If you build it…they will not come

March 15, 2013 — 7 Comments

Last time, I explored the idea that we are in a “post-website world.” Because of this, it is important that we learn how to get our message in front of our audience where they are. And the data show that they are on social networks. But this sometimes leads ministry leaders to the wrong conclusion, as I discuss in my book:

Many will look at these data and this shift toward more interactive and social online activity and draw the conclusion that their ministry should build its own social network or other interactive site. This is absolutely the wrong conclusion! If you knew that your potential au- dience went to Starbucks every day and you wanted to engage with them, would you first build your own coffeehouse down the street and then tell them, “Come to my shop; I’ll be waiting”? No. Your best strategy would be to go to Starbucks yourself and interact with them there. There are very few situations in which creating your own environment for interacting with your audience makes sense.

In order to successfully reach your audience, you must go where they are. I call this “getting in the stream.” Every one of us has a digital stream of information that we immerse ourselves in every day. Think about it, when you get in front of your computer or mobile phone, where do you automatically go? Facebook, email, text messages, Twitter…these are just a few of the “streams” that are out there that pass in front of our eyes every day.

To effectively get our audience’s attention, then, we must understand what streams they use and then develop a strategy for putting ourselves into those streams. And we cannot just assume we know which streams they use! Your audience may favor Twitter over Facebook, text messages over email, or videos over all of them. Research is such an important step in understanding our audience. In my next post, I will discuss some methods for researching which streams your audience uses and how you can best insert yourself into those streams.

Do you think that it is futile to build your own social network? In which cases might it make sense? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.



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Online ministry researcher and educator. Associate Professor and Director of Innovation for the Crowell School of Business at BIola University. Author of Ministry in the Digital Age.

7 responses to If you build it…they will not come

  1. Good points Dave. I think it depends a bit on what kind of interaction you are looking for. Niche social platforms are some of the strongest right now with the likes of Path, LinkedIn, Pinterest and NextDoor because they deliver unique value to a unique part of the population. Global networks such as Facebook and Twitter are great for getting in the “stream” but are limited around specific types of interaction. They aren’t great at promoting prayer, mobilizing the church, getting volunteers and sharing our stuff. (you can use them for that, but it isn’t obvious and therefore doesn’t happen much) When we launched the Table 2 years ago, we weren’t sure if people “needed” something other than facebook to interact with their church. 4000 churches and almost 1 million prayers later would suggest that at times there is a need beyond Facebook. The combination of intimacy, local interactions and purposeful apps make for a good complement to how churches currently use FB/Twitter which is more of an evangelizing/content promotion tool. However, I agree that we shouldn’t recreate the wheel over and over again! If a social network doesn’t add unique value, it shouldn’t exist at all. Cheers

    • Jason –

      Great thoughts. I do think there are specific situations where a new social network is needed, and the Table seems to be an exception that proves the rule. In this case, the social network is not a “stream” so much as an end in itself, filling a true need.


  2. Thanks Dave. I do think that we build social networks whether or not we intend to. But I understand what you’re driving at. I attempted to set one up on Ning a few years back and realized that it was more trouble than it was worth at the time. I do think that setting up a social network that is integrated into one’s Facebook account is helpful. Most of us have wrestled with the fact that not everyone on our Facebook is interested in, nor should be receiving everything we post as it relates to ministry. By establishing a separate Facebook page for one’s ministry and keeping it private, your posting should go to those members who have expressed an interest. I don’t think websites per se are obsolete, but represent an element in an integrated social network which hosts one’s primary material. I find that Facebook and Twitter are excellent for letting others know about what we might have posted which is too long or too complex for FB.
    FYI, regarding posting comments on your mda (ministry in the digital age), it is a bit off broadway. I have noticed that when other ministries, who live on facebook post and a conversation gets moving, I’m more likely to join in. It’s like a party. You don’t have to talk to everyone present. Because I’m on FB students contact me there. I’m more available. I suppose that I could have some connection that would allow me to know when someone posts on our website, but as it is now I don’t look at most of my comments on my site since they’re primarily spam which practically makes the analytics useless. It is a blog and a stand alone automated online course site we’ve developed which people can subscribe to.

    • James,

      I’ve seen others struggle, like you, with Ning and similar type sites. It is a lot of work to create a new social network and gain the critical momentum needed to become self-sustaining. As for the comments on this site: I have thought about integrating FB comments instead of using the WordPress comments, I may have to consider that. Thanks for the thoughts.


      • No problem. I do think it would be a good idea. The reason? I wouldn’t have even know that you had replied unless I returned to my comment and saw that you had replied. Social interaction on FB is much easier because it comes up on my gmail if someone has replied to a string.

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