a professional marketer.
“Knowing marketing, I knew (the church) spent this money on ads because they wanted us to go to church; they did all of this for us,” she said.
After a positive experience at the camp, the family attended The Church at Estrella on a Sunday in 2018. They got involved, and in 2020, Bond was baptized. Now, she serves on staff doing marketing.
“To the church that saved my life and my soul, the least I can do is write some stuff on Facebook,” she said.
Weekly, Bond finesses the church’s online presence — its website, social media profiles, Google ranking and more.
“It’s the long game; it’s the connected user,” she said. “That’s the person who is like, ‘I’ve seen your ad 1,200 times. … It was maybe five or six weeks, and then I finally came.’”
Consistency pays off.
“Very rarely do we have an individual who walks into our room for the first time who has not already engaged with us on social media or our website,” said Charles Scheffe, lead pastor at The Church at Estrella.
The same is true at Mountain Ridge Church in Glendale, where most visitors encounter the church online first, said Brett Carlson, lead pastor.
Like in-person visitors, those who engage online are usually looking for connection, not a production, Carlson pointed out.
They’re interested because it’s “the church down the street that I feel like knows and understands me and cares about our community and our neighborhood,” he said.
Mountain Ridge has seen God use the church’s livestream services to bring people to Christ. One young couple emailed Carlson recently to ask about baptism. Because one spouse experiences social anxiety, the couple learned what it means to follow Jesus by watching online.
“We’re constantly trying to encourage people on the livestream … to connect with us and talk with us,” Carlson said, adding that his team regularly evaluates the livestream experience. “With everything we do, we try to ask if there is any way we can respond to them and serve them.”
Asante Church in Surprise has also prioritized serving the community through digital connections. After the church plant’s planned launch for March 2020 was derailed by the pandemic, they focused on building connections in neighborhood Facebook groups instead.
“We made a point not to make an ask of our community until nine months to a year in,” said Alex Dennis, lead pastor at Asante Church. “We want to add value and to communicate that in every post. We’re not going to celebrate us and what we’re doing, but we’re going to celebrate the community.”
In one instance, Dennis and several other volunteers used Facebook to connect with neighbors who needed help cleaning up downed trees after a monsoon.
Bond at The Church at Estrella points out that when people need help or information, they often turn to social media and Google for solutions.
“We want to be where people are,” Carlson said. “And we know that 99% of people in our community are online, so we have to find ways to be involved in online spaces, just like they are, on a daily basis, not just once a week.”
- Find a church that’s just a step or two ahead of yours — not a mega church — and look at what they’re doing to reach their community online, Carlson suggested. Reach out to see if they’d be willing to brainstorm and troubleshoot.
- Continue posting your sermons online so newcomers can check them out before they come. Dennis at Asante Church said many first-time guests have watched at least 10 sermons online before coming in person.
- Use social media to interact with your neighbors. Don’t just post about your own events. Encourage members of the congregation to regularly engage with your content to help other people see it, Bond said.
Johanna Willett, a freelance writer living in Tucson, is a member of Mountain View Baptist Church, Tucson.