It’s easy to use church websites for outreach.
But, one of the biggest mistakes I see small churches make with their websites is believing “if we build it, they will come.” In other words, they build it, launch it, then sit back and wait for the masses to arrive.
And, of course they don’t.
Because outreach doesn’t work that way.
Neither does the Web.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is your church website is an incredibly effective tool for evangelism.
But, as Warren Wiersbe has noted, “Technology is only as good as the skills of the people who manage it.”
I have to agree.
To become an effective ministry asset, your website must be well-built, well-maintained, and well-used.
So, what does this have to do with fishing for people?
Well, when Jesus called Peter, He told him He would teach him how to become a “fisher of men.”
That got me thinking about what that might look like in our digital age.
Is it easy to use church websites to fish for men?
First, let me ask you: how cool would it be to know exactly what people outside of your local church are frustrated with, complaining or discouraged about, or need help with?
People search the Web every day, looking for wise, useful answers to help them solve their problems. Wouldn’t it be incredible if your church provided some of those answers (Proverbs 10:32)?
After all, wasn’t answering questions and solving practical problems a method Jesus used as He went fishing for the lost He would redeem?
Didn’t He get Peter’s attention by first helping him with a very frustrating, practical problem (Luke 5:1-11) before He called Him to be a disciple?
And, isn’t that what Peter did later, after beginning his ministry (Acts 3:3-11)? After he solved the lame beggar’s practical problem, everyone’s attention was on him. That’s when, Scripture says, “Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd” (Acts 3:12, NLT).
God still works through us in that same way today.
When you’re brainstorming ideas for developing content you plan to use for outreach online, some of the most compelling subject matter for church blog posts and articles are topics that people are really anxious to know about.
Learn what people are anxious about, help them solve their problems then, when you’ve got their attention, seize the opportunity to tell them about Jesus.
What are people anxious about right now?
There are all kinds of ways to discover what people are most concerned about.
Talking to people personally is one way to find out.
You could also survey or poll your congregation, website visitors, and social media fans and followers.
But, those options can take a lot of time, and have a limited effectiveness.
Also, publishing articles too closely after having those conversations may cause some to feel like you’re not holding their conversations with you in confidence.
Or, what if you do try one of those methods, and people just don’t really respond?
Well, here’s “Plan B.”
It’s a strategy I learned about (and one I use myself) for discovering exactly what people who read my blog want to know about.
That matters to me, since I want to be confident I’m talking about the exact things my readers want to hear and know about.
And, it’s a fantastic strategy you can use too!
How to fish for people
Step 1: Find a good spot
For whatever subject you want to talk about, look for forums where people who talk about that subject matter get together. The best way to do this is to go into Google and type the following:
For example, say you want to reach out in an impactful way to youth.
If your church has a youth ministry, you might also be using a blog or social media to communicate with and encourage your audience.
Now, suppose you’re brainstorming topic ideas for articles or blog posts that talk about some very real issues teens are facing today. You could start by Googling the following:
IMPORTANT: Be sure you type in “forum”, and not “forums.”
Google will deliver a huge list of the top forums that cover that subject matter, usually ordered by popularity.
One of the teen forums I peeked into was well-organized and had many topics. I was able to see immediately what topics were the most visited and discussed.
Just about every post, regardless of the topic, included a problem in desperate need of a solution.
Here’s how some of the threads were titled (along with topics I found them in):
- Are We Bullying This Kid? (Peer Pressure and Bullying)
- I Hate Looking At Myself (Eating Disorders)
- What’s Wrong With Drugs? (Substance Abuse)
- My Dad Is Abandoning The Entire Family (Friends and Family)
- Sleeping With Your Partner? (Relationships and Dating)
I even saw one thread where the person posting their problem specifically asked for a response from a Christian perspective. Talk about an opportunity for ministry!
The topic you search for can be as broad or as narrow as you choose. So, instead of “forum:teens issues”, you could search for “forum:teens pregnancy” or “forum:teens bullying”.
Step 2: Get in the boat, launch out from the shore
Now, go into one of the forums. Look for a search tool or a search box that will let you search for specific terms that people have written in their forum posts.
Honestly, I didn’t even have to use any of the search tools in the teen forum I visited, because the forum was quite lively and laid out well enough for me to jump right into the threads.
Some forums allow guests to perform searches without registering an account; others will require you to register first.
If you’re required to register, you should really consider it since your audience hangs out there. But, that’s completely up to you.
Step 3: Choose your bait
In the search field, type in some of the following terms and see what you come up with (try your searches with and without the quotes):
- “advice about”
- “I hate it when”
- “I need help with”
- “can anyone help me”
- “I’m looking for”
- “really bad”
- “desperate for”
- “can’t find”
- “have no clue”
- “question about”
- “I’ve never done this before”
There are a number of similar terms that you can search for, but I think you get the idea.
When you search for these phrases, more than likely you’re going to discover a series of forum threads where someone expressed a need using the phrase.
Keep in mind that some may offer no results, while you may strike gold with others.
Step 4: Bait your hook, and cast the line
Now, before you add your comment to the thread, go back and write an article or blog post sharing godly wisdom in response to their question or request for advice.
In other words, write an article or blog post specifically addressing the need or problem they’ve shared, and publish it on your church’s blog or website.
Pro tip: For your headline (and if possible), use the thread’s title. So, using the threads I found earlier, you might title your article, “Are We Bullying This Kid?”. Then write your article to respond to the people doing the bullying, not the kid being bullied.
Then, return to the forum thread itself, write a brief response, and link to the article you published on your church blog or website.
Step 5: Reel them in
Pray for those who come to your website or blog to read your articles.
Engage those who comment.
Answer their questions.
Tell them the truth.
Share godly wisdom.
Be patient and available.
Let them see Jesus.
This method has hidden (SEO) benefits
While doing the work Jesus gave us to do is the goal and motivation for following this method, consistent application offers practical benefits too.
This is an area of website maintenance that most small churches fail to perform.
Specifically, you’ll be optimizing your website for the search engines by regularly adding high quality content and building back links. Over time, you’ll see a boost in traffic and visitors to your website.
Of course, there’s more to optimizing your website’s performance for the search engines than adding quality content and building back links. But, consistently applying this method is a very good start.
That’s what makes this method so much better than surveys and polls. Forum links have real staying power.
As long as the forum stays up, there’s opportunity for your comments and links to be seen and followed.
I’ve seen forums started 10 years ago where most threads ended, say two years ago, then were revived in the last month.
And, it makes sense.
There’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The issues and problems people face today are the same ones they experienced years ago, and will experience years from now.
Searching the Web for answers is an activity that will only continue to increase.
Pray that God leads them to find His wisdom in the answers you’ve contributed.
It’s your turn
Have you tried this method for using your church’s website to reach out online?
What tips would you share?
Share your experience…leave a comment, and be sure to include a link to your church’s website (build those back links BABY!).