Before the digital age, word of mouth was one of the only factors for Church growth. It was both friends and strangers who spread the word about places, including Churches. Not much has changed in the digital world.
Now, friends and strangers give their opinions about places (including Churches) in person and online. The new word-of-mouth is in the form of online reviews. It’s the same thing, just virtual. This is why it’s important to make sure the Church has reviews online. It builds trust before a guest comes into your Church, and it also sets their expectations.
With Churches, you will see all kinds of reviews (including how the Church treated them during a funeral), or even how their cemetery is upkept, if there is one. These are things to watch for, but getting reviews removed by Google isn’t always easy.
However, the importance of Google Reviews for churches’ growth cannot be understated; they not only enhance the online visibility and credibility of churches but also build community engagement, build trust, and provide valuable insights that can be instrumental in bringing in new members and continuing relationships within the congregation.
1. Online Presence for Churches
Churches haven’t always been quick to change due to technology. However, innovation is one key factor for growth. As the years go by, Churches are more and more warming up to the use of technology for growth. This is a great thing, but an important continuation of this is the use of online reviews from Church members (as well as Church guests).
In interactions with the Church, members should be encouraged to leave online reviews because, as mentioned, it is like word-of-mouth. Another idea Churches aren’t accustomed to (but should be) is the idea that a Church congregation needs a good reputation. Yes, everything in the Church should be about Christ, but the reputation of God’s people is also very important (and can be a hindrance if not dealt with properly). The apostle Paul was very big on making sure Christians weren’t a hindrance to the Gospel. That’s why, in many of his epistles, he mentioned about Church discipline, for instance. Having good digital word-of-mouth is essential to overcome some of the barriers people face when considering attending your Church congregation.
2. The Power of Google Reviews
Google reviews, in particular, are essential to making sure your Church is viewed well within your community.
Reviews may make or break someone visiting your Church, but they’re likely going to see your Google reviews (or lack of reviews) first. This is because the majority of Internet users browse the Internet using Google as their search engine.
Because Google owns its review system, it’s going to make sure that’s seen when someone searches for a place near them. It’s important, then, to make sure Google is satisfied with what is written about you. Their algorithm is based on many factors, including reviews.
4. Building Trust and Community Engagement
In this article, we’ve spent some time looking at how trust can be built using reviews, but let’s now consider why trust is built. Reviews provide the potential guest at your Church a view of what to expect when coming to visit your Church.
If you’re from a decent sized city in the United States, especially in the South, there’s likely a Church on every corner. Reviews say to the viewer WHY they should visit your Church (or in some cases, why they should avoid it). Some people will be posting fake or spammy reviews (Google can help in removing those), but they can’t always be dealt with (you do want to properly respond to the review online, but in a good tone). Because of bad reviews, it’s good to increase the number of reviews because reviews are likely going to be better than the spammy 1-star ones that someone does for multiple reasons.
The people who visit your Church will likely search for information about your Church online first, and while what you put about your Church online does play a part in their decision on whether to attend or not, unbiased reviews play as important a role (or sometimes, depending on the person, an even larger role) in their decision on which Church to attend.
5. What NOT to Do When Requesting Reviews
The temptation is to ask people for 5-star reviews, or to prompt them on what to talk about in the review, but that’s actually against Google’s guidelines. What you want to do instead is to ask them for an honest review.
What you CAN do, however, is create a format for testimonials, especially video testimonials, or even ask them questions they can answer in a video interview style. We do recommend this in another one of our articles (and provide a document you can use to give them a video testimonial format or questions you can use during an interview).
To learn more about what practices are unacceptable to Google related to reviews, we refer you to their official guidelines about it: https://support.google.com/contributionpolicy/answer/7400114?hl=en&ref_topic=7422769. Knowing these guidelines will make sure Google doesn’t penalize you and will keep you on the “good side” of the Google algorithm, which is what you want.
In this article, we’ve touched on the importance of online reviews for Churches as well as what to do and not to do when asking for reviews.
Below, there’s a step-by-step guide on how to create a Google Business Profile (so people can review you on Google). If you need extra help with managing the reviews or testimonials process, we do offer this service.
By adhering to the best practices of online review management, as laid out by platforms like Google, Churches are promoting openness and honesty. Encouraging members to leave genuine and unbiased reviews paints a realistic picture of what newcomers can expect. This not only aligns with the teachings of integrity found in Christianity but also helps to overcome the hurdles people face when choosing a Church home.
In a world where information is at our fingertips, and first impressions often form online, it’s vital for Churches to understand and harness the power of digital word-of-mouth. It is not merely a marketing tactic but a form of digital community outreach, generating trust, and ensuring that the reputation of God’s people is held in high regard.
The journey towards digital transformation in Church outreach is filled with potential. By recognizing and leveraging the digital tools at their disposal, Churches can continue to grow and connect with a broader audience, furthering their mission in a world increasingly shaped by technology.
Appendix 1: Practical Tips for Managing Google Reviews
a. How to Create and Manage a Google Business Profile for a Church
- Create a Profile: Sign up for a Google Business Profile account and verify ownership.
- Add Information: Include the Church’s name, location, contact details, service times, and a brief description, as well as make sure the profile is 100% complete (for maximization of the profile).
- Include Photos: Upload images of the church to make the profile more appealing.
- Monitor and Update: Regularly check the profile for accuracy, and respond to any questions or reviews.
b. Encouraging Honest Reviews
- Ask for Reviews: Make a gentle request to congregation members to share their experiences.
- Provide Guidance: Offer simple instructions on how to leave a review.
- Promote a Positive Environment: Encourage open and honest feedback without pressuring for positive reviews.
- Highlight the Importance: Explain how reviews can help others find the church and join the community.
c. Tips for Responding to Reviews
- Be Grateful: Always thank reviewers for their time, whether the review is positive or negative.
- Respond Promptly: Aim to reply within a reasonable time frame.
- Address Concerns: If a review is negative or highlights issues, acknowledge the concerns and offer solutions if applicable.
- Stay Professional: Maintain a respectful and compassionate tone.
- Encourage Continued Engagement: Invite reviewers to join or continue participating in Church activities.
By adhering to these practical tips, churches can effectively manage Google Reviews to enhance their online presence, build trust within the community, and create a more engaged congregation.
Appendix 2: FAQ’s: Digital Word-of-Mouth for Churches
Question 1: Why are online reviews important for Churches?
A: Online reviews act as the digital form of word-of-mouth, building trust with potential guests and setting expectations. They enhance a church’s online visibility, credibility, community engagement, and provide valuable insights to attract new members.
Question 2: How do Google Reviews impact the Church’s reputation?
A: Google Reviews are vital for ensuring that a Church is viewed positively within the community. They are often the first thing people see when searching for a Church, and their algorithm considers reviews in ranking. Having positive and genuine Google Reviews can significantly influence someone’s decision to visit a Church.
Question 3: What should be considered when encouraging Church members to leave reviews?
A: Members should be encouraged to leave honest and unbiased reviews. It’s against Google’s guidelines to prompt for 5-star ratings or to dictate what should be included in the review. Following Google’s official guidelines ensures that the Church doesn’t get penalized and stays within good standing with the Google algorithm.
Question 4: How can Churches build trust and community engagement through online reviews?
A: Trust and community engagement are built by providing potential guests a realistic view of what to expect. Encouraging genuine reviews and responding positively to both good and bad reviews helps to create an open and honest online presence, connecting the Church congregation with the local community.
Question 5: Can fake or spammy reviews be removed?
A: Yes, Google can help in removing fake or spammy reviews, but it isn’t always easy. It’s advisable to increase the number of genuine reviews to overshadow any negative ones and to respond properly to all reviews, maintaining a positive tone.
Question 6: What can be done instead of prompting specific reviews?
A: Instead of asking for specific ratings or content, Churches can create a format for testimonials, especially video testimonials, or ask questions in a video interview style. These testimonials can be placed on social media, your Church’s website, and other materials the Church uses. For video testimonials, they can be placed on YouTube as well.
Question 7: How do I create a Google Business Profile for my Church?
A: The article includes a step-by-step guide on how to create a Google Business Profile so that people can review the Church on Google. There are also services offered to help manage the reviews or testimonials process.
Question 8: Are there specific examples of how to leverage social media for Church testimonials?
A: Yes, additional resources and documents, including formats and questions for video testimonials, can be found in other articles linked within the text, such as this one on leveraging social media for Church testimonials.
Question 9: Is it just about marketing, or is there a deeper connection with Church values?
A: Digital word-of-mouth is more than a marketing tactic. It’s a form of digital community outreach that aligns with Christian teachings of integrity and honesty. It also helps to ensure the reputation of God’s people is held in high regard, reflecting the core values of the Church community.