How to Create a Digital Ministry That Succeeds
By Chestly Lunday
Digital ministry is not a one size fits all approach. There are no cookie-cutter applications for creating a digital ministry. However, there is a template that every digital church uses that can be replicated and customized to your specific context. You may ask, "How do you create a digital ministry that succeeds?" That is the question we are answering in this blog.
Where I live, there is this fishing contest called the Fall Brawl. You may have heard about it. Year after year, fishermen come from all over the world to fish the great lakes and compete for prizes based on the size and amount of fish they catch. Year after year, these men and women catch more fish in a single weekend than I have in my entire life. Watching these fishermen and their strategy and competency throughout the competition is pretty spectacular. Even the non-winners are proficient at catching fish with seeming ease. How do they get so good at catching fish? Well, they understand the process. And the same can be said when it comes to being "fishers of men" on digital platforms and in the Metaverse.
Simply put, Digital Ministry is like fishing. You need the right bait, a hook, a line, a sinker, a rod, and a pond full of fish. If you have these tools and your fishing in the right Pond, then with time and consistency, you will catch fish. So, how do you build a digital ministry? I'm glad you asked.
The Fisher of Men Framework
When Jesus invited Peter into an apprenticeship, he didn't do it as most people did. Instead, he spoke Peter's language. He reached Peter the way he needed to be reached. We see this in Luke when Jesus tells Peter how to do his job. If you've ever been fishing, you know it gets tricky staying seated when the fish aren't biting, BUT imagine that each fish represented your paycheck. Every second that goes by without a nibble becomes a lingering thought that says my family isn't eating tomorrow.
Peter was fishing all night. He caught nothing. Then Jesus shows up, rested, probably with a full stomach, and has no idea (that Peter knows of) that Peter has been out all night long. And Jesus tells him to cast the net out on the other side... by the shore after Peter had caught no fish. Jesus, the builder rabbi, tells the fisherman how to do his job. Peter humored Jesus. Which is better than most of us would have done. Could you imagine how you would react if a stranger had told you to do something absurd after all of your professional skills couldn't get the job done?
Peter, the hotheaded, foot-in-mouth dude we know him to be, obliges and gets rewarded for it.
What happened next is extraordinary. The nets teemed with fish. They start breaking under the strain of the fish's weight. They haul it into the boat, and the boat starts sinking. Peter jumps out of the boat, through the water, and grovels on the sand urging Jesus to leave. Jesus tells Peter, "Buddy, you may fish right now, but follow me, and we're gonna go fish for men."
What did Jesus do?
He told Peter that you haven't seen nothin' yet in his language.
Jesus was the world's best marketer. Think about Peter's journey. Most of the time, Churches try to get people to sacrifice before reaching the reward. They try to make people a guide before they are a hero. If Jesus did that to Peter, here is what he would have said, "Peter, follow me, and you are gonna die as a martyr by Roman crucifixion, but hey, it will be an honor to do it when you do... not on earth, but an honor in Heaven and the Coming Kingdom." I'm not sure that convo would have gone over well with Peter.
Jesus fished for Peter.
Jesus showed us the process in this story, and we can replicate his approach in the digital realm through a process I call The Fisher Of Men Framework (FMF). It's a digital infrastructure comprised of a combination of content, emails, videos, webpages, and social platforms that are sequenced and automated in a way that helps people decide to join your faith community. They may not teach this in seminary, but this infrastructure allows you to grow in digital spaces. However, the sound of this can easily overwhelm the best of us. We need to break the FMF down in a way that makes it easy to understand each part and how they work together. When you use each part of the FMF in a systemized way, it becomes a helpful tool that will enable you to reach more people in the digital age.
Just like fishing, we need a system to assist us in acquiring fish (or people). We call this system a fishing pole, and just as a fishing pole has parts, so does the FMF. The type of pole we fish with is determined by our resources, the fish, and the kind of water we fish in. The same goes for Digital Ministry. You can build a fishing pole out of twine, a nail, and river cane; in the right circumstances, it will be effective at catching fish. If you are a professional fisherman, you can have top-of-the-line products on the market, but you still are doing the same thing: catching fish.
The Pond: Your Primary Social Platform
None of that matters if you are trying to catch a specific type of fish in the wrong body of water. You can have the best fishing pole, but if you are trying to catch Marlin in the Colorado River, you have a severe problem.
"What platforms do we need to be on?"
This is the most frequent and often the first question I get when talking with other leaders about digital ministry. The problem with this question is that the only correct answer is, "it depends."
In the Fisher of Men Framework, the Pond represents the Social Platforms that we will be "fishing" for our people. Just like certain bodies of water are the natural habitats for schools of fish, specific social media platforms draw in certain demographics of people. Twitch & Discord are the go-to space for gamers. The Metaverse reaches a diverse population. GenZ primarily inhabits TikTok and Snapchat, Instagram tends to be younger Millennials, and Facebook is everyone else. But there are other platforms too. LinkedIn is best for professionals, and you can even think of the Pond as having certain coves where certain schools prefer to live. We might call these groups or private social networks. The trick is to find out where the fish are native to these bodies of water so that you know which bait to use, even if you are in the right "fishing hole.”
The Bait: Your Content
Content is the posts you regularly place on social media to entertain or educate people for people to engage with your organization. Unfortunately, most Churches still believe that creating great content is the most critical aspect of the viability of a church. Online content is not king; it's currency. It is the currency you spend to earn the ability to begin a relationship with your Mixer, one of the four leaders you need for your digital ministry to succeed. (LINK TO BLOG 3)
The best form of content for a church is still the sermon.
So often, people dilute themselves online by talking about everything so they can talk about one thing, and when they do this, no one listens, and the social algorithms aren't forgiving either. It would help if you talked about everything from the lens of your Mixer's Specific Primary Felt Need... ALL THE TIME! Index the long-form content on Youtube, then edit it down for other platforms as needed. This capability is what makes Youtube uniquely different than every other platform. YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world and will end up overtaking Google in this generation. Your content ages like wine on Youtube. It ages like bananas everywhere—post on your primary platform and Youtube.
The Hook: Lead Magnet
At the end of every video, you need a "call to action," this is a mention to do something right after the video. The best calls to action are to grab a "free" value add. We call them lead magnets. Lead Magnets are anything you give your audience in exchange for their contact information.
After you create your hook, then you will need to create a "pop-up form" or a "landing page" on your website that will give your new "leads" an email with their new freebies. You can usually do this on the backend of your website. If you don't know how many of our leaders in the Digital Church Network can help you. You can reach me at email@example.com to introduce you!
The Sinker: Your Publicity Budget
For most churches, advertising is a four-letter word. For modern-day Fishers of Men, it's your sinker. When you fish at the right Pond in the right location in that Pond, with the right bait, that isn't the only thing you need to catch a fish. You need a sinker to get right in front of the fish you are catching. Otherwise, your cast will float on top of the water, and if you do catch something, you probably got lucky. Each platform structures its ad-spends differently. Find out what route is best on the particular platform you are focusing on. The sinker gets you to your fish faster, so you can catch more fish more often.
1. Determine the size of your sinker.
This is probably where the analogy breaks down a little, but you need to know what you can afford. Additionally, more expensive isn't always better, so you have to be thorough in the practices for your platform, and you have to pre-determine what you want to spend. Advertising can get wildly expensive, so be vigilant with your budget to get the most out of it.
2. Focus on your efforts.
Don't simultaneously fish in more than one spot until you are a pro in your primary fishing hole. Expand only when your results are bountiful and consistent at gaining leads. Learn and grow your skill before you decide to expand into new territory. You only have a defined amount as your sinker. I would hate to see it diluted into oblivion by fishing in more than one spot at the start.
3. Experiment with two types of sinkers.
Just because you focus on one spot doesn't mean you focus on one type of sinker. You must experiment with what kind of ad works on your platform and get your Mixer to bite. In marketing, we call this A/B testing. Here is a great article explaining A/B Testing. Use this method to grow in your effectiveness at fishing quickly!
The Line: Website
The most dynamic part of the Fishing Pole is the line. It connects the hook, sinker, and bait to the Rod and is controlled by the mechanical gears of the Reel to move the line to assure that the fisherman will ultimately apprehend the catch. In the FMF, the line is your website. It is where you will consistently create articles, your lead magnets, your primary content, and access to The Rod (your Transformation Process, which we will talk about next). Unfortunately, most churches use their websites as dusty bulletin boards, where church members never remove outdated information. Before you know it, it looks sun-bleached, the cursive that should be replaced with print has become indecipherable to a new generation, and when the little kids see it, they ask their parents why the church doesn't just put that stuff on a TV rather than paper and thumbtacks on a cork backing.
Yes, most websites are that bad. Many Churches haven't updated their site in 10-plus years, even though technology and coding change every couple of years. Additionally, we need great SEO because people engage with us via search results on social media and Google. As digital church planters, you need to see the website as the dynamic part of your system. That is why I like combining the website with a Private Social Component so it can double as a destination to create community. It also helps with SEO and creates a consistent need to go back to the website to continue updating it as a leader.
Your website needs to be a destination, not an afterthought.
The Rod: Your Transformation Process
The Rod is the stable part of the pole that gives The Pole its ability to carry the weight of the catch and has strategic points where the line intersects through The Rod's loops. These loops would be your programs as they are one piece to the entire Rod. The Transformation Process is a straightforward discipleship process that consists of a scope and sequence of discipleship environments that become the primary activity of your digital ministry. It helps take the people you reach from "zero to hero" it isn't about downloading information; it's about transformation. I hope you see how this process takes shape when working with the rest of the FMF. In my experience, the Transformation process and its results are the catalysts for authentic community. Still, by attempting to form a community before meeting the needs of your Mixer, you will circumvent your effectiveness. Help your people get results, and they will help you build your community.
The Reel: Nurture Campaign
The Reel is the component that does the heavy lifting of moving your fish to the boat. The purpose of the nurture campaign in the FMF is to get your Mixer to commit to the Transformation Process. It should not be to watch your event. It should not be to join the community. Instead, reel them into the Rod. Only then can you genuinely know whom you've caught. If they commit to the Transformation Process, they will come to your event and join your community in time. So what is a nurture campaign? It is a series of emails and videos that invite your Mixer to commit to the Transformation Journey.
Let's review: your content leads to the lead magnet. Your lead magnet leads to the nurture campaign. The nurture campaign invites them to The Transformation Process. The Transformation Process leads them to the community. Here is how to build a nurture campaign
When people sign up for the lead magnet, they will automatically sign up for your mailing list. You will send a weekly email to this list with a personal message linking to articles and consistent content that invites them to register for free training that you will make that speaks to you having the solution to their felt need. Your emails will have this only call to action until the reader steps into the Transformation Process.
The call to action will take them to a registration page that they will fill out that will sign them up for the training. After filling it out, it will take them to a "Thank You" page.
You need to build a series of emails automatically sent to people who sign up for your training. This is simple, but it takes work to build this system. The beauty is that you only have to build it once. These emails send three videos to them, and then the final video is an invitation to the Transformation Process page, where they will sign up for your process. If they don't, the system should send out two more emails that I call "save the catch" emails. The purpose of these emails is not to play hardball. It is to share more value for them to want to say yes, and then it's to share your gratitude for them saying yes to the free training. If they don't opt-in to the Transformation Process, they will return to your weekly email list after giving them a "catch and release" email. You can create lifelong fans even if they say no today. They won't be a no forever if you are good, gentle, and generous!
Typical Businesses use a "Sales Page" that shares the value they are getting, which usually far exceeds the product's price. As a church, I want you to do this too. Show them how much value is in what they are getting on a Transformation Process page. Most churches don't charge for their discipleship system, which is ok! However, I still want you to make them aware of the value and cost it takes to give this to them; even though it is freely accessible, it isn't free. People need to feel buy-in, and most people in the west only buy into what they buy, so make sure to show them it's worth buying into.
You have some work to do!
This is how you create your digital ministry to succeed! This infrastructure is everything that you would have to do physically during the week or while in the building on Sundays. Still, thankfully we have the technology to do a lot of the heavy lifting as we focus on the actual people side of ministry--After we do the hard work of building our Fisher of Men Framework.