I use the word "cool" a lot.
In a given day, I am likely to say "cool" in response to any (and perhaps all) of the following situations: seeing a trailer for a movie, discovering a new feature on my camera, or confirming plans with a friend. Even in my role as a church communications coordinator, I find myself constantly chasing after what’s "cool." I want cool graphics; I want to come up with a cool name for our young adult ministry; I want a cool website.
In my quest for cool, however, I need also to remember warmth.
For the last several years, Fuller Youth Institute has led a project called Growing Young. This project includes research and interviews with over 250 churches. These churches are succeeding in efforts to engage and enfold young people into the congregation. Though the churches vary drastically in geography, denominational affiliation, size, and worship styles, they share six core commitments.
One of these commitments: They fuel a warm community.
The Growing Young team saw how important it is for churches to value authenticity, deep relationships, and welcoming environments. These values, when woven into the DNA of the congregation, easily trump cool programs, flashy worship services, or a fancy building. When it comes to engaging young people, as the Growing Young team likes to say, "warm is the new cool."
My church is embracing the tools and resources developed by the Growing Young initiative, and we’re seeing some amazing results. When I look at our online presence, however, I still see a lot of work to do. I’ve been asking myself: in what ways can we communicate warmth in a digital landscape?
Before I list some ideas, I must be clear on one thing: a church’s online presence alone isn’t what fuels a warm community. As said above, warmth needs to be woven into the DNA of the congregation. So I present these ideas as opportunities to think about how your church’s online presence takes part in the larger effort of fueling a warm community. Some ideas:
- Pull back the curtain - In many churches, the worship service is a highly polished, well-rehearsed, meticulously planned affair. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but consider revealing some of the humanity behind the finished "products" of your church. Show musicians rehearsing, show volunteers getting the children's ministry room ready, show the church staff working during the week. The key word is “show.” Help your community see that church doesn’t just “happen” each week. Instagram is a great tool for this, especially the Instagram Stories feature.
- Catch the congregation having fun - Genuine fun rarely looks cool, but it always looks authentic. Make sure your website and Facebook Page include lots of pictures of intergenerational fun. Church dinners, Vacation Bible School, youth group outings, and community social events are great photo opportunities.
- Be multi-directional - Social media is meant to be social (it's in the name, after all), yet so often churches use it as just another outward-facing marketing tool. Embrace the communication and collaboration that can happen in real time through social media. Put out a poll on Twitter. Ask for comments on a Facebook post. Share and comment on posts from other organizations connected with you church.
- Do a language audit – Spend some time, preferably with a team, looking at what words and phrases you use in your online presence. Do they sound stale? Do you use too many statements and not enough questions? Are there “church words” that are losing some of their significance from over-use or lack of context? Make efforts to narrow the distance between reader and writer.
These ideas are far from exhaustive, which is why I invite you to share some of your ideas in the comments section. I’m always eager for more ideas!
Finally, as you think about how your church fuels a warm community and employ these thoughts into your communication strategy, remember that warmth takes time. While cool is fleeting, warmth lasts. While cool is trendy, warmth is timeless. While cool is exclusive, warmth is inclusive.