Church newspaper ads vs. youtube videos


My growth conversations with ministers and lay leaders have been falling into two categories:

  1. “we need clarity of vision and purpose” as an association and
  2. “we need to do better with all the nuts and bolts” of congregational life.

For me one of the “nuts and bolts” is helping people visiting your congregation’s website decide to visit.  The number of visitors who decide to visit your church on Sunday is clear function of how well you communicate.

Many of your websites do not communicate who and what you are. Believe me! I’ve checked.

Visit your website and tell me, does it communicate the reality of what your congregation is like? It isn’t easy to communicate this via a text driven website.  Photos help.  But video….

When it comes to turning web surfers / virtual church shoppers into real live visitors, video is the most effective.

Recently I took a day I had scheduled off and helped my home congregation, the First Unitarian Church of Providence, crank out a few videos. We had planned on doing one, but then some other staff dropped by.

The first video is a welcome video from the minister and director of religious education. This video is destined for the front page of their website. I’ve found that people often come to a church after meeting a minister in person at a rally or other public function. A simple video on your website can help visitors feel comfortable taking the big step of visiting.

This quick unscripted video is my favorite.  I grabbed the music director and asked him to take us on a very short tour of the meeting house. It only took ten minutes to make. In this video he introduces himself, says a word or two about the building and then shows us their amazing pipe organ.

Since their membership coordinator came in we had her record a quick intro. This one will end up on the page for newcomers. I think its great that it  communicates who they can go to with questions, membership info, tours, and so on.

Update: The video we made of First Unitarian’s membership coordinator has been updated.  Armed with a new Flip Video Camera, their membership coordinator recorder a new welcome message – watch it here.  See, once you get your Youtube feet wet...


Where to start…

If it was up to me, if I were in your shoes, I’d invest in video.  I’d scrap those newspaper ads and allocate the funds to pay  a youth, young adult or adult in the congregation make videos.  Not just once, but week after week — whatever the ad cost.  They’d include a video tour of the church, sermons, fun events, social action efforts, and regular “this is what’s happening in our community” interviews.  Do all that?  Do some “This I believe” videos.

I know many congregations spend $100 a week on newspaper ads. What’s your budget?

Invest that same amount in video and you will see  far greater rewards.  They’re called visitors.  They start as web surfers,  then they get to know you through the documentation of your congregation’s life, and then they decide to visit.  And they can because they know what to expect.

Video communicates better, lasts longer, and is easier to share online via social networks such as Face Book.  Not having video content in the 21st century is like not having a sign on your building.  It is now standard operating procedure.

You might not have the skills, but someone in your church does.  And if you are smart with your advertising budget you can probably make it worth their while to be your resident video guru.

If you don’t have the funds after a hard look,  build a team. Create a media-ministry team. Make it fun.  If you are presently low tech there are sure to be people waiting for you to get serious about media.

NEED HELP?   If you are in Southern New England and  just can’t find a way to make this happen on your own please contact me. I offer a number of video production and training services for UU congregations.  You can bring me in as a guest speaker and we’ll make a video on a Sunday.  Shazam! Welcome to 2010.

EXCEPTIONS:  There are exceptions where a town or city has so many people reading the newspaper that the paper is still the best option.  But those cases are quickly fading away…

6 thoughts on “Church newspaper ads vs. youtube videos”

  1. In order for viewers to see your videos, they must first visit your site. Posting videos does not, in itself, drive traffic.

    Newspaper ads are a potential forum for directing traffic to your site. Why eliminate this tool?

    Also, why do you portray this as an all-or-nothing decision? Work with newspapers or video? Not both?

    Many newspapers publish church announcements free of charge as a service to the community.

    1. Thank you for your comment. If “both” is an option that is certainly ideal. In my experience — and from a growing number of conversations with leaders of our congregations — videos are shared and propagate online in a way that newspaper ads simply can’t. If a congregation has to choose between investing in print ads or investing in video production, it is my belief that the video has the potential to reach far more people. Online videos are like gifts that keep on giving. This raises a good question. How do you measure the effectiveness of these outreach tools? Are you measuring? If anyone has data, please share.

  2. I was the minister in a small, cash-strapped church from 2005-2009. My first year there, we started asking every newcomer how they heard about us — absolutely no one mentioned the newspaper, but about a quarter of the newcomers said they saw our Web site (the rest was word of mouth). So we rebuilt our Web site, started posting weekly sermons to it, and posted the sermon title every week. Those small changes led to a four-fold increase in Web traffic.

    In a year and a half, the number of newcomers doubled (from two a week to three a week, on average). No newcomers ever reported seeing our newspaper ad. We also had a volunteer placing press releases regularly (about once a month) in the newspaper — again, no newcomer ever reported seeing those press releases. We were spending a couple hundred bucks a month on the newspaper ad and we were facing a cash flow crunch, so we dropped the newspaper ad. We recruited a retired volunteer to take over the Web site — he put in about five hours a week, updating info, adding new info. And the number of newcomers kept increasing, to something like four a week.

    For that church, newspaper ads were a total waste of money. This was in a city where many people did not have Web access, and we had a real cross-section of people of difference economic status — but no one, of any economic status, seemed to look at the newspaper. Word of mouth was still our absolute best means of reaching people — our crude Web site was second best — newspapers weren’t even in the running.

    I think Peter is right, that online video is an excellent way to get the message out. We learned that even something as simple as updating your church Web site weekly, and making sure you have lots of good, solid info on the site, will increase your Web traffic and move you up in the search engine ranking. I’d guess weekly videos would make it an even bigger increase.

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