Town Hall Presents Variety of Ways to Grow a Sangha

Andrea Chapman is a professional YouTuber – and president of the Ekoji Buddhist Temple – and videos on her sewing and crafts channel Sewspire have received more than an astounding 600,000 views.

Chapman shared her success in building a YouTube following, and spoke at a BCA Town Hall on March 5 about how to use digital tools such as a website, YouTube channel and social media to attract and build a Sangha. The Town Hall was titled “Messaging and Membership” and kicked off the workshops at the National Council Meeting.

The event also included the following ways to build a Sangha: having a strategy and vision; how to “message” Shin Buddhism; meditation and mindfulness as starting points for newcomers; offering a Dharma recovery program to help people and grow the Sangha; the value of Buddhist education; and having a warm and welcoming Sangha.

Essential digital tools

Chapman described how Ekoji is successfully attracting new members – “three digital tools that you can use. These are your website, a YouTube channel and social media. Ideally, every temple will have these three tools.

“So, I want you to think about your website as the way that you’re going to make your first impression,” she said. “Logically, if you’re seeking out a new temple or a church or a community of people to explore your religion and spirituality, you’re going to go to their website.

The YouTube channel, she said, is “a means to create an experience for your viewer, so this is the next best thing to being in your temple – and then social media. That’s a way for you to continue the conversation beyond Sunday.”

The Ekoji Sangha redesigned the temple’s website in 2020 during the pandemic. “We had two audiences in mind when we designed the website, the newcomer, obviously, and then we also wanted it to serve our existing members as well,” she said.

Chapman said it’s important to have a compelling introduction to the website to really connect with people seeking out Buddhism, and said Ekoji has received plenty of positive feedback from new visitors to the website.

“And, I made it a point, as the president of the temple, to be in the foyer to greet and welcome people, and always ask new people, ‘How did you find us?’ I’m curious to find out what brought them there. And, so, I just continually accumulate this information, so I can put it into action, and that’s where you’re going to get your results. It’s not enough to just know it, you have to get it into action.”

The website was also designed to make it easy to donate – with a donate button that’s easily accessible.

Ekoji’s YouTube channel began in June 2021 to livestream the Sunday services, and also broadcasts podcasts.

“We don’t have half a million views yet, but what we do have is steady growth,” Chapman said. “And that’s how you’re going to grow your YouTube presence is one subscriber at a time and that’s exactly how I grew my YouTube presence from one subscriber to almost 54,000. Just one person at a time.”

Ekoji also grew its Sangha by creating a hybrid Dharma discussion group and “is actually converting what were complete strangers in a very short amount of time into members,” she said.

Participants either show up at the Hondo while others are on Zoom. The discussion group isn’t run by ministers or Minister’s Assistants, just lay people with no formal training in Buddhism. She emphasized the importance of allowing everyone the opportunity to speak and the need to have a moderator.

Chapman listed a three-step growth strategy:

  • Step 1: Make it easy to find you: Title your content, use hashtags, add a description and relevant links.

  • Step 2: Be consistent: Post content on a set day and time for an extended period.

  • Step 3: Repeat reminders: Tell your audiences exactly what you need them to do – subscribe, like and share.

“You just have to keep doing it over and over again,” she said. “Do those three things and you will grow whatever it is you’re trying to grow.”

Likewise, there is a difference between growing your channel and building a community, or a Sangha, Chapman said.

“If you want to build a community, you’re going to have to share your purpose with people,” Chapman said. “You’re going to have to tell them why you’re doing this, why it’s important. You’re going to have to get back to them, reply to their comments, answer their questions.

“You’re going to have to engage them, acknowledge them, ask them questions, and tell them exactly how they can help you – by liking, subscribing and following. And people are happy to do that, but if you don’t ask, they don’t.”

Chapman recommended that temples and churches spend the money to sign up with a social media scheduling tool – she recommended, which schedules posts on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.

When Ekoji began its social media strategy, she said the goal was three posts a week. “If you schedule three posts using a scheduling tool, you’re set for the week,” she said. “Now we’re posting closer to once a day.”

Chapman cited analytics showing that 49,000 people saw Ekoji’s Instagram photo posts last year.

She said temples and churches shouldn’t be deterred if they don’t have graphic design skills, and highly recommended as a useful graphic design tool that’s free for nonprofits and gives access to thousands of templates.

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