Attention Economy: Understanding Its Impact On Your Church’s Mission

In our rapidly evolving digital landscape, the concept of the attention economy has become increasingly relevant, especially for churches seeking to navigate this new terrain effectively. At its core, the attention economy is about the commodification of human attention, where businesses and organizations vie for our focus amidst an overwhelming sea of information. This shift presents unique challenges and opportunities for churches committed to growth and engagement. We delve into the implications of the attention economy for your church’s mission and outline strategies for thriving within it.

The Shift to the Attention Economy

Historically, economies have evolved from agricultural to industrial and, more recently, to digital. Today, we find ourselves in the attention economy, where the scarce commodity is not goods or services but the attention of humans. This paradigm shift is driven by the fact that in a world saturated with information, capturing and maintaining attention translates to influence and, ultimately, value creation.

Why It Matters for Your Church

For churches, the attention economy underscores a vital reality: the competition for your congregation’s attention extends far beyond the walls of your church. With entities like YouTube and social media platforms shaping the beliefs and behaviors of many, understanding and engaging with this economy is crucial for churches that aim to grow and influence effectively.

Increase Communication Cadence

In an era dominated by the attention economy, the frequency and relevance of your communication play a pivotal role in keeping your church’s message in the forefront of your congregation’s mind. Here’s how to enhance your communication strategy:

  • Embrace Regular, Targeted Communication: Develop a consistent schedule for reaching out to your congregation. This involves not just the quantity but the quality and relevance of the communications. Each message should serve to connect, inform, or inspire, ensuring that your church remains a constant presence in their lives.
  • Utilize Bite-Sized Content: Attention spans are shorter than ever, making it essential to convey your message in concise, engaging snippets. Break down complex ideas into smaller, more digestible pieces of content that can be easily consumed and shared. This approach helps to maintain interest and engagement over time.

Think About Deeper Personalization

Personalization is key in making each member of your congregation feel seen, understood, and valued. Here’s how to leverage personalization within your church’s communication efforts:

  • Leverage Influencers Within Your Community: Identify and engage with individuals who have a natural influence within your congregation. These individuals can help amplify your message through their networks. Personalized outreach to these influencers can lead to more authentic and widespread engagement across your community.
  • Engage in Two-Way Conversations: Shift from seeing digital platforms as mere broadcasting tools to engaging communities where real conversations happen. Respond to comments, initiate discussions, and encourage your congregation to interact with your content. This level of engagement fosters a deeper sense of community and connection.
  • Customize Your Messaging: Tailor your communications to address the specific interests, needs, and concerns of different segments within your congregation. This could mean developing specific content for parents, youth, new members, or those interested in missions. Personalized content shows your congregation that you understand and care about their unique journeys of faith.

By focusing on Increasing Communication Cadence and Thinking About Deeper Personalization, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by the attention economy. These strategies not only help to keep your church relevant in the digital age but also deepen the connection with your congregation, driving engagement and growth.

Navigating Forward

The attention economy isn’t just a challenge; it’s an opportunity for churches to rethink engagement and mission in the digital age. By increasing communication cadence, embracing bite-sized content, leveraging personalization, and fostering community engagement, churches can navigate this new economy with purpose and impact.

The journey through the attention economy is complex, but it offers a rich landscape for churches to connect with their congregations and communities in meaningful ways. As we adapt and innovate, the potential to deepen our mission and extend our reach is boundless. Let’s embrace this journey together, leveraging the attention economy to further the Kingdom in this digital age.

Episode Transcript

Well, happy Wednesday, everybody. It’s Rich Birch here from the Unseminary Podcast. Today, we’re talking about the attention economy. What is it and what difference does it make to your church? But before we get there, a little programming announcement.

So, if you’ve been following along, you might have noticed we’ve been doing these experimenting really with these Wednesday episodes. These are solo episodes, less than 20 minutes long. The goal is to provide you some actionable training. These will be the kind of thing that you can apply right away. And we’ll continue on Thursdays with our traditional episodes where we interview church leaders.

If you don’t know, we’re pushing 800 episodes over there. And our goal with our Thursday episodes is we really get you face-to-face with operational leaders in prevailing churches. So, the folks that we interview on Thursday are leading in fast-growing churches, churches that are making a difference. And I wanna get you face-to-face with them to really learn what’s happening in them.

Friends, I’m on a mission. My personal mission is just to help 100 churches grow by 1,000 people. And so, we wanna continue to provide excellent resources. That’s blog posts, and podcasts, and digital magazines, and emails, emails all the time. And we have all kinds of other resources including courses, and I just tell you, we’re actually doing church-based coaching. All of these things put together really to try to get in your corner and say, hey, how can we help your church grow? And so, we’re gonna move this from being a spreader and say, hey, we’re gonna go for the foreseeable future here on Wednesday with a solo episode. And today we’re on the attention economy.

What is it, and what difference does it make to your church? So, the attention economy, this is the economy we’re finding when we find ourselves where we are today. At one point, our culture was an agricultural culture for probably 1,500, and really what we were trying to do there was extract resources out of the ground. We were trying to convert through the cycles of seasons, make food that we could sell to other people. That shifted in the 16th and 18th century to a mercantile economy where really global trade was a big deal. It was about moving that agriculture around the world, moving spices around the world. Then in the 18th century, man, there was a huge shift to an industrial, through the Industrial Revolution to an industrial economy where that’s where we really had the development of the urban centers that we see all over the world as we really built up industrial development at scale, the power of steam, the power of coal, converting energy ultimately into resources that could be sold and traded around the world. Well, then in the late 20th century, things converted one more time to the digital economy.

You know, this is really the information economy. But then more recently, really what’s happened is we’ve shifted to what has been called the attention economy. And what is the attention economy, you ask? It’s where your and my attention, human attention is treated like a scarce and valuable commodity with businesses really ultimately competing to capture and hold our attention and ultimately turning around and converting that into revenue or ultimately, you know, value and wealth long-term. It really highlights the nature of attention that the idea that, you know, at the end of the day, information and media is at the core, but really what we’re trading, what our economy is based on in so many ways is this idea of holding people’s attention.

If you look at this, there’s this group of stocks called the Magnificent Seven, so Meta, Amazon, Alphabet, the folks behind Google, Microsoft, Nvidia, Apple, and Tesla these seven stocks represent the vast majority of growth in the world economy. In fact, actually those seven stocks are worth more than, you know, something like, you know, 50% of the global GDP. These people are worth a ton. Now, Meta, Amazon, Alphabet, and Apple, and probably Microsoft to some extent. So at least four or five of those Magnificent Seven are based on this idea of holding our attention and holding your people’s attention. We have a valuable resource when people come to our events on the weekend, when they log into our websites, when they subscribe to our social feeds, that has actual value. And the difference of where things were even 10 years ago or 20 years ago is that there are companies that are competing for our people’s attention. You know, you’ve seen this happen.

If you’ve bumped into people in your church where you feel like, man, these people feel like they’ve been discipled more by YouTube than by our church or by the Bible. This is an outcome of the attention economy. YouTube has figured out how to capture the attention of your people to hold it, and then ultimately steer it towards a certain kind of outcome. You know, we’ve seen positive outcomes from this. In fact, just last week, we talked about an Easter 2024 study where we looked at churches that were inviting people to come to Easter. And one of the questions we asked is, how many different ways did you ask your people or did you kind of motivate, train, equip, and motivate your people to invite? And what we saw was those churches that did more than seven different things, seven distinct ways to encourage their people to invite saw a 53% bump over the average in Easter attendance.

Why is this? Well, friends, I would say it’s because of the attention economy. The churches that realize, hey, we’ve got to get in front of our people, stay in front of them, are seeing great results. They’re seeing an outcome in their people. In that case, it was a bump in Easter attendance. You know, we see this show up in lots of different places.

One of the things that often we end up talking about in our coaching is the fact that there are vast, there are way more guests that show up to growing churches that ultimately stick and stay. Did you know this? So sometimes I think we think, well, you know, for every guest, we must see a large percent of those people stay. That’s actually not true. In fact, stuck in stagnant churches will see only one in 10 people of their first-time guests actually stick into their church. Growing churches see two in 10, and thriving churches, the most fast-growing churches in the country see three in 10 guests stick and stay. So for every hundred guests, they’ll only see 30% of those actually stick and stay. But you know what we’ve seen over time, the difference between those churches that see guests stick and stay and those that don’t, is the churches that see guests stick and stay, they communicate a whole lot more than those churches that don’t see guests stick and stay.

In fact, we’ve talked in other contexts that, you know, in that when a guest arrives, fills out that new year card, lets you know, hey, I’ve been a part of that. A best practice is to communicate with them seven times in the first 11 days. And you know how many times I’ve said that to church leaders and they’re like, wow, that’s crazy, that’s too much.

In fact, actually just this week, I was talking to a leader and they said the same thing seven times in 11 days. And then we rattle off a bunch of examples. It’s a handwritten card from people at your new here kiosk. It’s a video that afternoon. In fact, did you know one of the largest churches in the country, if you were to go visit it this weekend, if you were to fill out their new here card, you’re going to get a personalized video greeting from a campus pastor at that church. Literally every week, they send out thousands of these videos, they’ve prioritized this.

Why? Because they know that we live in an attention economy. We’ve got to get in front of people. You know, it’s also like midweek emails. It’s maybe sending them some sort of piece of mail. Maybe it’s even just like baking cookies and driving them and putting them on their doorstep. We’ve got to arrest that attention. People have taken a step towards us. We need to take a step towards them.

Listen, Sundays used to be about the big event. Our discipleship used to be about just getting people to show up on Sundays. It used to be just about enough to get them to come for an hour. But really what we’re seeing is prevailing churches now understand that discipleship is much more of a flow. It’s much more about, hey, how do we keep in front of our people consistently throughout of the week?

So the attention economy, you live in it and I live in it. I know, listen, you probably feel some tension around this. You probably feel like, gosh, I wish we didn’t have to communicate so much. I wish we didn’t have organizations vying for our people’s attention. The reality of it is we do. And so we’ve got to make some changes to the way we operate.

So I’ve got two main takeaways for you today that I want you to think about because of the fact that you and I live in an attention economy. The first is you’ve got to increase your communication cadence. You’ve got to increase your communication cadence. What do I mean by that? You’ve got to communicate more. So if you’re a team leader today, let’s say you’re a staff member. Let’s say your church is a thousand people and you’re in student ministry or you’re in small groups ministry. Stop asking to get in front of the announcements on Sunday. Stop thinking, hey, if I just can get in the announcements or if I can just get our lead pastor to say something from the stage to do some sort of broadcast, what you need to be thinking about is, hey, how can I develop a list of my constituents? So these are the people that are connected to my ministry. How do I develop an email list, a texting list? And then what I should be doing is finding ways to communicate more with those people.

Listen, I can guarantee your lead pastor, your XP or whatever, if you’d say to them, hey, I want to reach out to my people on a regular basis. I don’t need to get out in front on a Sunday every week to talk about what’s coming up. They’re gonna cheer for you. So communicate more. Don’t think about just, if I can just get something in the big announcement on the weekend. No, you’ve got to arrest that from your people and figure out how do you get in front of them.

Think bite-sized. When you think about communication pieces, the reality of it is people live with less attention that we’ve had before. It’s been bite-sized. It’s been atomized. It’s been carved up into small little bits and pieces. We’ve seen this with video. A long video now is considered anything over 90 seconds online, which is crazy to me. People just frankly have less attention than they used to have. So when you’re thinking about increasing your communication cadence, a kind of corollary to that or an impact of that is you’ve got to break things down into small bite-sized chunks. So rather than saying, hey, I can send one brochure home as a student pastor about the upcoming retreat, I’ve got to think about, hey, what are the five different communication pieces I need to send to parents over the next month to keep reminding them about the upcoming retreat, keep keeping in front of them about what their kids can expect, keep talking to them about what is going to happen at the retreat. Think bite-sized so that you can increase your communication cadence.

The second takeaway for you is I would be thinking about deeper personalization. Think about deeper personalization because of the attention economy. The one thing when I think about deeper personalization, think about your church today. And the broader kind of attention economy has figured out that there are influencers out there. There are people in the broader economy who have social influence. And now I know you think about influencer as like the cool guy who sits on the hood of the car and says, hey, you should buy this product or whatever. But really all influencers are are people who are looked at by a certain group of a social group and are saying, hey, I wanna follow what those people do. And you know what? Your church has a series of influencers. Now, those influencers are different than your organizational structure. There are people that have influence in your church that don’t necessarily have any authority. In fact, there may be people that have more influence than the staff or pastors in your church that have authority. And so I would be thinking about who are the influencers? And then how can I reach out to them and get them to help us talk about whatever it is that we wanna talk about as a church? How could we be reaching out to influencers and ultimately asking them to help us spread the message and doing that in a personalized way? If I was trying to spread, say an upcoming event, maybe I would think about who are the five parents among sticking with the youth example, who are the five parents who seem to have a lot of social influence? Hey, why don’t I reach out to them, give them some content, ask them if they would be willing to spread it. Just this week, we saw this happen at our church. There’s a really sad story happening of, there’s a young man in our church with a young dad who’s got kids and he’s struggling with cancer. And on Sunday, a group fired up a Facebook chat and invited a bunch of people and said, hey, we’re gonna gather a prayer event the next day, literally 24 hours later. And the next day, 150 people showed up at these folks’ house. I know that there are, and it was an amazing night, a little bit of worship, a little bit of prayer. It was a lot of fun. The interesting thing that I took away from that, beyond the fact that the local church, when done well, is an unstoppable force for good. Can I get an amen from the people in the back? Outside of that, one of my takeaways from a communication point of view was, man, how many church leaders would be thinking, man, I wish I could get 150 people in a room to pray about anything, but here was a group who informally, it was not because of something that we did as a church, which I think is a fantastic thing, said, hey, we’re gonna take it on ourselves and they’re influencers in our culture. Take note of that, friends. Who are the people who pull that kind of thing together? How could you have deeper personalization by leveraging influencers? Okay, I’ve beat that dead horse. You don’t need to think about that anymore. Another thing when I think about deeper personalization is engagement, think about engagement over broadcast. So this is low-hanging fruit for me. This is something I don’t do well, and I’m saying this publicly because I wanna do it well. In the attention economy, people who thrive, firms who thrive, organizations who thrive, think about engagement over broadcast. Stop thinking about your social media feeds as a broadcast, an industrial broadcast. Like, so what used to happen in the industrial age is stuff was made at plants and sent all over the world. Cars were made in Detroit and sent all over the world. And we think about communications in the same way. Things were broadcast from New York City to all across the country. And you can think about yourself, if you don’t think clearly, you can still think of yourself in the industrial age. We’re not in the industrial age anymore. In the engagement age or in the attention age, engagement is paramount. And so when people comment on your feeds, when they comment on a social media feed, when they send you a message on WhatsApp, when they send you a message on Facebook, what are you doing to respond to those? Those organizations that understand the attention economy are responding to folks online. They’re liking comments, they’re saying amen. They’re working to respond with those. Recently, I did a quick study on this, informal study where I commented to about a dozen churches. And it was fascinating how long it took some churches to respond to those comments. The same is not true with prevailing organizations in the attention economy. If you see organizations that, you know, you go on a MrBeast YouTuber, if you comment on his social feed, watch how fast someone will respond to you. Look at an influencer who’s trying to build their influence. Look how quickly they get back to you. And why is that? That’s deep personalization. There’s something that happens inside of people during the engagement economy when you respond to them online at a personal level. So there it is, friends, the attention economy. What is it and what differences does it make to your church? Two outcomes are increase your communication cadence and think about deeper personalization. Thanks for being a part of Unseminary. Super excited for tomorrow’s interview. You’re gonna wanna pay attention because we’ve got a great interview coming up tomorrow. And we’ll see you next week with more practical training on Wednesday. Take care, friends.

Leave a Response

Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.