SOCIAL MEDIA & Going to church in virtual reality: examples, ideas & cautions

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D.,  I once was skeptical about the depth of community that could be created online. But having taught graduate courses online (as well as onsite) for over 20 years, I’ve come to believe online community can be very personable and deep.

And so, I’ve come to see online churches as another campus or venuethrough which to spread the Good News. Granted, it still has its weaknesses as does every type of venue, but it also has a potentiality that the strategic leader must not overlook.

7 weaknesses I have identified of online venues include (but also often occur in live venues):

  1. Hubris that comes from being personality-driven
  2. Focus on receiving and not giving
  3. Accountability eclipsed by entertainment
  4. Technology drives expenditures
  5. Disenfranchised continue to be marginalized/ignored
  6. Reconciliation takes more effort
  7. Spiritual transformation is downplayed

Recently I had the opportunity to pull together speakers for the annual conference of the Great Commission Research Network. These were speakers who had experience leading online churches. You can find more information from the conference at these links:

SOCIAL MEDIA & Questions to stimulate discussion on how churches can more effectively utilize social media.

SOCIAL MEDIA & #NathanClark the leader of one of the nation’s first online communities tells the best thing a small church can do to connect & minister online

In addition one of my students from Kingswood University in Canada has started a church with her husband that includes an online service. Find more info about their multiplication strategy here: SOCIAL MEDIA & How a Toronto church plant uses gaming site Twitch to create online bible studies & community

Finally, here is a good video from CNN that gives a introduction to online churches.//

You can also view the CNN video here:

MARKETING & Most CEOs Start Out In Which Department? Marketing! #ChurchLeadershipBook

Executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International has discovered that most CEOs and executives start out in the company’s marketing division.[i]

[i] Quoted in Louis E. Boone and David L. Kurtz, Contemporary Marketing, 11th ed. (Mason, Ohio: South-Western Publishing), 2004, xxxix.

For more on marketing for religious organizations see the chapter on marketing by Bob Whitesel in Bruce L. Petersen, Edward A. Thomas and Bob Whitesel (eds) Foundations of Church Administration: Professional Tools for Church Leadership (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2010), pp. 157-181).

Download the chapter here (not for public distribution, but remember if you benefit from the chapter please support the publisher and author by purchasing a copy): BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – FOUNDATIONS CH ADMIN Marketing

MARKETING & 5 Common Pitfalls in Non-Profit Marketing

by Roman Kniahynyckyj, JULY 11, 2015.

lw_5_pitfallsWhen it comes to increasing donations for your non-profit organization, begging, pleading and coercion are not the answers. In fact these techniques are more likely to turn potential donors away. Here are some solutions to addressing common pitfalls to avoid in online marketing for non-profits…

1) Not Being Social...Pick one channel. Facebook is probably a good place to start. Setting up a social channel isn’t the end though. You may not have a lot of people interacting with you but when someone does ask you a question or comment on your page it’s important you respond appropriately…

2) Not Telling a Story.  Sharing a heart felt story about how donations have been used offers a powerful trigger for other potential donors… Help your website visitors understand and envision the impact of their donations. The more personal stories and long term community impact you can show the more likely you’ll keep people reading and move them towards a donation.

3) Not Creating A Wish List… Creating a non-profit wish list is a useful way to do this. Remember, any ‘ask’ must have a solid rationale for it – if you are asking for a new office computer make sure you let folks know your current computer is almost obsolete or is having trouble running the latest software.

4) Not Offering Social Proof.  In addition to showing where the money goes it’s important to show how the money already raised is being put to work. One of the best ways of offering this sort of social proof is through infographics that can be shared. Infographics are the perfect way to present a variety facts, figures and ideas in an easily digestible format…

5) Not Making it Insanely Easy to Donate.  If your website visitor has to click more once to get to a donation page from any page on your site they’re clicking too much. You will certainly have some visitors landing on your site ready to donate. If someone is ready and willing to donate don’t make it a challenge for them.

Read more at …  (image: )

MARKETING & Successful Leaders Who Started with Paper Routes and 5 Key Lessons Learned

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel; “The key lesson from these successful leaders is that it is important to show people how your message adds value to their lives. So rather than telling people you have the area’s best church program or the most exciting worship, tell them about how Christ and knowing Him will add more spiritual and physical value to their lives.”

Read more at …

MARKETING & Tiny Arizona church wins Supreme Court case on signs #USAToday

by Richard Wolf and Brad Heath, USA Today, June 18, 2015.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that cities and towns generally cannot limit roadside signs based on what they say.

The justices unanimously said the town of Gilbert, Ariz., violated the First Amendment by giving signs promoting a church’s worship services vastly inferior treatment compared to political campaign signs.

Writing for the court’s majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the town law limiting the size of the church’s signs and the length of time for which they could be displayed was a “content-based” restriction on the church’s speech. He said the town had no justification for such a restriction, and it was therefore unconstitutional.

The case was touted by lawyers for Good News Community Church as a major test of religious freedom, but the justices didn’t treat it that way. Rather, they said local governments must be able to justify the disparate treatment accorded organizations seeking to spread their messages….

Read more at …

COMMUNITY IMPACT & To Meet Needs in A Community You Must Go “Beyond Branding”

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  “Recently Outreach Magazine asked me and four colleagues who study evangelism and culture about how a church can raise it’s visibility in a community.  I joined Tony Morgan, Len Sweet, Tom Bandy and Will Mancini in explaining how a church becomes “visible” in a community when it serves the needs in the community.  (Consider subscribing to Outreach Magazine, one of the best sources for helping a church reach out).  Click here to read the article: ARTICLE ©Whitesel Beyond Branding OUTREACH Mag

ARTICLE ©Whitesel Beyond Branding OUTREACH Mag PICTURE

COMMUNICATION & 7 Biblical Ways to Increase a Church’s Visibility – from my interview w/ Outreach Magazine

by Bob Whitesel, 2/25/15.  The following is from my interview with Outreach MagazineI was asked, “What you would want to convey to the church that says, ‘We aspire to be better known in our community’.”  Below are my thoughts about how to organically and biblically increase a church’s visibility.  (It is probably not what you anticipated.)


ELEVATE: Raise Your Visibility Before a Skeptical World

Today in an increasingly skeptical world, the church must move beyond branding and build a new, more powerful reputation.

15-MJ_BobWhitesel-300x225Here are 5 steps to elevating your visibility in a community.

1. Elevate the visibility of your need-meeting. Churches should be known as the place in a community where people go when they have a crisis. Churches that offer divorce recovery programs, grief support groups, 12-step programs, etc. increase their visibility as the primary place where needs are met in their community.

2.  Elevate the visibility of spiritual-change. People are looking for ways to change their lives and often psychologists or self-help programs are their first choice. While these can offer the physical change that people need, I believe only Christ can offer the spiritual change that people long for deep inside. So in the name of helping people better their physical lives, do not neglect their higher needs for a supernatural transformation that only comes through Christ.

3. Elevate the visibility of your openness and honesty. Churches often promote that they have the best program or the most exciting worship. But non-churchgoers sense that this is not the real purpose of the church. Acknowledge that your church doesn’t do everything well and sometimes you get fixated on your organizational needs. Then remind them that your church is a spiritual community, seeking to work together to draw closer to Christ.

4. Elevate the visibility of your unity in diversity. In an increasingly diverse world, people want to go to a church that mirror’s the diversity of God’s creation. But such diversity must not be only symbolic, but also heartfelt. It is important for people of diverse cultures to run the church together, to worship together and to learn from one another about cultural background and baggage. The church should be visible in the community as a place that not only promotes spiritual reconciliation to God, but also physical reconciliation between cultures.

5.  Elevate your visibility as a place to learn. People today have a conceptions of the church as a place that lectures and criticizes, rather than a place that promotes learning. Jesus gave us a Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) to “make learners.” Thus our goal must be to acquaint them with His words, while we exemplify how these words are lived out in community.

6.  Elevate your visibility as a place where everybody can find a place to fit. Emphasize smaller fellowship groupings within the larger whole. Most people today are not only looking for a large event, but also a smaller group where they can ask spiritual questions and receive support on their spiritual journey.

7. Elevate your visibility as a community that promotes and seeks God’s wisdom. The church should be known as a place of Bible-study and prayer. Thus it should be a place where people who are estranged from God or even just struggling in their relationship, will find people and prayer environments that will assist them in connecting to their heavenly Father. If a person in the community needs prayer, the first place they should think of is your church.

If you can’t elevate one or more of these areas, because they don’t yet exist in your church, then start with the easiest but don’t stop until you develop these seven ways to elevate an organically spiritual and Biblical visibility.

CLICK HERE to download the entire article with contributions by my colleagues Len Sweet, Will Mancini, Tony Morgan and Tom Bandy: ARTICLE ©Whitesel Beyond Branding OUTREACH Mag

And HERE IS A LINK to the online version:

WESLEY SEMINARY & 5 Must-Read Tips About How We Are Building An Identity (and you can too)

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2/25/15.

In an article in Forbes Magazine (Forbes Magazine, 2/2/15), David Lariviere outlines five steps to building an identity for your organization. It applies well to Christian organizations, as my friend retired Major George Hood has done for the Salvation Army. Below I have given examples of how these five steps apply to ministry, by describing how we are doing it at Wesley Seminary.

1) Build a brand you’re passionate about. All of us at Wesley Seminary are excited about the idea of making more effective ministers in the Body of Christ. Our purpose is to introduce more people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through more effective Christians. We all have spent many years in seminary and graduate schools which has made us passionate about what they do and about doing it better.

2). Be your brand’s biggest advocate. We enjoy wearing Wesley Seminary polo shirts, sweatshirts and logos as well as having Wesley Seminary stickers on our cars and even computers. We want everyone to know we are passionate about this new model of seminary education.

3) Find investors that are both an industry and a cultural fit. To illustrate this I will discuss our faculty. Not only do we look for faculty members who are respected throughout their disciplines, but also we look for those fit our culture. We often say, “Who would we enjoy having lunch with?” This has created a high degree of community among our faculty.

4) Know your weaknesses and be honest. Here at Wesley Seminary we realize we must constantly train and improve our adjunct teachers. These are people who are often extremely skilled and knowledgeable, but because there is a rotating pool educating them is a major part of our efforts. In addition, advertising is something for which we do not have a lot of dollars. So we encourage our students, adjuncts and faculty to spread the news about the exciting work we are doing.

5) Engage a philanthropic component. Every organization should make sure it is primarily serving others and not serving itself. We are reminded daily of this, as we seek to utilize God’s word and the history of His Holy Spirit moving in people’s lives, to equip tomorrow’s world changers.

Read the original article here …

5 Must-Read Tips For Building A Brand, by David Lariviere, Forbes Magazine, 2/2/15.

NEED MEETING & Research Shows Growing Churches “Poll non-churchgoer needs & then fill them” #ReviewOfReligiousResearch

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Here is more research that supports the premise that churches that are asking non-churchgoers about their needs are growing faster than churches that just poll their own congregants. When you ask your congregation about the needs of non-churchgoers you’re getting ‘secondhand information.’ In academia this is called ‘secondary research’ and is not reliable because it is going through the filters of an intermediary, in this case your congregants. However ‘primary research’ is preferred in academia, where a researcher goes directly to a source (e.g. non-churchgoers) and asks them about their needs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat around in church board meetings where they guessed at the needs of the community. Sometimes they were accurate, but most times they were not because the board members had become part of a Christian culture and often missed the needs of the non-churchgoing culture. Below is more research that confirms this along with how one of my students nicely summarized it.”

The student wrote. “Vokurka and McDaniel (2004), in a study of Southern Baptist congregations of varying makeup, have found that developing programs directly based off of observed or surveyed needs is the best approach among churches that experience numerical growth (p. 145).”  Vokurka, R. J., & McDaniel, S. W. (2004). A taxonomy of church marketing strategy types. Review Of Religious Research, 46(2), 132-149.”

Read more at …

MARKETING & A Quick Review of False & Misleading Tricks Used In Ads #InfoGraphic

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “We all know that ‘advertising’ is the third step in marketing, after you 1) assess needs and 2) design ministry to meet those needs (B. Whitesel in Smith and Wright, Church Leader’s MBA, 2011, pp. 191-213). But because advertising is often deceptive, people reject marketing altogether. Marketing is necessary, for in its first stage we learn to address the needs of others. But advertising deceptions (such as illustrated in this poignant and even humorous infographic) remind us we cannot let advertising dissuade us from meeting needs.”

by Finances Online™ Read more at…

HUMOR & Has the church become “a culture itself?” So, what if Starbucks marketed like the church? [video]

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Below is a humorous video about how church culture can unintentionally confuse people who are not part of our church-going culture.  Since most of our churches are trying to reach out to non-churchgoers, it is important that we look at our behaviors, ideas and products that can confuse (and even potentially turn off) people with whom we are trying to share the Good News.

I sometimes share this with my students at their residential.  Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be changed when Jesus saves us. We should.

But when we create an artificial culture we erect cultural barriers to people outside of that culture.  This video gives a humorous way of looking at how, if we are not careful, our churches become confusing and irrelevant ‘church cultures.’

That is why newly planted churches often grow faster than older churches.  New churches don’t have that Christian culture developed as strongly in them yet, and so unchurched people can relate more to them.

But, if they are not careful, even planted churches will eventually mutate into a separate ‘church culture.’  Now, you might think, ‘Well, we need to plant more churches.’  And, we do.  But, if we don’t also help established churches from becoming disconnected ‘church cultures’ then the Devil will have succeeded in keeping us irrelevant to unchurched people.

Charles Kraft, in his book Christianity and Culture (1979) said that ‘the church has become a culture itself.’  Thus Eddie Gibbs said that church leaders must receive missionary training, to understand those outside of our culture and learn how to present Christ to them in culturally relevant ways that will not compromise the Good News (Church Next, 220).  Kraft also warned that ‘cultural conversion’ is wrong, meaning missionaries are to convert others to their beliefs, not to their culture, for cultural conversion smacks of colonialism and empire-building (Christianity in Culture, 339).  Rather, the Good News is ‘supra-cultural’ (Kraft 1979), meaning it is a way of holy living that is above culture.  It changes culture, but it also (like Jesus in the incarnation) may take on non-sinful behavior, ideas or products … but without sinning.