Digital Parish: Evangelism through social listening

Social Listening is one way that we can put our fingers on the pulse of what issues and ideas we can engage with our valuable spiritual perspectives.

Nelson Musonda felt this kind of empty space between the words of the church and the needs of the people. With a background in user experience and digital marketing, he developed Delmethod.com–a really helpful resource for thinking about evangelism and outreach through digital means.

Nelson is our adjunct professor for this session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish–your resource and connection for ministry in the digital realm.

The Episode

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Show Notes 

Nelson Musonda created the Delmethod website. Some recommended articles:

  

Ryan Dunn:

The church has gotten really good at answer questions that no one is really asking.

Have you ever used one of these sermon titles:

The Heart of Worship… I know, good song… but is it a relevant sermon title?

The Names of the Lord

Ultimate Sacrifice (that sounds so metal)

Rooted

Faith Like a Mustard Seed

Turn or Burn→ just kidding!

The power of being meek

Facing Giants

A generous heart

Priming the Pump–these are in honor of the upcoming stewardship season.

Citizens of the Kingdom

The Living Water

The Cost of Discipleship

 

Topically, all of these sermon titles are right on. Maybe not Turn or Burn… but for the most part these sermons are definitely the kind of thing Christian leaders should discuss. BUT, I think it’s important for us to entertain a question regarding whether or not not these titles elude to topics that are relevant for people not fluent in the language of Christianity?

Are these sermons answers to questions that people outside the church are asking?

If you search a words like “anxiety” or “word life balance” or “parent teen conflict” or “loneliness” how far do you need to scroll before seeing content offering a spiritual perspective?

I tried it. You have to scroll a long, long ways. Now, I’m not saying that “Springfield First Church” should be at the topic of the Google search for a category like “Anxiety.” All I want to suggest is that we could use an awareness of current topical issues when crafting our content–especially content that is distributed in the digital arena–including sermons.

Social Listening is one way that we can put our fingers on the pulse of what issues and ideas we can engage with our valuable spiritual perspectives.

Nelson Musonda felt this kind of empty space between the words of the church and the needs of the people. With a background in user experience and digital marketing, he developed the delmethod web site–a really helpful resource for thinking about evangelism and outreach through digital means.

Nelson is our adjunct professor for this session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish–your resource and connection for ministry in the digital realm.

My name is Ryan Dunn. I’m the host of this podcast and a fellow practitioner of digital ministry. We’re going to let Nelson share with us his story of discovery and then offer some tips for engaging in social listening with an ear for spiritual outreach.

So let’s get set to become internet trolls for Jesus! …

Nelson Musonda, thank you so much for joining us on Pastoring in the Digital Parish. I would love to get to learn a little bit about your story. For example, how did you get involved in doing the Delmethod in digital ministry consulting?

Nelson Musonda:

All right. Thank you so much for having me. My journey in digital evangelism started in 2017, early 2017. And my background is I'm a designer, so I design websites and graphic design as well as digital marketing. That's my background. So in 2017, something happened. I had a little, what was supposed to be a little medical procedure. You know when you go to the doctors and they say only 0.0% or 0.01% get complications, that was me.

Ryan Dunn:

Yes, you were the 0.1%. Okay.

Nelson Musonda:

Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

Dang.

Nelson Musonda:

So what happened was, as an immigrant to the United States, church was more than just church. It's a place where I would go to after working so much with school and all that, church was something. It was much, much bigger than just church, a place for worship. So when that procedure happened, I couldn't go to church for the rest of the year, and suddenly something so important to me was taken out. So church for me was very important. It was very important aspect in my life. And when that was taken, I felt like it was taken away from me. And the fact that then there was nothing online. When you need a church, the only way to enjoy church was to physically be there. But when that happened, it didn't sit well with me, because coming from the digital world, marketing and stuff like that, I knew that the business world had already created experiences online that made you feel like you're part of whatever it is, the physical space. And so that triggered me.

Nelson Musonda:

I started doing research as a designer. Part of what I do mostly is research, trying to figure out, A, what is it that, or problem solving rather. What is it that I can do? What is it that we can do to make sure that this does not happen? So when I started the research, I went deeper and deeper into it to try and find first if the people were experiencing the same problems that I had and how they were dealing with it. And so, of course, I went to sites like quora.com. I went to Reddit, Facebook groups. And the more I dug into it, the bigger problem I discovered, because yes, you [inaudible 00:03:53].

Ryan Dunn:

Were you finding a lot of other people who were in the very similar situation to you in those spaces?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Yes. So there were people that... There's a lady that I contacted, I think I found it on Reddit, who was saying that church was for the physically able. So I reached out to her during the conversations and she told me she had been in church for maybe 30, 40 years. And then at some point she couldn't go to church, because she just fell ill. And for some time, church members would go pick her up, take her to church. After that, it died off. And she actually was complaining that how is it that the one thing that we depend so much on is taken away when you're not able to attend it? And that really didn't sit well with me. And that's what set the whole thing going.

Ryan Dunn:

It's interesting how you went about that. So first of all, thanks for sharing that. I feel like that's total validation for what we do in digital ministry and hearing a story like that. But you went out to these different places digitally where people were connecting. Did you find that in those spaces like Reddit and Quora, were people connecting over spiritual themes in those places? Were you entering into spiritual conversations?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. There were some groups that were involved in spiritual discussions, but I think my main goal was to find out really what... Because another thing that I discovered was during my research, I discovered that about 57% of the young people who had grown up in the church, had left the church. And in another study, they say about 23% of the Christians had left the church. Okay, 23%. So they did not live God, but just left the organized church. You know?

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. Okay.

Nelson Musonda:

And in digging deeper into that, I discovered that most of them, one of the common reason they did that was that the church was not meeting their needs. So again, because of my background, I knew already that the business world already has ways of meeting people's needs. We know this because either subconsciously we are able to partake in whatever they're doing, either buy or consume, whatever it is, because they've discovered that people have needs. And unless you meet those needs, people leave. And so that's what I discovered.

Ryan Dunn:

So is that what Delmethod is about, discovering those needs?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. So the story goes on. So when I discovered that, I said, "Oh, my goodness. I need to start spreading. The churches need to exist on the internet." And this is not just about tele-evangelizing or just posting sermons. They really need to have a presence. And so in 2017 when I felt better, I started telling my side with my own church, other churches around here. And to my surprise, they heard my message, but they didn't take it seriously, because it didn't make sense then. Actually, I got push back at some point because people were saying, "The things you're teaching, people will stop coming to church." And I remember saying that, "It's not because of what I'm teaching, but a time is coming when people will not be able to come into church to consume the gospel." And-

Ryan Dunn:

This is pre-2020, right?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

You weren't predicting a pandemic. You just saw the natural flow of our culture was saying, "Sunday morning is becoming a little bit more of a conflicted time." Is that right?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Yes, definitely. Yeah. So when COVID hit, that changed everything, because now people had no choice. Okay? So with the Delmethod, I realized that the people that were getting back to me during the COVID to help them set up the streaming and stuff like that, I found out that they were taking the same blueprint from the offline church into the cyber space. And you and me know that that does not work, because there are fundamental differences between the people that come to church and the people that are consuming their media online.

Nelson Musonda:

And so I had to again go into my problem solving mode to try and solve this. Because yeah, they're telling me, "Yeah. We are posting online, but no one is finding our information and stuff like that." So that's how the Delmethod started, because the del is just simply an invented triangle. And because I discovered that with the church set up, it works like a triangle. So for instance, the pastor or the preacher decides what to preach on. And because when people come to church, they're ready to receive whatever is presented to them. They sit there and listen.

Nelson Musonda:

Online, it's different. The journey online starts with intent. It starts with a search, probably starts with a problem that someone is facing. Then they go online to search. So the journey does not start with the church leadership at the top or the preacher. It starts at the bottom. So that's where the Delmethod came in, add to like flipping the triangle into a del.

Ryan Dunn:

I love what you've done there because there's this fascinating marriage to me in my mind, between the church and your background in user experience.

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

Are there definite user experience principles at play in how you see, I guess, the church engaging in evangelism in a digital way?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. And because of my background as a designer, I had to look at everything through those lenses. And most of it was research, actually, trying to see how we can problem solve that. So most of it, yes. It's user research and experience.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. So what did that research look like for you? What were your research methods?

Nelson Musonda:

So again, I looked at, of course, people that were experiencing this already. So another thing I ran into, because of the experience I had before the COVID where I was presenting this to the churches and they were just not taking it. I'm sure that the church is usually the last to adopt to new things, new technologies.

Ryan Dunn:

A lot of times, yes.

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Yes. So what I did was I knew there was a process that we've already used in the marketing, and I knew if the church was to implement this, it would definitely work. But then I had to validate it. And so I went back to the Bible this time to see, and most of it, I was looking at the ministry of Jesus Christ and how he carried out his ministry and stuff like that. And to my surprise, it's like the digital world took out the... It's like a formula in there that took out the exact blueprint and that opened up my mind. I was like, "Wow. How come we are not using this?" And so the Delmethod is simply like a process. And it simply says, "In order for you to serve, you have to know your audience."

Nelson Musonda:

And the formula that I found, it's being played out in almost all the major stories that we know of. Let me go through the steps. So the first one is, know your audience. You have to know them well. Okay? Discover their struggles and pain points. Otherwise, you're giving them things that they really don't need. And then discover their needs. It's like I talk about the needs. It's like when you have a headache, what's the first thing that comes to your mind? Take a pain killer.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. Right.

Nelson Musonda:

You need to know that people, this is what people expect when they have these struggles. This is what they expect. So know their needs and then find a solution and then the best way to deliver that solution. And then the next thing will be just making sure that you measure and then nurture.

Nelson Musonda:

And then what happens next is the call to action. And if you look at most of the stories in the Bible, I like giving a story of when Jesus was trying to find his disciples, he met Simon Peter and his friends and brothers and friends who had been fishing the whole night. So you can say that when Christ approached them, he already knew their needs. He knew who they were. And then he told them to cast the net into the waters again. What was trying to give them then, he was trying to meet their needs at that moment, meeting their needs. And of course, he found the solution to that. And then when they took out the net, it was full of fish. And the Bible says, "They left the fish to follow him." He then gave them the call to action, "Follow me and I'll make you fishers of men."

Nelson Musonda:

So many stories. Look at the Samaritan woman at the well. We know that Christ knew her before he met her. He knew exactly where to find her, what time she went to the well. Because of that, he knew the right words to say to her. And we all know the rest of the story. I don't know about you, but I don't think she even carried that bucket of water. But she went out into the streets.

Ryan Dunn:

That's right. [inaudible 00:16:28].

Nelson Musonda:

Okay. So you see that this formula is played out throughout the Bible.

Ryan Dunn:

All this begins with knowing your audience.

Nelson Musonda:

Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

And that's a clearing call for churches right now, because when we start talking about a digital audience, our digital audience isn't exactly the same as the audience who we assume it was, the audience that maybe we knew in 2019 that was coming to join us in worship every weekend, week after week.

Nelson Musonda:

Exactly. Exactly.

Ryan Dunn:

So are there some ways that we get to know our audience or that you recommend churches get to know their audience in digital space?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. So remember I talked about the 23% of people that were in church and then left.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah, who had left.

Nelson Musonda:

Yeah. They're claiming no affiliation to any religion. So that means they are consuming anything, whatever meets their needs at that point. So most likely than not, you'll be reaching out to an audience that already knows God. So in trying to know your audience, actually, it's even easier online than in the physical space. So the best way to find out is ask. And we all know that. They say charity begins at home. When you have a church membership, the physical church membership, of 200 members and you know them very well. That means you know their struggles, their needs. Every person in there in the church represents maybe a million, a million two of people out there, because the same problems they experience is what others are experiencing too.

Nelson Musonda:

So as a church, it's important to know your members at a deeper level. That's why we start by asking, and you ask simple questions, even if it's like when it comes to sermons. By the way, I met another lady on Quora, I think, who told me she'd been depressed all her life and had stopped going to church. Because for 40 years she had never heard a sermon that talked about depression or even programming at church that talks about depression. So she had to rely on outside sources to help her, but she went to church every Sunday. She had family there and stuff like that. So when you have loopholes like that, then people slip through.

Nelson Musonda:

So start from church. Know your audience, your members. Make sure you ask them when it comes to your spiritual needs, what are your challenges? When it comes to raising kids, Christian kids, or when it comes to a Christian home, whatever it is, what are your challenges? Let people tell you what their challenges are. And then as a church, as a leadership, you go out and find those solutions for them. So you can imagine if you're a pastor and the church, 200 people strong, some churches are 1,000, they give you all this information. Guess what? You have so much to preach from. Then you're able to connect their problems to the gospel.

Nelson Musonda:

And you're able do two things at the same time. So you have to ask, that's the first thing. That's the way. And then the next thing we'll probably talk about is the social listening. So social listening is part of the knowing your audience strategy. Because all you're doing is, it's like, I want you to imagine you're put in charge of listening to people's prayers. And imagine we talked about Christ knowing who his audience was. Most of us do not have that gift. We definitely-

Ryan Dunn:

[inaudible 00:21:23]. I would look at Andrew and be like, "I know what Andrew means." That does not... Okay. Don't have it. You're right.

Nelson Musonda:

Yeah. We don't have it. Sometimes we don't even know actually what to ourselves. So being able to know what people are talking about, that's what social listening is at the core of it. But it also starts from... There is a step that I missed, the first step actually, when you're starting your digital ministry, that is finding a problem you want to solve. Because Christ solved problems. When you talk about miracles, a miracle is simply a problem solved.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. Right on.

Nelson Musonda:

Yeah. Simply a problem solved. So when you identify those problems you want to solve, those are the same key words that you're putting in the social listening apps. So let's say if you have a ministry that wants to help struggling single parents struggling to raise their teenage daughters, whatever it is, you put into the social listening app. Then it listens. Yeah. So it's like you listening into someone's greatest challenges. And the best thing is that that information is presented to you every day. You don't have to go look for it. So best kind, that's what it is.

Ryan Dunn:

Tell me a little bit about that. What kind of apps are you recommending for engaging in that social listening?

Nelson Musonda:

There's several apps. The first one I would do is Google Analytics, because it's free. And I start with Google Analytics because Google is the hub of all information.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. Okay.

Nelson Musonda:

Most people are using it.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Nelson Musonda:

Most people are using it. So you sign up and then just put in those alerts, depending on the keyword, should I say, depending on the problem you're solving. And then every day Google will send you a report, send you a report. So you can click the link, go over there to where the discussion is taking place, and you see what people are talking about. You're also able to contribute and help people that way.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. And do you find yourself doing some hashtag monitoring in that scenario as well?

Nelson Musonda:

So I don't do hashtag, and maybe that's something I'd look into. But if you go into digital ministry, you find that they don't have a lot of information even online. When I was starting, there were very few-

Ryan Dunn:

No. They don't.

Nelson Musonda:

Very few people doing digital evangelism. And so most of this, there's very little data, should I say. Because there's some apps that you can use to discover maybe popular hashtags and stuff like that. But it's not very helpful, because most of these conversations are carried on in groups. If you go to Facebook groups, that's where most of the conversation is going on.

Ryan Dunn:

And have you still found Quora and Reddit to be helpful places for engaging in some of the social listening too?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Actually, with social listening, you can actually start a social listening ministry by just connecting to Quora, typing in your queries. You can spend 30 minutes or an hour just listening to what people are saying and responding, helping them. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

Sounds like the call here is for us to continually move towards our audience. And so as part of that, we need to define who that audience is. And that sounds a little risky maybe to some church leaders, because it sounds so definite. We feel like there's a risk that we're going to exclude some people. And yet I believe that the future of ministry is moving towards a very defined or niched mindset. And I think that you would agree with that as well, that you encourage ministries to also identify a niche. So what are some things to consider when you are developing the target niche for your ministry?

Nelson Musonda:

Yeah, good question. So I get that question a lot.

Ryan Dunn:

I'm sure.

Nelson Musonda:

Because when you say niche, people take it that you're excluding.

Ryan Dunn:

Yes. Oh, we are only for single mothers or something like that. Or we're only for, Yeah.

Nelson Musonda:

Yeah. But the truth is that you're including. You look at it as an inclusion. Okay? If you look at it, even if you look at the ministry of Christ, you see that everything he did was to a specific audience. That's how we are able to draw lessons for a specific situation from what he did, because there's an audience there. So it starts from there. And then another thing to consider is that when you're looking at digital evangelism and the church, it's hard to wrap around. But this is what I say, there's a role of the church in digital evangelism, and that's not to be in the forefront of the movement. And the reason is, I don't know about you, but every time my pastor stands there to speak, I'm all ears.

Nelson Musonda:

People, we've been conditioned to listen. And as a result, the church is producing more gospel consumers than producers. So the role of the church is not to be in the forefront, but to facilitate. Because every member, every Christian has an obligation to go out and minister. So I think the important role of the church is to create that environment that encourages people to go out. In other words, that encourages people to produce rather than just consume, is what I'm saying. So imagine if you have a church, 200 people, it got to the lowest number. Each one of them have a passion. And another thing is that with digital evangelism, you have to stop thinking about, I need to go preach. I need to go sing.

Nelson Musonda:

So I'm saying, because digital evangelism is about problem solving. If you remember Christ solved the problems, and then call to action, you introduce them to the cure, the Author of Life and stuff like that. And so the church's role, I think, is to make sure that they create that environment that supports people to go out and do digital ministry, take up their role.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Nelson Musonda:

You had a question?

Ryan Dunn:

No. I'm vibing with you.

Nelson Musonda:

Okay.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. But it's resonating with me because when I was working on a church staff, it's something that we complain about all the time, that it's like everybody is just waiting for us, the ministers, I guess the ordained ministers or the clergy staff, to do the work of ministry. And we kept complaining that can't we activate all the people to be in ministry, the ministry of all believers. How do we do that?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Amen.

Ryan Dunn:

And so this is very much focused, a model focused on inviting people to just be ambassadors for Christ in whatever space they're going to occupy.

Nelson Musonda:

Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

Is that fair to say?

Nelson Musonda:

That's fair. Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

And so in terms of building ministry, it's very entrepreneurial in a way, because we build our ministries then on... It sounds like you're recommending on the things that we're interested in.

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Yes. It has to be out of passion. And I know a lot of people ask me, most of the emails I get is, "How do I use technology? I have this passion. How do I use technology?" So imagine if the church would come in now and facilitate that. What is it that you need? Is it the technology? Do you need the website and stuff like that? And start creating that environment that-

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Being a resourcer.

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

I heard a great analogy once that the church is like an airport. You don't fly to get to the airport. You fly to get to your destination, but you get to that destination through the airport. And this is really a model putting that into practice where you are being enabled to be in this destination of representing Christ in a given situation.

Nelson Musonda:

Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

The church is going to help resource doing that.

Nelson Musonda:

To resource. Yes, definitely.

Ryan Dunn:

So do you see that, or do you recommend that church will start taking seriously the idea that we need to have tech equippers, tech chaplains, so to speak, or even design process thinkers or user design and experienced thinkers on staff?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Yes. Actually, if you go to indeed.com and try and look for either digital evangelism or something to do with digital in the church, you see so many churches opening up to that idea. I always think about both the church and the business world are after the same people. And somehow the business world has found a way to get the messages across by the way they design their things, the way they write their copy, everything. And they've invested billions of dollars in that. And then when it comes to the church, we are so... I don't know if modesty is a term, but we are so laid back and we forget that.

Nelson Musonda:

Let me just step back. When I was young, the church was everything. We heard everything from church. We went to church three, four times a week. That's where we heard lessons, everything. So now, even then, when you had a question, guess who you asked? Your pastor.

Ryan Dunn:

You went to the church.

Nelson Musonda:

Sometimes you waited to the next church service and ask the question. These days, that's gone. Everyone is moving around with their tablets. They have a question, they're asking. And then people are finding answers online. But the question is, how good are those answers? Because if the church is not feeding the internet with the right information, then we are just living into the business world to create those answers, I'm saying. So the business world's are creating solutions to the problems that the church can actually meet. And so the church just becomes a place where we just come to consume.

Nelson Musonda:

And I think if we empower people, again, going back to that point, empowering people to be producers, because when you're a consumer, when you don't like something that you're consuming, what do you do? You move away to another thing, right?

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Nelson Musonda:

And that's why we see these numbers, 23% of people say not affiliated to any church. But when you become a producer and you don't like what you're producing, what do you do? You improve. That's why you go to the church for more training, for more help, so you can produce better. And so I think I just got to emphasize at that point, there's a role of the church in all this, and it's not in the forefront.

Ryan Dunn:

But in order to get there, we actually have to anticipate and participate in the questions that people are actually asking.

Nelson Musonda:

Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

Which is what you're getting to with the social listening.

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

I get it. I've often bemoaned that the church can be really good at answering questions that people aren't actually asking.

Nelson Musonda:

Exactly.

Ryan Dunn:

This is a great way for us to put our finger on the pulse of where people are for today.

Nelson Musonda:

Yes. Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

And certainly you can learn a lot more about that through Delmethod.com. I'll just throw it out there that for me, the website was a rabbit hole. There are tons of really useful blog articles on that website.

Nelson Musonda:

Oh, thank you.

Ryan Dunn:

So yeah, I thank you for producing it, and certainly encourage other people to check it out. And is that really the best place to get ahold of you, Nelson, for people that want to follow up with questions?

Nelson Musonda:

Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

Cool.

Nelson Musonda:

That's the main hub. Yes.

 

Ryan Dunn:

A great follow up to this session would be our season 3 session with Brad Laurvick called “TikTok, pastoral care and puppets”. It’s a great story about meeting real world needs in virtual space.

 

Another good episode related to this topic would be season 1’s “Becoming a microfamous minister” with Matt Johnson. Matt gives us some insight on simply being incarnational presences of grace in digital arenas.

 

I’m Ryan Dunn. I’d like to thank ResourceUMC.org,  the online destination for leaders throughout The United Methodist Church. They make this podcast possible. And of course, they host our website: pastoringinthedigitalparish.com, where you can find more online resources for ministry.

 

I’ll speak with you again in a new episode next week. In the meantime, peace to you!

 

 

On this episode

Nelson Musonda

Nelson Musonda works in digital user experience development and web design. He founded the Delmethod and runs Delmethod.com--a service helping churches and ministries increase their reach and influence through digital evangelism.

Ryan Dunn, co-host and producer of the Compass Podcast

Our proctor/host is the Rev. Ryan Dunn, a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan manages the digital brand presence of Rethink Church, co-hosts and produces the Compass Podcast, manages his personal brand, and obsesses with finding ways to offer new expression of grace.