Two years ago, Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax (CLT) team asked a focus group of executive pastors where they went to find information and advice for the issues they were facing in their churches. The group—all who were familiar with CLT but weren’t necessarily members—informed the team that they first turned to close friends, a broader group of peers, and experts in the ministry.
The focus group shared that while they believed that CLT could provide them with the information they needed, what they really wanted was a community to learn from. For then-incoming VP of Ministry Resources Rob Toal, offering readers this type of community meant focusing on a digital-first platform.
CLT resources the business side of the church, helping pastors and church leaders find answers to everyday questions they encounter in church management—but might not have learned in seminary, like taxes and staffing. For more than 20 years, the majority of its time and resources had gone into two print periodicals, Church Law & Tax Report (every other month) and Church Finance Today (monthly). But when the team began exploring the idea of phasing out their print periodicals, they began to see the ways that going digital-only would help improve customer experience.
An early test of this came in 2018, when President Trump signed a bill changing the tax code. Under the new vision, the CLT team published a related article that very day, published a full update the next day, and offered its members a webinar later that week.
“Focusing on digital allowed us to respond in real-time and give a better customer experience.” said Toal.
While the team recognized that long-term this shift would lead to a better experience for members, they understood that success in the short term required them to listen and learn from their audience.
Almost immediately, “Questions started coming in, ‘Where are the publications? I can’t find them anywhere?’” said Toal.
To that end, the team started delivering a monthly e-newsletter informing members of the latest articles on the CLT website and including links to past articles they might have missed.
Another early reroute? Members told the CLT team they were also having issues identifying new articles on the website. The answer? A “what’s new” section on the website.
“When we cut print we didn’t anticipate that people would have trouble with finding what they wanted on the website,” said Toal. “Within a few weeks we were able to understand and find a solution for our customers. People were confused. But the team was able to be flexible and adaptive.”
Under the digital transition, CLT print subscribers now had access to digital content. But when their subscriptions ended, some chose not to renew their membership. Once again, the CLT team asked for feedback from the former subscribers and initiated an email campaign to better explain the brand’s changes. Soon after, renewals began to increase.
By the last quarter of 2019, things really began to climb. By the end of November the base website membership saw a 28 percent increase in new business and the Advantage membership, CLT’s premium membership which includes exclusive webinars and member-only discounts, saw a 6% increase.
CLT has made a lot of changes in the last year—and expect them to make more in 2020. Over the coming couple years, the team plans to introduce video courses and podcasts, expand its webinar series, and create an online community where members can learn from and engage with each other.
“Our team works to create a collaborative, forward thinking, and down to earth environment,” said Toal. “We’re collaborative—working together and sharing ideas. Forward thinking—always looking for solutions. And everyone is down to earth. That’s what makes it fun to work together.”
CLT’s servant leadership mission drives their desire to equip church leaders with the resources they need. It spurs them to continue to ask their customers what they want and later reevaluate how they can best provide and support churches nationwide.
“It’s our job to serve the people who serve the church,” said Toal.
Caitlin Edwards is communications & marketing strategist at Christianity Today.