Whether your church is open for in-person worship or is meeting solely through online platforms, the pandemic has changed the way we do church. Now that nearly every church in the world is streaming services, what will keep people engaged with your church?
The answer is simple: hyperlocalize your mission and message to continue connecting to your specific audience, and your ministry will thrive. I sat down with Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia in Houston, to discuss how being hyperlocalized has strengthened its ministry and allowed the church to reach people it could not have otherwise.
Ecclesia has a long history of being hyperlocalized. Chris Seay founded the church after serving in Waco, Texas, for several years. Chris had a heart for the city and the people of Houston. He explained, "The city that I love is the most ethnically diverse city in the United States. If you want to impact the world, Houston, Texas, is the best place to do it." Chris set out to do just that—impact the world through Houston.
What Does It Mean for a Ministry to Be Hyperlocal?
A hyperlocal ministry focuses on the immediate community that God has planted them to serve. People are looking to be a part of a ministry that speaks to their everyday lives and their specific context. God has called you to your city for a reason. Use your church to engage in ministry and reach those in your community.
More important than just engaging your local community, it is important that churches are serving their communities. No one is better equipped to serve your city than those who are living in the midst of the specific local current events. In many communities right now, people are hurting and need the church. But that's not just any church; they need a church that can deeply understand and empathize with their experiences.
How can you use your city to share Christ and reach out to your community?
How Can I Create a Hyperlocalized Message?
As you try to create a message that speaks to your specific context, ask yourself: "What has happened in my zip code this week, and what does God's Word say about that?" Use your city to speak God's truth to your congregation. A hyperlocalized message can be as simple as talking about the weather or local sports teams. Chris Seay explained, "When our daily conversations come back in our preaching, we are reflecting on what is really happening." Sharing a message from God that accounts for what is going on in the context of your community will allow your members to connect with your church and feel like the message is specifically for them. Listen to what people are saying and how they are feeling, and let your message reflect that.
How Do You Have a Hyperlocalized Ministry Online?
Even after the pandemic, it is likely that churches will continue to stream services online. While it may seem difficult to hyperlocalize your ministry to an online audience, there are things you can do to engage with your members online and serve your local community.
1. Connect the online world to the real world. Just because your congregation may not be meeting doesn't mean you can only connect with people online. Call your congregants and ask them how they are doing right now. Make gestures like delivering baked goods or local treats to their doorsteps. There are many things you can do to connect with your church while continuing to practice social distancing.
2. Continue to create messages that speak to your specific context. You do not have to preach a different message to those who choose to worship in person and those who engage online. Just because your congregation may be choosing not to meet in person, that doesn't mean they are not affected by what is going on in your local context. Continue to talk about the weather, sports or local events in your sermon. Do everything in your power to make online worship feel like in-person worship. The more you make your online services contextualized, the more people will engage.
3. Continue to serve offline. Your community still needs its local church to serve them. In fact, a crisis is when your congregation is most in need of hope. Let your church offer the hope your city needs. Consider ways your church can serve your local community while social distancing. Let the struggles of your community turn into spiritual conversations by engaging with those feeling broken. Some options to consider are donating goods to your local food bank or shelters, offering community clean up to local officials or even offering small gifts or tips to your essential workers like grocery clerks, nurses or firefighters.
4. Find new ways to make better content. Online church has allowed people to engage with the church in new ways. As people continue to be more engaged, it is important to make your content more helpful than ever before. Try to find new ways to make your online service connect with your congregation. Consider bringing in a guest speaker if you're feeling burned out; build online meeting opportunities like coffee for moms or online worship services to keep people feeling connected.
While some things from this pandemic will last and others will go back to the way they were before, one thing is certain: Hyperlocalization is going to be the difference between churches and small businesses that make it and those that don't. The church was made for times like this. In the midst of how hard life is, this is the time people need their pastor and their church.
This conversation is part one in a five-part podcast series we released called The State Of The Church, where I spoke with pastors and ministry leaders from around the country about how COVID-19 has impacted their kingdom efforts and what they project the lasting impacts will be. Check out the other encouraging conversations in this series here.
William Vanderbloemen is the CEO and founder ofVanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally. Follow him on Twitter@wvanderbloemen.
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