If you're like most churches during this pandemic, you've been thrust into the world of "online church." Now online church has many different names, flavors and forms. For some, it means just streaming the worship service to Facebook; for others, it means Zoom small groups or new ways to give online. Either way, this pandemic has forced most churches to figure out how they can exist in an online-only environment.
However, now that we're about five months into this pandemic, there are online patterns that we can see starting to emerge. These patterns were not self-evident at first, but with each passing day, it's more apparent that online church is here to stay and we need to grapple with some of its consequences.
Today, I'm going to walk you through key insights that these patterns reveal and how the church should respond.
1. Online church should represent the whole church. We've all heard the phrase, "A church is more than just a building." The same logic applies to online church. online church is more than just streaming a worship service.
We all agree that our worship services serve as a vital component in the ministry of our churches, and we would also say the same thing about small groups, missions and congregational care. This means that churches need to present the full expression of who they are and not just one aspect. We need to find ways to foster online small groups, digital evangelism and caring for others who are quarantined. While it is true that we cannot make every aspect of church life happen online,—nor should we try to—we need to at least have a digital presence for those ministries when possible.
2. It's now easy to switch churches with a click. We know that when a church member is actively engaged in a small group, the church as a whole becomes a vital part of their life. Small groups have a way of making church "sticky," so it's difficult for someone to leave because of the relationships they've built.
When the church is only online, the church can lose some of that stickiness. Since we are no longer in person on Sundays, we're not bumping into friends in the church hallways or finding ways to eat lunch together after the service is over. Sunday routines are being transformed.
So now the church is at a place where someone could easily switch churches by starting to watch another church online. Location and time do not matter. If they live in San Diego but want to "attend" a church in Atlanta, they can do so with the click of a button. Since we're no longer physically present with each other, the only way most churches would know when people like this leave is when they stop giving online.
The key to making churches become "sticky" online is to maintain those key one on one relationships. This does not have to be "high tech" but instead "high touch." It can be a phone call, a FaceTime chat or a simple, handwritten note. This can be done through the work of your deacons, small group leaders and staff. These relationship touch points are vital to keeping people engaged with your church.
3. We have to equip our people for online ministry. One of the mistakes churches made early on during the pandemic was feeling the need to control all aspects of online ministry. Every social media post, video, podcast or email had to be vetted and approved. However, after a while, it became too much for most churches to handle.
If we assume that online church is not going to go away anytime soon, then we're going to need to learn to scale online ministry in such a way that it doesn't fall solely on the church staff's shoulders.
This will require us to set up guidelines and then let go of certain aspects of ministry so that we can maintain a long-term view of what needs to be done. If this sounds overwhelming, this is not different than how you would train your small group leaders, student ministry volunteers and so on. The difference is that you're not training them for a brick and mortar environment, but an online one.
For some churches, there's a hope that COVID-19 goes away, and we can return to normal. However, we need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that for some people, online church will be the new normal, and we have to find new ways to reach and disciple those people.
Darrel Girardier serves as the digital strategy director at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee where he oversees the digital, design and video production teams. Previously, he was a creative director at LifeWay Christian Resources.
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