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Connecting with the “plugged-in” at your church

By Eric Seiberling

Last month's article focused on connecting with the "unplugged" at your church and provided ways to connect with those who do not actively engage online. While offline communication needs to be a staple of how you connect with your audience, more people of all ages are moving to online communications. People pay bills, connect with friends and manage their lives online and through their mobile devices. Adapt how you communicate to stay connected with an "always-on" congregation.

Here are ways to improve your communication with those who are "plugged-in."

Develop a contact-management system. It is essential that you manage both congregants' contact information and their desired preferences for communication. Church Management Systems available today can provide a way to tailor the information and the methods to connect with an individual person or family. Look specifically for ChMS solutions, which can manage individual communication preferences, integrate with both email-marketing systems like Constant Contact and provide bulk text messaging and Short Message Services.

Create a digital hub for information. Churches must create a digital home for all of their information. Services like Wordpress, Tumblr and others make it easy for churches to create the Internet presence they need to communicate information to their members and the community at large. A hub provides people the opportunity always know where to find the latest details. Make certain to include a church calendar online to be sure people stay aware of key events and meetings.

Cut postage by sending messages digitally. The United States Postal Service delivered about 30 percent less mail in 2012 than in 2002. Many people choose to skip the mailbox and receive much of their correspondence digitally. Moving to digital communications can significantly cut postage and office-supply costs, improve communication by targeting information based on the ChMS profile and help eliminate trash. Find an email marketing solution that can provide customized newsletters, personalize reminders for events or meetings or share prayer concerns much more effectively than traditional "snail mail."

Share with your friends via Facebook. Creating a Facebook page for your church provides both an avenue to communicate with people with whom the church has a relationship and allows members to share postings to friends as a form of outreach. Facebook can create conversations that engage members of your church and the community at large. Develop an online communications policy and assign trusted people from all key ministry areas of your church as page administrators to avoid a single bottleneck for posting. Post major events or sermon videos on your page and ask church members to share them on their timelines to extend your church's reach. Make an effort to invite people from your church to "like" the church Facebook page so they will stay informed as new items are posted.

Create a Flipboard channel to create a digital church magazine. Smartphone and tablet users can use the Flipboard app to page easily through information like a magazine. Flipboard allows you to read and collect news you care about, by curating your favorite stories into a digital magazine format. Start by creating a Flipboard channel for your church. Using the "Flip it" web app, add blog posts, YouTube videos, tweets and other relevant content to your digital magazine. Take time to organize the content you created using Flipboard's Editor. Ask others to add to your magazines as contributors. Share the church's unique Flipboard by sharing the link through email, Facebook and Twitter and asking church members to sign up and subscribe. Here is an example of Wapakoneta First United Methodist Church's flipboard.

If church members need help setting up the app, ask them to bring their Android or iOS device to church and ask someone at your church's welcome center to sign them up on the spot. If you do not have a welcome center, create a space somewhere prominent between the outside doors and the sanctuary. Train the welcoming person to know the app's functionality and inform everyone that Flipboard will automatically download the latest church news or content and make it as easy for them to flip through like a magazine. With just a little help, "Flip it" can keep even the most non-tech savvy people up-to-date.

Make sure your church is within an arm's reach. Mobile devices are becoming the communication method of choice for many young people and those without access to broadband. Make sure your website is mobile-accessible and take advantage of QR Codes to allow people to access information wherever they are. Use text-message services to deliver key reminders, prayer requests and other time-sensitive information.

Use micro-blogging to broadcast information. Microblogging tools like Twitter and photo-sharing tools like Instagram can provide a broader reach for your digital message. Think of these tools as ways to broadcast your message to your community and the world at large. While this may not be appropriate for meeting reminders and prayer requests, it can provide a way to share information on an upcoming event or photos from a mission trip. Encourage church members to "follow" your church's Twitter or Instagram account, so they can receive updates in real time.

Communicating with church members is not difficult, but it requires intentionality and persistence to ensure they get the message amid cluttered communications. Digital tools allow multiple contributors to share information as it becomes available and save money compared to "unplugged" methods. Understand the communication preferences of the different individuals of your church and eliminate the failure to communicate.