The Most Effective Ways To Get Visitors To Your Church

godvertiser —  2010/06/05 — 30 Comments

I’m sure that your church was a welcome committee or team. . . A group of folks that keep an eye out for new visitors that walk in the door on Sunday mornings.  Greeters, ushers, connection card collectors, etc.

Some churches just wait for people to come, relying upon the building to do all the work as people drive by and take note that the church exists.

But some churches do intentional work to attract new visitors.  While that subject is large enough for a blog post series on its own, this post is about sharing the way(s) in which your church attracts new visitors . . . to your website.

attract-visitors

What are some of the methods you use to get new people to visit your website?

. . .which paid resources are worth it?

. . .which were filled with hopes and promises but were a complete waste of money (not to mention time)?

. . .do you have any free / unpaid suggestions for churches to attract more church website visitors?

QUESTION: Would you share one idea or tactic that you have used to gain more church website visitors? Please share your ideas below in the comments section.

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  • http://matthewstarner.com Matthew Starner

    We did an email marketing campaign through inboxpromotions.net. It did drive up hits on the website for a period of about 10 days, but it quickly died back down to normal levels and to our knowledge, no one came to check out our church as a direct result of the campaign. We did three individual campaigns spaced out over a few months with nothing more than more hits on the site for a few days.

  • http://matthewstarner.com Matthew Starner

    I should have mentioned that the cost was around $600 (I think) and we got three separate campaigns for that price. Much cheaper than direct mail but the results were less than stellar.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

      Thanks for shring your experience (and even costs!). Email lists can be a great way to building online relationships that can be evolved into offline ones (like an actual visit).

      Have you heard of Outreach's directmail postcard campaign services? It might be worth to look into it. The offer free list filtering by demographics like new town move-ins, etc. And it is relativel affordable. You usually only need one family from the thousands of mail recipients to join your church and start tithing over a year to break even from the most sterile ROI point of view…

  • http://matthewstarner.com Matthew Starner

    We've used Outreach a lot in the last four years, but the return was very minimal. To my knowledge we only had two or three families join and stay. We did postcards every other month through that time with little response. We're looking at other options and avenues now so I'm definitely interested to see what others have to say about what worked for them.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

    Sounds like you're doing a lot on the outreach front! I think that expectations are important for success. If you've gotten 2-3 families to stay/join, it seems like it would be worth continuing if it's affordable. I'm sure you may know, that for direct mail (postcards, etc) response rate is widely variable — but even a 1% response (not a final "conversion", but just following through with the call to action – website visit, phone call, email, etc) can be seen as successful.

    Hope we hear more success case studies from others by way of this thread.

  • charlestlee

    I suppose you could use some of these services, but for us, traffic is really driven by our ability to live openly online through our various platforms. I think building traffic towards a church site is definitely possible if a church is willing to put the time into nurturing an online community. Here's a link to a helpful chart of the level of time needed online to build community by Beth Kanter (@kanter).
    http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2008/10/how-mu

    Also, I think what helps is determining the objectives for why your site exists is vitally important. In other words, why would people visit your site anyway. The objectives for your site can help determine which platforms for exposure you should be a part of. If you only have a static website that solely communicates one-way like traditional marketing, you probably won't have too many repeat visitors.

    There are definitely other ways to get people to your site (e.g., use of keywords, tags, "share this" links, etc.), but at the heart of this is your focus on why you exist online. I think some churches would get more traffic by simply using a blog format that encourages interaction than a static site.

    Just some initial thoughts.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

      Thanks for chiming in Charles!  Yes, I agree that community is one way to engage, attract and grow your community – both inside and beyond your church walls.

      But I challenge your notion that static-one-way websites are not valuable.  Such websites might meet the objectives of the site – and can in fact new bring people in the door in a consistent basis.

      The Beth Kanter chart is interesting — Michael Hyatt (Thomas Nelson Publishers @michaelhyatt) recently reviewed the time he spends on social media – and it was much less than I expected to see – and it seems like he’s one of the twitterati who’s managing it pretty well, but his time allotment is on the lower end of the spectrum from Beth Kanter’s chart. 

      Regarding your own social media / web strategy: would you be willing to share how much time you personally dedicate to these activities on a weekly basis – as well as others in your ministry team? 

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/charlestlee charlestlee

        I would definitely agree with you Kenny. I'm definitely not saying that static websites don't bring back visitors nor valuable. I was just emphasizing that reasons to come back like interaction may heighten how frequently people visit.

        Yes, Michael Hyatt is great on Twitter. I'm just not sure how much time he spends building his network beyond Twitter. Beth's chart includes developing communities online via things like FB fan page and Ning. Also, I wonder if he has others co-tweeting with him.

        I personally spend about 15-20 hours a week on projects that need social media push. Also, I will periodically hire some people to manage some accounts. I simply guide and direct the strategy behind it.

        As far as our church is concerned, we really haven't leveraged social media/networking too much for our ministry. Our objective for our site is to primarily share our resources and be a hub of information for our community. Our staff spends a few hours a week interacting people from our church at a personal level rather than as a representative of our ministry.

        • Michael Hyatt

          I spend some time on Facebook, but almost all my time is spent on either my own blog (including engaging with those who comment) or Twitter.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

            @michaelhyatt – Thanks for the comment about where you focus your time.  Since you are one of the models of Twitteratti elite of the Xtian flavor, would you also share with us if you are using anyone else to co-tweet under your Twitter handle?   If not, would you see any circumstance in which you could see it as a viable option?  Thanks for adding to the conversation!

          • Michael Hyatt

            No. No one ever co-tweets on my account. For better or for worse, it’s all me!

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

            Thanks for clarifying!  Love the authenticity in interacting with you on Twitter (@godvertiser)

  • http://tonysteward.me Tony Steward

    For the Church Online website (http://live.lifechurch.tv) we heavily leverage Google Adwords to generate traffic. We also employ several levels of social campaigns using our community sites and the social web – but Google Adwords dwarfs amount of traffic.

    That said, we are constantly looking to built qualitative measurements on the different sources of traffic. Google Adwords has already helped us generate 1mil uniques to Church Online this year, but the stickiness of those numbers is potentially less then the traffic generated by social networks. So we are still looking at what the over all return is, AND are looking got create better return from the larger sources of traffic we have. SO, trying to adjust our site and content to even better connect with someone who isn’t familiar with us, Christ, and spiritual conversations.

    If I had one bit of advice it would be to focus on what the users want and respond to, not what you feel you need to say on your site. That and lowering the bar of language and familiarity for people visiting your site to engage with you will help tremendously as you try to connect with visitors.

  • http://www.mrlocke.net Neal Locke

    I'll chime in with agreement on what @charlestlee has said about websites and community building. While I have designed static sites for churches, and while there is some function that such a site serves, it's becoming less and less with each passing month. The internet is evolving into so much more than digital signage. My hope is that churches evolve with it, although historically the church in the US is not exactly known for cutting-edge leadership in the tech sector.

    On the other hand, churches have been one of the dominant global forces in "social networking" for the past two millennia, long before the advent of the internet. In some ways, web2.0 websites and online communities are just starting to wake up to what the church has known all along: It's about the relationships!

    Back to the original question: Tactics to draw visitors to a website? Given what I've just said, I think the answer to this *should* be identical to what draws people to the church in its physical manifestation: That the website has features that allow for the building and nurturing of relationships and community.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

      Thanks for the thoughts Neal!  Would you care to elaborate and specifically identify one of the “features that allow for the building and nurturing of relationships and community” that you mention?  Some might be thinking you mean discussion forums. Others photo galleries with comments. Pastor’s blogs? Scheduled live chat sessions?  Email links that are easy to find to all the different ministries?  What exactly are you envisioning when you talk about these features?  Thanks in advance!

  • http://www.mrlocke.net Neal Locke

    Sure thing, Kenny. The quickest and easiest thing a church can do to make its website a place for community building is to integrate its website with popular existing social networking sites like facebook and twitter. It's not hard to set up a filtered feed of tweets from community members, or a link to the church's facebook group. Granted, twitter reaches out to a crowd that is slightly younger than the core membership of many churches (at least mainline denominational ones) but this isn't such a bad thing, I think — and facebook in the past year has become quite intergenerational (even my grandmother is quite active on facebook these days!).

    Beyond this, I've used wiki software for a few church websites–this has the advantage not just of promoting community, but making the website itself a community creation. And at the very least, using blogging software like WordPress to build a website adds the dimension of commentable posts and social plugins (like whiteboards, polls, user submissions, etc.) that allow visitors and members to interact in various ways. CMS systems like Drupal and Joomla are pretty good with this capability as well.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

      Thanks for putting some ‘concreteness’ to the input.  Love the wiki idea.  One of the great search engine optimization tactics I’ve advised churches on is to create a section of the site that is dedicated to profiling/sharing/reviewing local information in the town/city/region they are located.  Listings of all restaurants, services, parks, activities, kids programs, camps, etc.  Things to do, etc.  Realtors have started to catch on to this strategy, so if you google a certain town for local info, many real estate agent’s sites are coming up high in the rankings with details about the schools, parks, transportation, cultural events, etc – and of course when you click through you are exposed to their services *on* their site.  No reason why it shouldn’t be the church that helps visitors and town residents discover the best of the town they are a part of and serve!

      Love your ideas.  Hope others find them useful too!

  • http://www.aussievibe.com Dave Adamson

    At Liquid we use all the usual suspects – FB, Twitter, blogs … you name it. We do that to connect with people and build deeper community, to open up two way communication, to promote upcoming events and to have some fun. And as we re-design our main website, we're focusing on ways to enhance these features.

    When we use these platforms, we try to use the same strategy online as we do offline – by following Christ's example of leading with grace and applying truth. Using the story of the woman at the well as an example, Jesus first showed her grace by speaking to her despite the fact she was a Samaritan woman (grace) and then applied truth to her life (telling her of her sins). The result is found in John 4 28-30 that a whole town became followers.

    Liquid does this offline by showing grace in the way we serve our community through free gas giveaways, town parties, concerts, and 'free markets', then we apply truth through relevant messages that speak God's truth into people's lives with practical applications.

    When people experience grace and truth in that order, it's very attractional. We apply this online through promoting our offline events, providing highlights of the same, and providing our messages online via iTunes and church online services. Once people experience an expression of grace, they are more open to accepting God's truth.

  • http://www.daveingland.com daveingland

    We actually approached having an online presence way before we launched services for our church plant. We updated our blog regularly with news of who we were and what we wanted to do at least 2 years before we gathered for our first corporate worship services. Our launch team actually cam together through email connections facilitated through links on our website. Social media through twitter and facebook were also huge as we started to foster a sense of community online so that we could then move it offline. We were small and trying to stay on mission, so outreach online was really big for us since we didn't have large teams or any money in our budget for other means. For us, having a website and social media networks was instrumental in our start. I'll actually be sharing this in a case study for an upcoming book that will have a section highlighting how our church plant used social media to launch.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

      Love the fact that you integrated web/social media into your church plant launch plans! In the marketplace, we see that happening more so that the launch of a product or book becomes an event that the affinity group rally around, support, etc. In effect you launch a launch campaign to launch the actual \”thing\” so you can harness the masses to reach out and promote with you.

      Dave, where can we find more about the chapter/book you are writing? Will you be talking about it on your blog, etc? Please leave some info or links!

  • http://hpcem.org Kee Won Huh

    I didn't get a chance to read the comment thread, so my suggestions may have already been shared.

    I've found social media to be a great way to get people to visit our website. At the moment, our website is not where it should be. We're in the process of developing it for our church plant, so it's still a work in progress. However, in terms of generating hits on the site, social media is a nice back-door approach, specifically facebook. Many people spend a lot of time on facebook, and often times people do connect with pastors and leaders through it. So long as your website has a must-see component to it (i.e. blog, sermons, videos, etc.), generating hits through social media is actually fairly easy to do. At the moment, we're doing a sermon series that has been pretty popular among the congregants. I place short comments on my FB and Buzz along with links to the sermons. This has generated a lot of traffic to the site, but also to other pages on the site as well.

    Also, I find that developing an approachable rapport with congregants on FB helps generate hits as well. It makes them more wiling to check out the church site if the pastor is approachable.

    This is actually something that works for new comers. FB is a great way to shorten the intimacy lag between members of the church and new comers. It takes time to build intimacy between people, and FB should not be a replacement for face time. However, by placing comments on people's sites and writing down-to-earth status updates that reveal aspects of your personality (but also that you're a regular dude)…I find it really helps in making newcomers feel connect to you the next time they come to your church. Pastors and leaders and members can all do this.

    I've used FB in many different ways, and it's a tremendous tool for ministry, but you, of course, have to be careful. Don't be a creepy stalker. ;p

  • http://hpcem.org Kee Won Huh

    The approach above is a bit organic, but afte time, it builds a base and momentum that carries itself so long as the content on the site stays fresh and is regularly updated.

  • http://Zetify.com Melissa

    I really like this posting that emphasizes the Christian community relying on one another for help. It's always a great idea to ask other churches for ideas and tips on how they have conquered an issues in their congregation, so I think this is a very good idea to share experiences!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

      Thanks for the note. What kind of practial tips can you add to the convo? Seems like Zetify has a lot to offer regarding this specific thread…

  • http://www.churchbuzz.com @pmsteil

    At my church we are slowly introducing the use of Facebook and soon Twitter (although I don't know of anyone in our church that uses Twitter yet)… and what I think this does is to show people in my network (and the network of each member that interacts on Facebook) that we are a church family, that we do love and care and pray for each other and it has helped open up some conversations with people who are in my FB network, but not necessarily my church network. Very cool. We believe that type of strategy (just being 'the church' on Facebook) along with an updated website AND that people can find our church in every city and zip code around us will help us bring visitors to the church. That is why my wife and I have started a new website called ChurchBuzz.com that talks about this very thing! Hope you all will connect with us also, so we can all help each other's churches out!

    Thanks,
    Patrick

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/blogofsumyunguy blogofsumyunguy

    I work in printing and direct mail, so my recommendation would be to do an inexpensive postcard with a super basic message driving people to your website.

    You can purchase resident lists (all residents within a certain area usually no names) easily and target people directly in a specific community and or purchase a list with names for a little bit more.

    A postcard (4.25"x6") is small but inexpensive to print in quantity, and the postage is usually around 22-23 cents per piece (presorted and mailed through a mailhouse), but that could be worth it if you are getting in contact with real people in the area of your church.

    If you want a larger postcard, the postage is not much more in quantity, and you can mail anything larger than 4.25×6 up to 6.125×11.5 all for the same postage rate. You would just pay more for the printing.

    Maybe you can find a local printer (or one in your church?) that would donate the printing or discount it because you are a church. Just make sure to coordinate with your mailhouse to help design the piece to meet postal regulations so you can get the discounted postal rates.

    On another note, if your church qualifies as a non-profit, you can register with the post office to get a non-profit permit and get even better postal rates. I am not as familiar with the regulations on that. May still need to use a mailhouse, but something to look into!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/kkcoolj kkcoolj

      Great idea – thanks for the details too! Would you be willing to share some of the reputable mailing list sources/companies you might recommend to those that have never pursued this route?

      • blogofsumyunguy

        We use http://www.directlist.com/

        You can do all your ordering online, or call and have one of the representatives help you detail out the list.

        I was just messing with it a bit and in my zipcode there are 11,298 records (addresses) available for purchase. For a single use mailing the cost is $135.58, which is a little over a penny per address. Those are legitimate addresses that you KNOW will receive a card. (I just realized that would include all business addresses too, which may or may not be what you want).

        I would recommend calling the list company the first couple times and help them walk you through all the specifics you are wanting. You can get VERY specific! You can request lists bases on business, residential, income,sex, kids in the home, kids of certain age groups, how long have they owned their home, etc.

        I see they also do email addresses.

        • kkcoolj

          @blogofsumyunguy — Thanks for the specific example and reference for the mailing list company! I know that there are tons of other companies like Experian that sell lists with different demographic cuts to the data.

          As I've mentioned before, Outreach.com has a "WelcomeOne" new mover's direct mail program — they don't charge for the list, but they charge $0.79/customized (with name) postcard including postage. They only have a single $80 set-up fee. The math they offer is 100 new movers list per month x 12 months = $1028 for 1,200 postcards mailed over a year (they refresh the newly moved-in families list with each mailing). If the campaign successfully yields one new family who brings offering/tithing of $20/week, you'll basically break even. If the campaign brings in any more families over one, the church will have a financial gain.

          The key of course is making sure the list is specific enough so that the target recipients are closely matched with your church's vision for visitor demographics. Here's more info: http://www.outreach.com/new-movers.aspx

          Producing a direct mail campaign via self-serve would reduce expenses further of course, which is why I like @blogofsumyunguy's idea so much!

    • http://www.themergeshow.com Michelle

      Quick info on printing. If you buy ANYTHING from Vistaprint, they bombard you with free coupons. One of them is always 100 postcards printed for free. I have used this and it works!
      http://www.vistaprint.com