By Palmer Holt
It’s not always good to hear the word “positive” and COVID-19 in the same sentence.
But as a veteran professional communicator who’s worked with Christian ministries and nonprofits for decades, I’m absolutely positive COVID-19 has created the perfect storm for faith-based nonprofits, businesses, ministries and churches to re-think and re-invent the way they engage the world.
“Things will be different post-COVID” has been drummed into us for months. We’re not just conditioned for the “new normal” we’ve all heard so much about. We’re seeing things change right now all around us, and we’re expecting more changes to come.
But are America’s faith-based organizations ready to change and adapt the way they interact and communicate in order to thrive in our fast-changing, post-pandemic world?
Are you ready to change?
In May, InChrist Communications (www.inchristcommunications.com) and Grey Matter Research & Consulting (www.greymatterresearch.com) jointly conducted a survey of Christian nonprofit, ministry and business leaders — as well as communications pros — to determine their communications priorities post-COVID.
And now the results are in.
Christian leaders value two things above everything else: engaging their audience and building personal connections, according to the findings in our new report, Enormous Expectations, Explosive Engagements: Communications Priorities for Faith-Based Organizations in a Post-COVID World.
That may not be earth-shattering news. “Relationships are number one” has been the tested-and-proven rallying cry of nonprofits and faith-based organizations for generations. But what has emerged during the COVID era is the channel through which those personal connections are increasingly being made.
What have we all been doing for the past year? Yep. We’ve been glued to our smartphones and other digital devices, consuming hours of video and streaming on-demand via YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, and other online platforms.
Unsurprisingly, ministry and nonprofit leaders are fully aware of this voracious video trend. After all, we’re all doing it. The thirst for online video is unquenchable.
When asked what their top communications methods and strategies are in the post-COVID world, more nonprofits cite increasing their video capabilities than any other media method. They’re sending a clear message: Video is the proclaimed audience engagement king — and we want to be at the coronation!
It’s not just the visual impact — and the effortless click-and-watch enticement — of video that’s so appealing to communicators and their audiences. It’s also the emotional and inspirational power of visual media.
Aiming for the Heart
In fact, 43% of the Christian leaders we surveyed rate boosting their emotional and inspirational content at or near the top of their post-COVID wish list. They’re seven times more likely to favor increasing the use of emotional content over purely factual or rational content. They want to engage their audiences and supporters, not merely inform them like Wikipedia. They want to aim for the heart.
The desire for real relationships and genuine community is stronger now than ever before, our survey shows. Christian organizations want people to feel they’re actually part of a cause, part of a ministry, part of a family. Post-COVID, they know people are craving personal connections. They want people to be relationally invested in the work they’re doing. And they want the relationship to be real. That means they’re looking to have dynamic, real-time conversations — and they’re increasingly turning to online live-chat platforms to initiate those engaging conversations.
It sounds like a match made in heaven. Nonprofits and ministries eager to engage their supporters — and people, in turn, searching for an emotional, relational connection to a cause they authentically can be part of.
But there’s a catch.
My own experience shows many faith-based organizations are struggling to make this crucial emotional and relational connection. Many nonprofits are failing to show how they’re different… how their story stands out… and why people should have a heart-tug toward their cause and engage with them. Our study shows that ministry leaders believe in the power of brand, but often struggle with exactly how to express it.
Right now, many Christian organizations — and perhaps you’re one of them — risk drowning in the “sea of sameness.” But the good news is that you can free your creativity post-COVID — and set sail to the harbor of explosive engagement.
Clearly, the pandemic has changed — possibly forever — the way we interact and connect with the world around us. More than ever, fully understanding your audience — and giving them inspiring content that’s easily consumable — is vital to making your organization relevant and your story attractive and winsome.
As many Christian organizations are discovering right now, the “rules of engagement” have changed. Now is the time to re-engage — and create your relationship-driven post-COVID communications strategy.
There’s a world full of people waiting for you to make them feel they belong with you.
— Palmer Holt is a veteran journalist, former public relations executive, and founder of InChrist Communications (ICC, www.inchristcommunications.com), a full-spectrum communications agency specializing in helping Christian organizations and companies strategize, elevate their brand, and create engaging content.