While there are some great church websites out there, there’s a whole lot of really lousy ones. Go ahead, hit up Google for “church in <<city name>>” and browse to a few. Usually there’s just nothing that says “oh, I could see myself going there!” There’s a simple fix to that though: add some social proof to your online presence!
What is social proof?
Ever watch a nature show and see that herd of antelope when the lion approaches? There’s always one that senses the lion approaching and bolts, the rest of the herd don’t necessarily see the lion but they see the others bolting and follow suit. This is an example of social proof at its most primal.
As humans, we also have this instinct to rely on what others like us experienced. It’s why if you buy something on Amazon you look for the popular products with loads of reviews. It’s also why if a friend recommends a product we are very likely to choose that product for ourselves.
When people go to a website, they are 100% looking for something that says “look, here are people just like you and here’s what they say about this thing.” Churches are no different.
How to leverage social proof in church
There are a few ways to use social proof in church. I’m going to cover a few of them here. These aren’t exclusive and you can get creative, the only real rule is you need to try to get the person reading or viewing to relate to the individuals they see or read about.
1. Home Page Heading
The first thing people see when they open a church website is always the headline. Most headlines are pretty awful, but there’s one that tends to work really well for social proof in business and churches. It’s stupid simple too:
“Over <<number>> people call <<church name>> home”
Yeah, I get it, that one can feel a bit uncomfortable to write out and post on your home page, but it definitely works. Another that works is to narrow down who your church is focused on reaching:
“We are a church of young adults for young adults”
Not brilliant copy, but if you are in your 20’s and you landed on that while searching for a church then you’d definitely put that church high on your list.
2. Pastor’s Welcome
Pastors can get kind of weird when it comes to writing or recording a welcome message. I don’t really get it, most pastors are very warm and friendly in person but then represent themselves in a very cold and formal way. It’s a bit weird guys, so just be yourself. 🤷
In fact, I think there’s a ton of value in just grabbing your phone and recording a low key welcome. One of the most powerful video messages I ever got was from a business and the guy had recorded from the school parking lot saying “Hi, I’m just here at the school waiting to pick up my daughter but I wanted to send a quick message to let you know more about your subscription.” It was powerful because it was easy to relate to.
There’s a reason why content creators talking in their cars is a huge thing: pretty much all of us can relate! Same with a lot of the grifter advertisements: they try to look like a really normal person who has a successful method to get rich (and/or attract women). All that to say, keep it simple, you can shoot in the morning as you walk into church or from your car as you are just about to head off. For the purpose of social proof, people will see themselves in some of the mundane aspects.
3. Testimonial Videos
It can be hard to get people to be willing to do testimonial videos or written testimonials. I had a particularly frustrating time trying to convince a pastor to allow doing video testimonials on giving and tithing despite the church being in a financial deficit. Here’s the thing: testimonials take something abstract and allow people to see themselves if they take a certain action. If that church were to highlight two or three stories about how people became engaged givers, maybe the deficit wouldn’t entirely resolve, but it would get a whole lot closer!
Try to put a couple testimonials on your home page. Preferably something representative of the experience that people will have becoming a member of your church. Again, like with the pastoral welcome, these don’t need to have the highest production quality, in fact, there’s a certain authenticity to people just being willing to do a selfie style quick video about why they attend your church.
4. “Plan Your Visit” Page
Many churches don’t have a page that gives potential visitors insight into what to expect on their visit. That’s a huge mistake, you should definitely let people know what to expect and talk about things like parking, what most people wear, where to take kids for kids church, etc. This is a great place to show people social proof as well through subtlety like answering FAQ type questions like “what should I wear?” Then giving some sort of answer like “there’s no dress code, but most of us dress smart casual or t-shirt and jeans.” If you are already describing them and their behavior then they say “hey, they are like me and it’s working for them so I’m willing to try it too.”
5. Podcast Episodes
I’m a fan of using podcasts of the “normies” in our churches… often times for evangelism and community building, but they have a ton of social proof power going for them. For each person in your congregation they have friends, family members, and colleagues who will see that person on a podcast (getting interviewed is exciting, you’ll share the link with everybody you know). I find that a lot of people are actually more willing to hop onto a casual podcast to talk about their work, current events, fitness, etc. than they are to do more formal testimonials but the social proof aspects are huge.
Pastors are already great at sitting down and talking to people. You may as well record an hour of that to post online. You don’t need to make it super religious per se, I think there’s a lot of value in showing the world that Christians are normal people with normal jobs, hobbies, families, etc. That’s where the social proof really comes into play because when their friend sees the podcast they will think “oh, Steve got on a podcast and he talked about his passion for fly fishing… and the podcast is from that church down the road… seems like they have more people like me attending there, I can see myself going there too.”
6. Google Places
Go look up your church on Google then over on the right there will be a map, probably some photos, and a link that says “### Google Reviews” that includes a one to five star rating. That can be a goldmine for social proof (or an enduring mark of shame if your church has a lot of haters). I’m a fan of inviting your members to leave reviews every now and then. You can’t ask for positive reviews, but you can ask for “honest reviews.” Great times to ask for a review are actually just after joining as a member or when people take other next steps further down your discipleship pathway as they will usually have a positive perception of the church.
For using those reviews, yeah, it’s going to matter when they search for your church, but you can also ethically screengrab those reviews and post them right onto your home page as social proof that people love your church. The easiest way is to just pop open the reviews and use the snipping tool to box and save individual reviews that you want to feature. Depending on how detailed they are, between two and six is a good number for your home page.
7. Staff Page
The staff page is one of the most visited pages on church websites. Why? People want to determine if the church is someplace they can see themselves attending based on who is working there. I think most of these tend to be too spartan and not communicate the social proofs that staff have the chops to run the church and the ministries of the church.
Does a staff member hold a seminary degree? That’s social proof. Have they worked in ministry for three decades? More social proof. Do they love dogs? Yeah, also social proof. It’s worthwhile to provide a few details like seminary attended and a brief description like “Pastor Steve has spent two decades leading ministries and when he’s not in the church he can usually be found hiking a local nature trail with his retriever Bingo.”
We are all wired to look for social proof. I didn’t touch on the neuro-theological aspects of that, but it’s part of what makes humans human. The important thing to remember is that people respond to social proof, but we should also be mindful not to abuse it because it can be used in a predatory way (like the aforementioned grifters). There’s also the danger of further balkanization of churches wherein we can focus too heavily on making sure that people are “like us” to the detriment of the diversity that Christianity is meant to embrace. To that extent, I don’t think it’s ethical to use social proof in a distinctly racial fashion to exclude other races and we need to be purposeful to show social proof that people of all ethnic backgrounds can make your church their home church.
Lastly, I know it can feel a bit weird to use social proof because we can feel like when we use it we aren’t being humble enough. That’s a valid point, but it’s absolutely possible to use social proofs in your church that is not about self-aggrandizement. In fact, social proof can be a powerful pointer back to God and that, if we look carefully, we see a lot of social proof moments being utilized by the biblical authors as well.