How to Build a Reputation of Trust in a Culture of Suspicion

I recently asked my 10-year-old son what he wants to be when he grows up.

Pro-athlete? No.

Actor? No.

President? Definitely not.

“I want to be a Youtube star, Dad!”

Full stop.

If your first response is “ugh!” you’re not alone. I honestly laughed out loud until I realized he was dead serious. After taking inventory of my parenting skills, I realized the ambition of being a social influencer makes a lot of sense for a child who’s growing up in an entirely digital world.

When he was three, I vividly remember wiping off greasy fingerprints from the 50-inch plasma television screen in our family room from his vain attempt at touch control.

Also, remember when plasma TVs were all the rage? Yeah, no one makes them anymore.

The world we’ve inherited is not the one we grew up in.

A recent survey conducted by Defy Media for Adweek found that 95% of young people between the ages of 13-20 regularly consume Youtube as a part of their media diet. The next most popular platforms are Instagram (69%), Facebook (67%), Snapchat (67%), and Twitter (52%).

For Gen Z (the demographic cohort after Millennials), these platforms have elevated “influencers” to celebrity status. That same survey found that Gen Z trusts social influencers as much, if not more than mainstream celebrities.

Consider the impact this has on brands for a moment. Celebrity endorsements that are detached from reality quickly lose their luster and impact. Does Tiger Woods actually drive that Buick? The bottom line is if you don’t buy what you’re selling neither will they. They’ll just keep swiping. Perhaps that’s something we can all celebrate!

Social capital is the new currency of our culture. And this generation sees it as a worthy, even a heroic pursuit.

So, what does all this mean for churches and mission-oriented organizations?

For those who are content to only pay attention to what’s happening six inches off the ground, irrelevance at best. For those who embrace the idea of leveraging technology to spread their message, it will require a monumental shift in thinking—especially as it relates to where we invest our resources.

At Slingshot Group, I have the privilege of helping churches understand how this shift impacts what they do, who they reach, and especially who they will hire to help them build and develop their digital strategy.

I know that some of you are reading this and thinking: “We get it. We have an attractive website and just launched a new app. We use social media to talk about what we’re doing. We even live stream and post our sermons online.”

Okay, good. You’re living in the 21st Century. But are you still thinking like it’s 2008? We live in a world that’s increasingly wary of our motives and methods. For churches who desire to use digital platforms effectively, the most important thing they can do is seek to build a reputation of trust in a culture of suspicion.


Here are 3 shifts we need to make in our thinking to do just that:


  1. Your digital strategy should never start with what, but with why and who.

Most churches start with the former and entirely skip over the latter two. This fire—ready—aim approach is immediately recognizable online, too.

As I meet with communications leaders in churches across the country, I’m astounded by how many are constantly inundated with requests for digital and social campaigns that are often devoid of any perceived or real value for their audiences. Their role is to help keep the organization’s main thing the main thing, but they’re often frustrated by the tyranny of 52 weeks of programming that needs promoting every year. Instead of contributing to the mission, they’re tasked with adding to the noise.

If your digital strategy is incoherent and not integrated within the big picture of your mission and values, it will always have mixed results at best. Sadly, for this reason, some churches have mostly opted out altogether and claim the payoff isn’t worth the investment. How short-sighted!

Our events, programs, and services are great. Probably even worth telling someone about. You know what’s even better, though? Giving people a compelling reason to show up for them.


  1. Don’t just measure your digital reach— measure engagement.

If you’re not already measuring the impact of your digital campaigns, multiple tools exist to help you understand the scope of your reach. If you don’t have someone on your team who knows how to do this, it is safe to say there’s at least a handful of people in your congregation that could pull that data together for you quickly at little to no cost.

The best organizations use data to drive performance. Want to know if what you’re saying and doing is resonating with people? You don’t have to guess anymore. We actually have access to a real-time feedback loop. Do an audit of all your digital platforms over the past 90 days. Don’t fear the facts. Befriend them!

Most importantly, don’t forget that social media has created an opportunity to have a conversation with people in your community. If you’re just talking about what you’re doing, you’ll soon find yourself living in an echo chamber. Social media channels are not platforms to promote something as much as they are environments to engage with people. And, that means people who don’t at all look, believe, or think like you.

How are you engaging your audience? Who’s answering their questions? Who’s replying to comments and responding to concerns? Pay attention to the posts and content that get the most traction on your digital platforms. Inevitably they will be the ones with the most meaning to your audience.


  1. Become curators of digital content, not just purveyors of religious goods and services.

We live in a culture that feels with its eyes. That’s why the algorithms for social media channels are written in a way that pushes video content to the top of your news feed. And yet, here I am writing this blog!

Many of those who are already connected to our faith communities have been transformed by the gospel. Hopefully, they’ve found a home, a family, and a community where they belong. We have a unique opportunity to curate these stories and share them in a visually compelling way that makes an immediate emotional connection with our audience. For churches, effective story-telling always connect human struggle to divine hope.

Are people swiping past our content? If so, maybe it’s because we’re not connecting the dots between what matters to us and why it should matter to anyone else. For this reason, I love that the use of social media is called sharing. Sharing is at the core of our mission. To use marketing language, we should be empowering the customer (church attender) to become the sales force (evangelist).


The bottom line is—churches and organizations who produce share-worthy content will soon find themselves influencing culture instead of trying to keep up with it! And that is where the Church belongs—not because we’re chasing cool, but because we’ve decided to do something heroic.


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