Church Using Free Google Ads to Transform Internet Campus
Published on 7/10/2012
by Warren Bird
Above: Examples of some Google AdWords for Westside Family Church
Thanks to Google, Jason Morris experienced every pastor’s nightmare—only in reverse.
Jason, an online campus pastor for Westside Family Church, Lenexa, KS, wanted to experiment with Google’s new policy to offer free Google AdWords to churches. So he wrote some ads designed to lead potential participants to the church’s Internet campus, and launched his newest marketing tool.
Unfortunately, it was on a day when the online congregation wasn’t meeting. Thousands hit the worship service link in a matter of minutes, but the church’s cyber-doors were closed.
“I was floored,” Jason says. “I had never seen an ad get so many hits so fast. We didn’t know what we were doing, but when it’s free you’re not worried about breaking anybody’s budget. So we were tweaking all over the place and just having fun with it.
“I just turned it on to see what kind of traffic it would generate, but I wasn’t looking at my dates correctly. I thought, ‘What did I do here?’ How could we get so many hits, and we weren’t even having church?’ ”
Google for Churches Valued at $10,000/month
In 2011, Google modified its eligibility guidelines to allow churches to take advantage of a $10,000 per month value of free and discounted packages of advertising and premium tools such as donation links, YouTube action links, Google Earth and applications that businesses normally have to pay for. Go to Google for nonprofits to see the latest information and eligibility guidelines.
It was a no-brainer for Jason to jump in when Google opened the program—and the use of creative Google ads is transforming Westside’s nearly two-year-old Internet campus.
“We didn’t design want our online campus to be a gateway to our brick-and-mortar location, but in a practical sense that’s what it was becoming,” Jason says. “Before we launched Google AdWords, most of the people we were reaching were within reach of our offline campuses, and people were using the online campus to attend services when they had a soccer game or sick kids or whatever.
“We wanted our online church to have international reach, but it wasn’t materializing. We couldn’t get enough critical mass outside of our area to make it relevant.”
Enter Google AdWords, specifically ads that relate to felt-need “pain points” of Internet searchers, that are attracting a different type of attender to Westside’s online church. Instead of drawing crowds from bricks-and-mortar churches, Westside is ministering to increasing numbers of non-Christians who are looking for something far different than church when they go online.
I would rather fill the church with non-Christians who are sick—Jesus came for the sick, not the well. Strategically we decided we were going to start with non-Christians,” Jason says.
Examples of Westside's Ads
So Westside deployed ads with messages such as, “Addicted to porn? Find healing at church online.” “Are you depressed? Find healing at church online.” “Are you tired of your life? Find purpose with us at church online.”
“We’re not doing a bait and switch,” says Jason, who launched Westside’s online campus in 2010. “They’re searching for something that’s destructive, we’re offering a solution. For different pain points, feeling lonely – whatever the need may be, we’re offering a solution.”
With that approach, Jason prepared the church’s “chat artists” and “prayer ninjas” who interact with participants to be ready for anything—and respond with mercy and ministry, not judgment. “I told our folks, ‘Look, you’re about to experience the onslaught of what real ministry looks like. And it’s going to be messy,’ “Jason says. “But be ready, because that’s who we’re here for.
“Be aware that we are here for people who need our help the most. They may not understand that God is drawing them and this is not by accident that somebody clicks on that ad. People falling into the chat may be in the midst of a struggle that you may not like or comprehend, but it’s not your job to judge them. It’s your job to help them.”
Jason trained his leaders that first interactions with Internet participants could be interpreted many ways, so don’t assume the worst. Such as the man from Pakistan who entered Westside’s online church with this comment: “I need sex.” Rather than reject the participant, a Westside online chat artist directed the man into a private prayer session where he confessed his real needs. “That was a cry for help,” Jason says. “The first thing he said when we got into a private prayer session was, ‘I’m a sinner. I need help. Here’s what’s happening with my fiancé, here’s what’s happening with me. I can’t stop. Please help me.’”
Below: Some members of the online campus team in the middle of the Lenexa Lobby during an online church session. From left to right: Toni Perry – Prayer Ninja, Alan Campbell – Chat Artist, Jason Morris – Pastor of Technology, Nic Conover – Experience Captain & Online Pastor.
Best AdWords Strategy
Westside soon figured out that the most effective use of Google AdWords is to run them only 15 minutes before the Internet service starts on Sunday mornings. The result is an astounding 500% growth over last year’s online campus attendance (from 198 to 989 year-over-year).
But the real change since launching Google ads is the steady flow of life change every week online at Westside—all of it documented through chats and prayer interaction from down the street to around the world.
Recently, a woman from Iowa came to the online service at the invitation of a Facebook friend. She accepted Christ in a live prayer session, attends every week and is growing in her faith. She saw a baptism online, and wants to get baptized soon. “She is a vibrant new believer with a passion for Jesus that is so exciting,” Jason says. “Right now, it’s difficult for her to attend an offline church. So she sees this as an answer to prayer, as God reaching out to her.”
Jason and his online staff would like to see Jolene and many others like her become sparks—online or offline—to create pockets of ministry and launch new churches worldwide. “We would love to see church online be a catalyst for communities of churches to be birthed and planted all over the world,” Jason says. “People like Jolene are already ministering to people around them. Who knows what God could do?”
That’s why Westside online staffers view Internet campuses as a tool to facilitate eventual face-to-face relationships—a window into content that will translate into Christian community. “It’s like John indicated in 2 John 1:12, ‘I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete,’ “ Jason says. “In the same way, church is about people to people. And we would rather be face to face, but I’m not going to let that inability keep me from ministering to people today.
“At the end of the day, we all live offline and online every day. So we’re using the tools we have to connect people to people and plant more churches all around the world. These are tools to further the gospel. Help people to help people. So we’re going to use the tools, even if they’re inferior right now, and we’re trying to make them better all the time.” That includes help from Internet giant Google.
AdWords, and Google AdWords are registered trademarks of Google, Inc.
Warren Bird, Ph.D., research director at Leadership Network, is a former pastor and seminary professor, and is author or co-author of 24 books for ministry leaders, the most recent one with Jim Tomberlin: Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work. Some of Warren’s recent online reports include “The Heartbeat of Rising Influence Churches,” “Pastors Who Are Shaping the Future” and “A New Decade of Megachurches.” Follow him on Twitter @warrenbird.