The online world never stays the same. It’s a constantly evolving space that requires a continuous rethinking of priorities and strategies. What your church planned to do on the web three years ago probably won’t be relevant in today’s world.
I believe we’re on the cusp of some pretty big changes when it comes to churches and the online world. Some of these changes will be easy and readily accepted, whereas others will be painful and not accepted by everyone. However, I think there are five significant trends that will impact your church now and in the future. Some these trends you can see now, while others may take some time for you to see. Regardless, though, these changes are coming and you need to be ready.
1. Images Outrank Words for Engagement
There’s a reason why Instagram and Pinterest are growing so fast, and that reason is images. Great images will always leave a better impression than text (here’s a list of 31 places to find free images). I know that’s hard for some ministers to swallow, but the sad truth is that very few people will take the time to read your church’s content. However, if you give them an image with an emotional connection, you will increase your chance of making an impression on your audience.
If words are necessarily a must for you, try pairing them up with pictures. You can do this on Instagram with Over or you can do this by placing an eye-catching photo next your text. For example, just this week, our web team placed some hilarious gifs next to our Christmas announcements (click here to see what we did).
No, this does not mean that the written word is going away. However, it does mean that your church will need to rethink how they plan out their content. It’s one thing to come up with a great headline but it’s a completely different task altogether to think about how you’re going to visually represent your content.
2. 95% of All Networks are Attacked
You’ve probably read, lately, of more online attacks to various companies by outside countries (i.e., Sony and North Korea). These attacks, though, aren’t just limited to large corporations but can also be aimed at churches. In fact, just about 18 months back, our web host was attacked. This took down not only our website, but a lot of other churches as well. While our church was not the direct target, we felt the impact of that attack as we were offline for about three days.
Keep in mind, however, that you’re not defenseless against attacks on your website. There are certain precautions that you can take to make sure that your church is protected. The first thing you can do is to make sure that you’re using unique and secure passwords. I emphasize unique because each of your online services (Twitter, Facebook, Your Church Website, etc.) should have their own separate password. Moreover, the password should be comprised of letters, numbers, and symbols. In our case, we use LastPass as it does a great job providing unique passwords that are tough to crack.
Second, if you’re hosting your own website (i.e., WordPress), make sure you have your plugins and themes up to date. Not using a plugin or theme? Deactivate it and delete it. Your website needs constant attention when it comes to security. Don’t leave it vulnerable to an attack. 
3. Online Learning is Growing Rapidly
During my last year at LifeWay, one of the projects I got to work on was Ministry Grid. Ministry Grid is a tool designed around the idea that people could receive training anywhere, at any time. Whether it was on your mobile device or desktop, you could learn anything we offered at your own leisure. While I still think that we’re in the early stages of online learning, I believe that it will be the de facto standard in the future.
The key with online learning is that it’s really tailored to the individual. It’s on your time, on your devices, and you’re choosing what you want to learn. There’s an enormous amount of freedom in that. Just look around on the web and you’ll find services like Khan Academy, Lynda.com and Treehouse, all of which offer you learning in a way that fits your individual lifestyle.
This is going to be a challenge for some churches. We’ve been conditioned to think that the only way we can train volunteers is by having them sit in classrooms to absorb our information. Those days are over. The church needs to find ways to move its training outside its walls and into a digital space that can be accessed by your congregation whenever they like.
If you’re looking for a tool to do this, I suggest you check out RightNow Media or Ministry Grid, both of which offer you the ability to get training into your congregation’s hands and embrace this new digital format. 
4. Two-thirds of Digital Content Consumed is Created by Consumers
I used to think that all of the content created by a church had to come from the church staff itself. In other words, we were the sole keepers of the brand and we knew what the church needed. However, I now believe that is in opposition to the direction the web is headed. On the web, we’re all creators. We all can take photos, videos, create art, write poetry, and then post it for the world to see. Content creation is now decentralized.
What would it look like if your church’s content was decentralized? What if you gave people the opportunity to contribute content to the conversation? Think about this way. Say you’re getting ready to plan your Easter service. Yes, you could have your design team create the artwork or grab some stock artwork. At the same time, though, you could also allow your congregation to participate in the creation of the artwork. Could the artwork be an online collaboration of church members? Could it be a contest where the members can vote online for the one they like best? What would it be like if your church members were co-creators and just not consumers of your content?
I believe that, in the future, we really won’t have this option. The next generation will assume that they are allowed to co-create and contribute in ways that we currently might not allow right now. They can already create and contribute in so many other areas of their life right now so why shouldn’t the church be one of them as well? 
5. No One Wants to Wait
I grew up in the days of the dial-up modem which, if you remember, was a loud dial tone followed by a screeching sound. If you were able to connect, you then had to wait for your desired website to load. At the time it seemed fast, but times changed and we now have a new standard of fast that blows away the dial-up modem.
This increase in speed has only fueled our expectations that everything on the web should be fast. So let me ask you this question: How fast is your website? That may seem like an absurd question but, as we’re learning that even the smallest delay in the page loading can lead you to losing visitors on your webpage, you need to make sure your church’s website is fast.
One way to check this is to use a tool like Quicksprout. Quicksprout will test your site to make sure that it’s as fast as it should be and it’ll also give you recommendations on how to make it even faster. You can also compare your website to others to see how you stack up.
However, this expectation of speed isn’t just about how fast your website loads. It’s also about how quickly you can put your content online. Sunday service is over? Great, but how quickly can you get it online? Your congregation’s expectations of faster content are only going to grow with the rate the rest of the digital world is developing. Make sure you can keep up with it. 
What trends are you seeing at your church? How are you preparing for them? Click here to share below.