We ended last week's article with this: "Speaking of first impressions, in this digital age a student's first impression of your church will likely be online."* As Tom Knight said this week in his article for Collegiate Collective, "If we take 1998 as the ending point of the Millennial generation, then Generation Z will be on the campus this fall." Generation Z and most Millenials are "digital natives." They have never known life without websites and cellphones. Your online presence isn't bells and whistles to this generation; it's essential.
Your online presence says you are relevant. Students want to know that you can relate to who they are. It doesn't mean your website has to be fancy, but it should look current. Take a good look at your website. How does it compare to other sites that students use? If it looks dated, find a way to update it. It doesn't have to require a lot of money. There are many free and inexpensive resources available. Weebly.com & WordPress.com are two such services that make creating and updating an online presence easy.
Ask students what online services they are using most. Instagram? Twitter? Facebook? Be sure your ministry is where your students are going most often. If you don't have time to manage multiple online platforms consider using Hootsuite.com or link accounts together so that when you post on one social media site it posts to others. See one example from Twitter here.
Your online presence communicates who you are. So, choose carefully. If your church is more of a rural or "downhome" kind of place, don't choose a website that looks ultra modern. Choose web content and images that communicate who you really are. Include pictures of your group and your church when possible to give students an idea of what they can experience when they visit.
Your online presence says you're engaged or unengaged. Let's face it, a lot of church websites are out of date. Old pictures, old event calendars. No posts to the Facebook page. All of these things create a bad first impression for first time visitors, especially college students. Be sure your websites and social media are up to date. List upcoming events. Double check email and phone numbers for staff and leaders. Post pictures of group activities, conversation starters, Bible verses, and prayer requests to social media.
Digital natives can reach digital natives. You might be thinking, "I don't have time for all of this." Maybe social media is out of your comfort zone. Enlist students in your ministry to help with online tools and social media. They're already plugged in and know what works from experience. Let them use their expertise to help your ministry connect and make a great first impression.