It is no secret that churches in America are struggling with church growth. Fewer people attending fewer services, fewer times is the norm in most churches in the United States. Experts galore are ready to offer a universe of reasons about what is the cause of the decline of church attendance in a post-Christian era. What I know is that Jesus is still Lord, God is still on His Throne, and the Bible is no less true today than it was when it was written. Even so, here are two things that have universally changed that significantly impact church growth and how the church connects with people in the neighborhood around it.
First, people’s attention spans are shorter than ever. In 2015, Microsoft published research that showed the human attention span has dwindled to eight seconds. That is shorter than a goldfish’s nine-second span. That’s right, a goldfish can focus its attention longer than most people on social and digital media. Though I wonder how anyone could know what the goldfish is actually thinking. Oh well, it must be true. I read it on the Internet.
Second, the way people search for churches has changed drastically. In fact, 70% of church searches start on the Internet. With the advent of the Internet and the development of smartphones, the entire world of information is available at your fingertips instantly. Predictive analytics, search engines, and social media have forced all content creators to compete for our attention. People’s attention spans are also getting shorter.
The New Front Door
How does that impact the church and our ability to reach the neighborhood and community around us? It forces us to look at our digital front door: our websites. Your website is your church’s new front door in the 21st century. Don’t think so? Read on.
Recently, one of my sons relocated to a new city and began looking for a church for his family to attend. Like 70% of all people searching for a new church home, the first thing that he did was pull out his smartphone and search “churches my town” (try it with your town). He looked through a few websites and finally settled on a church that was about ten minutes from where he lived. He did all this without even visiting a church or driving around to see what was nearby.
He was telling me about his search, and I asked him what made him choose the church that he did. I asked because I knew there was a well-established church closer to where he was living that had amazing worship, a world class children’s ministry, and a legacy of excellence over 100 years old. He told me that he just looked at the first few sites that came up in his search. He looked at when and where services were, what worship and the community looked like, what was going to happen with his son (who if you follow me on social media will know to be the most adorable toddler on the planet), and finally the church’s theology. If a website couldn’t answer all of those questions or it didn’t seem like a fit, he would move to the next one. The entire search for him took about 15 minutes before he decided to visit one.
When I asked him about the church that was closer to him, he said if it had shown up in his Google search, he would have considered it. Knowing my son and this particular church, it would have far exceeded his expectations and met his need, but because someone at the church didn’t SEO the website, he never knew it existed. Failing to do something as simple as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the critical ways that the church is failing to “go” in the 21st century. Amazing worship, a world class children’s ministry, and a legacy of excellence over 100 years old is useless if people don’t even know your church exists. Some basic changes to that website would have gotten them in to my son’s search results.
Do This Now
Open up your search engine right now and search “churches in <insert your town>.” Did you show up on the first page? Are you in the first five results? If you aren’t on the first page of search results, less people will find you. Go and talk to the person who is in charge of your website. Ask them if they have SEO’d your website. If they haven’t, ask them to research SEO and come back to you with suggestions and a plan. Or call us at The Provisum Group and we will point you in the right direction.
While Search Engine Optimization and web design are not the be-all-end-all for church growth in the 21stcentury, there is some pretty low-hanging fruit when it comes to growing your church. I outline a number of these basic opportunities and give you a step-by-step guide in my book, Connect. If you need help with your website or other communication services, The Provisum Group builds and administrates websites for ministries all over the country. Check out some of our work here.