The Evolution of Social Media Audience and How it Impacts The Church

The Evolution of Social Media Audience and how it Impacts the Church

With smartphones, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, the way audiences process information has probably changed more in the last 10 years than it had in the last 1,000 years. Our technological progress has given birth to a new generation of audience.

From a church or ministry perspective there are five types of audience on social media. You need to consider these audiences and their behaviour while planning your church communication strategy.

The Evolution of Social Media Audience and How it Impacts The Church

The Face-to-Face Live Audience

For many years, right from Jesus’ time, most ministry happened face-to-face. Jesus ministered in front of a live audience. In the early Church, sermons, prayer sessions, evangelical meetings, counselling sessions and all other types of ministry happened in front of a live audience. And before leaving, Jesus prepared his disciples to go out into the world and plant more churches in person, so that more people could be ministered to. Thomas had to travel all the way to India from the Middle East – a journey that might have taken months. That is how the Gospel spread across the world – face-to-face, one-on-one – and this type of ministry continues to be relevant and important for church growth.

Even though I am a digital marketing consultant, I am also a big believer in the power of personal interactions. When human beings get together and meet in person, there are spiritual dynamics at work that can never be replaced by any other type of interaction. While online media, gadgets and social networking channels have their roles to play (as I discuss in the rest of the book) I believe that God still wants us to be more human and connect with each other in person as much as possible. That is why in-person ministry remains very effective, even with all the social media and technology available. Nothing can replace an in-person interaction.

But in-person ministry can be limited by time and space. And there are elements of ministry like teaching, prayer and counselling that can be done effectively in a remote setting as well. So we need to find the correct mix of technology-driven components, remote ministry components and in-person ministry components.

The On-demand Audience

The art of recording God’s principles for reference started very early – we see God himself writing the 10 commandments on a tablet for Moses in Mount Sinai. But after the printing technology evolved, the written word started spreading at a much faster rate. With the advancement of flat-bed printing in the 15th century and electronic media including the telegraph and telephone in the 18th century, the Church started to see a new breed of audience, and I like to call them the on-demand audience.

This audience chose to access the word of God and ministry resources whenever they wanted to using on-demand media. The on-demand audience is a big part of the Church communication system today; this audience still buys magazines, books, tapes, CDs and DVDs and accesses them whenever they want to. The latest technologies that cater to this type of audience are the mp3 and mp4 files distributed on flash drives, memory cards, direct downloads of files and cloud storage.

The Broadcast Audience

The evolution of radio and TV technology gave birth to the broadcast audience. They listen to radio programs and watch TV programs when they are broadcast at a particular time. They make note of the time of broadcast and tune in. This audience exists in large numbers even today, and they are still relevant and important. But we are seeing a change in the behaviour of this type of audience as TV and radio technology starts to merge with the internet. Today, smart TVs are internet-enabled, TV shows and radio programs are streamed live online or on TV using the internet and devices like the Apple TV and Roku player are further bridging and shrinking the gap between a computer and television. Without getting too technical, it is safe to say that TV and radio technologies are going through a major transformation and will continue to evolve. Eventually we will see television as a medium powered mostly by the internet. But despite all this, the broadcast audience is still worthy of your attention.

The Online Audience

Internet technology started evolving in 1950s, but only in the late 80s and early 90s did we see an accelerated growth in the internet-enabled online media. This gave birth to the online audience who uses the internet to consume information. This is the audience that visits your website and consumes information that you make available there, reading your online publications, sending emails to your ministry and researching your work. They are comfortable using software and hardware on a daily basis. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, this audience is now accessing the internet on their mobile devices. This audience plays a big role in many of our discussions throughout this book. Many of the foundational steps that I discuss, like website building, mobile app development and using IT in your regular ministry operations, will help you minister to this type of audience.

The Connected Audience

The new breed of audience that has emerged out of the combination of social media and mobile technology is the hero of our story and the central subject for the rest of this book. I call them the connected audience.

The reason I call them the connected audience is because they remain connected at all times. Internet connectivity is part of who they are. From the moment they wake up in the morning to the time they go to bed at night, their activities are centred around connectivity. They do not use their mobile devices just to check emails and make calls – they use their devices in almost all areas of their lives, from banking and shopping to communicating with friends and documenting important and not-so-important moments in their lives. This is the new breed of audience that you cannot afford to ignore.

I refer to the connected audience as a new breed and not a new generation. Even though younger generations are more tech-savvy and gadget-friendly than older generations, I do not agree with some experts who say that the need to be connected is limited to people of a certain age. The internet and social media have an impact on people of all generations. There is some value in classifying generations as X, Y and Z, but when it comes to social media, it is more accurate to classify the audience based on their behaviour and preference than their date of birth. For example, my mother-in-law who is over 70 years old prefers listening to our church service live on the internet than attending in person and regularly uses our church’s mobile app to access YouTube videos of our sermons. Even though she is not as quick as my 10-year-old nephew on the iPad, behaviourally she still qualifies as part of the connected audience. Just like the other four types of audiences, the connected audience encompasses people of all age groups and socio-economic backgrounds.

In every period of history there has been a varied proportion of each type of audience in the mix. For example, long ago the face-to-face audience would have occupied a bigger portion compared to the other four types of audience. As technology evolved, the on-demand audience and the internet audience started to occupy more space within the communication ecosystem.

Today the connected audience is beginning to grow and occupy a very large piece of the pie. In the days to come this trend will only increase in the communication ecosystem of the Church. That is why it is important for us to understand this audience and adapt our communications strategy to them.