What's in this session?

  • A picture is worth a thousand words (0:43)
  • Clip art search statistics (1:30)
  • Hamburger example (3:30)
  • Etsy example (4:48)
  • Bible college Brady (5:41)
  • Portrait mode case study (7:56)

Show notes and resources

Free Bonus: Click here to download The iPhone Church Photography Case Study – learn to shoot stunning photos for your church with only your phone

The Transcript

Brady Shearer: Pro-Church Daily is brought to you by Nucleus, a new kind of website builder for churches from single click templates to advanced integrations. Nucleus is unlike anything else. Nucleus opens on March 20th. Head to Nucleus.church to join the launch list. Why just have a website when you could have a Nucleus?

Alex Mills: Well, hey there, and welcome to Pro-Church Daily. The show where in 10 minutes or less, you’ll get your daily dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus while we navigate the biggest communication shift we’ve seen in the last 500 years. I’m your host Alex Mills. I’m joined, as always, by the bossman, it’s Brady Shearer.

Today, we want to say stop it. Stop letting your church use stock photos on your website.

Brady Shearer: Stop using stock photos anywhere, really.

Alex Mills: That’s true.

Brady Shearer: There’s a reason that the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” exists. There’s a reason why your Instagram newsfeed and your Facebook newsfeed are flooded with video posts and image posts rather than text posts. The simple reason for that, and we all know this intuitively to be true, it’s been backed up by any number of studies is that a simple image can communicate so much more and so much faster than paragraphs worth of text. Bottom line is that visual imagery is one of the best ways to make a good first impression with your website and one of the best ways to communicate at a crazy fast pace.

Knowing this, knowing the power of visual imagery. How are churches using visual imagery? Well, let’s look into the data that we have, according to AHRefs, which is an SEO marketing company in the United States, the keyword phrase “Bible clip art”-

Alex Mills: This one gets me worked up.

Brady Shearer: … Gets about 14,000 monthly searches in search engines. Wait, it gets better. The keyword phrase “Cross clip art” gets about 29,000 monthly searches in search engines. And, if you need a comparison, if you’re wondering is that a lot, is that not a lot? Get this. The keyword phrase “Old Testament” only earns 27,000 monthly searches in search engines. What can we learn from this, Alex?

Alex Mills: I need a drink. Oh, club soda for those who are listening, I took a drink of my club soda.

Brady Shearer: Yes, in kind of a Kermit none-of-my-business-meme likeness.

Alex Mills: So, there’s the joke.

Brady Shearer: 29,000 monthly searches for “Cross clip art”, 27,000 for “Old testament” in the United States.

Alex Mills: Man, that’s a lot.

Brady Shearer: Cross clip art is more important and popular, according to the search engines, than the Old Testament.

Alex Mills: Yeah, that’s …

Brady Shearer: Okay, that’s a joke. Kind of. The point is is that churches love clip art and it’s understandable to a point, because it’s easy to use, and it’s coming from that perspective that intuitive understanding that visual imagery is so important, but clip art is impersonal, it is generic, and let’s be honest; It is just plain tacky. We need to move beyond clip art. A lot of churches have moved beyond clip art and have begun using photography. But, in lieu of being able to shoot their own photos or hiring someone to do it for them, they have begun using stock photography. The most egregious use of this is using stock photos of human faces. I want you to imagine this scenario. You notice that in your town, in your city, a new restaurant opens up. And, this happened recently. A place in our city called Hamburger opened up and it was, and is an insane joint to get hamburgers.

Now, let’s say a place in your city opened up and we’ll call this hypothetical burger locations Pop’s. So, Pop’s opens up and you begin seeing their ads all around town. You see it on the bus, you see it on the park benches. You’re like, “Pop’s is investing a ton of their ad campaign”, so much so that you visit their website and in every single promotion that you see, whether it be website, park bench, bus ad, the same promotional photo is being displayed, and it’s this gorgeous, well lit photo of a golden brioche bun with this juicy hamburger patty in the center.

Alex Mills: Yeah, I see it.

Brady Shearer: And, you decide I can see it in my mind’s eye.

Alex Mills: I can taste it.

Brady Shearer: You make the decision, “Yes Lord, I need this burger.” So, you get in your car one day, you drive to pops. You park your car, you get out, you walk in, you sit down. Server comes, hands you the menu. You say “No thanks server, I know what I want. Golden brioche bun, big old juicy patty.” Everything’s great until the server comes out, hands you your burger. You look, you do not see a golden brioche bun and a juicy patty. Instead, you see a flimsy, flapping in the wind patty that’s super thin. It has no golden brioche bun, that’s an old sesame seed bun. And, you look at the server and you say “This burger doesn’t look anything like the one on your website.” He or she responds “That’s not our burger, we just found that picture on the internet.” You would be furious.

We used an example in another episode of Pro-Church Daily. Let’s say you bought a ring on an online marketplace like Etsy, a handmade ring. You get it, you open it up, and it doesn’t look anything like the product photo on the website of Etsy. It’s a completely different ring. You would be furious. You would demand a refund. You would probably not buy from Etsy again, because they presented to you this product’s photo of a ring, and you didn’t get that ring.

Alex Mills: No, it’s disingenuous.

Brady Shearer: It’s deceptive, it’s terrible. In fact, stock photography often is seen as a step up from clip art. I would say it’s actually more dangerous, because clip art, it might be generic. It might be tacky, it might be impersonal, it might be 1995. But, at least it’s not pretending to be something it’s not. It’s not a stock photo of a human face of a person that does not attend your church. I don’t want to sit here and sound all high and mighty, because I have done this myself. When I first hired as a 19 year old, 2011 I think it was, 19/20, hired on as a media director at my church, my first paid staff gig ever, if you had visited our church’s website in 2011, you would have seen this beautiful photo of a happy, smiling family, and it took up the full screen. It was literally the only thing. We had this fancy thing. It didn’t even have any navigation basically. It was just a big picture of a family.

The thing was, that wasn’t even a family. They were stock photography models and when we launched this website, we had a couple of people in our church approach me and say “Hey, do those people attend here? Does that family even go to our church? Why didn’t you just take photos of us?” They were right, I was wrong. We should not have used a stock photo of people that did not attend our church, because it’s just not true. A product photo of a ring, the best translation of that … The church isn’t selling manufactured goods, but our product is the body of Christ. It’s these existential matters that the church is helping people work through with Jesus at the center. Christ-centered community. Hope and Jesus. A purpose filled life that Jesus offers each and every one of us. Jesus said I’ve come to give life and life to the full. The reason for that means that we should not be using photos, representations of that that are not accurate, and not true.

This gets even worse when you start using stock photos which have various ethnicities and you’re like “Oh, we’re just trying to be an ethnically diverse church” and you’re a bunch of white people. It can just get really messy, very quickly. Did you want to say something?

Alex Mills: Yeah. I love what you said at the beginning of this episode that a … And, it’s a phrase that’s been around for longer than you and I, but a photo is worth a thousand words, and it truly is. I’m a photographer, so, maybe I have a little bit of bias, but I work really hard when creating photos to tell a story, intentionally tell a story. But, here’s the thing. When you take photos of people, and this is why I love doing portraits, when you take photos of people, the subject actually tells most of the story for you. You don’t have to do much to tell that story. So, that’s why photos of real people of your real community speaks so much to your first time visitor who is landing on your website. It’s not as hard as you think it is and that’s why we did this case study that you can find on blog.nucleus.church about two websites we built side by side. One with photos that I took at my church with my big DSLR camera-

Brady Shearer: As a professional.

Alex Mills: Yep. And, another that you went to a church and took photos with your iPhone in portrait mode. And, when you-

Brady Shearer: As a non-professional dummy.

Alex Mills: Right. And, when you put these two websites side by side, the difference is negligible, and the story that you’re telling is the exact same. These are real people, telling real stories, part of a real community, a real church, and your first time visitors are going to connect with that, and you don’t have to be a professional. You don’t even have to pay a professional to accomplish this. You can take out the camera that’s in your pocket and start taking pictures of your community to represent to your first time visitors this is who we are, this is what we look like, and you can identify with us. Come and see us in real life and be a part of our family.

Brady Shearer: We talk in that case study about how smiling, happy photos of humans is the single, best type of imagery that you can use on your church’s website and in every single promotion that you have. That power is robbed if those humans do not attend your church. The reason that churches go to stock photos, go to clip art is ’cause it’s convenient, and because for the longest time, taking photos that look great has been either very difficult or very expensive. The whole point of this case study, you can find at blog.nucleus.church, was I’m going to go to a church, Brady, that I’ve never been to before as someone who is not a photographer. Sure, I know video, but can [inaudible 00:09:30] DSLR, put Alex’s DSLR in my hands, you’ll see how useless I am very quickly. I’m going to go with my iPhone 7 Plus. Put it in portrait mode so I can blur out the background. I’m going to take photos and then I’m going to use the Nucleus builder and framework to create a full demo website using these photos. You have no excuse now with this case study to ever use clip art or stock photos.

The data is clear. Smiling photos of human people is the best way to make a good first impression in every single promotion that you have and it’s the best representation of your product, highest conversions. It is across the board, the absolute best thing you can do. Difficult and expensive? Used to be. This case study proves anyone can do it. It’s one of the pieces of content I am most proud of that we have ever published. Go to blog.nucleus.church to get it. I think it sounds like I have the blessing of a photographer to say you can go shoot things yourself.

Alex Mills: Yes.

Brady Shearer: Ideally, pay someone like Alex. But, if your church is unable or unwilling, do not stoop to stock photography and clip art. That is much, much, much worse.

Alex Mills: Absolutely.

Brady Shearer: That will do it for today’s episode of Pro-Church Daily. Go to blog.nucleus.church. Read the case study. We’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Hey, thanks for listening to today’s episode of Pro Church Daily. If you haven’t already, head to prochurchtools.com/nucleus to download our ultimate library of church website page templates, pre-written copy structured the exact way we would do if we had these pages on our websites. Prochurchtools.com/nucleus is the place to download those



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