COVID-19 has, at the very least, forced churches to think about conducting ministry and mission in the digital space. While I understand some churches are ahead of the curve, my goal in this post is to provide a few ways churches can increasingly step into this new age of digital engagement.
Focus on the weekend gatherings
I think this is a given, however I don’t want to gloss over it. I still think churches need to think strategically and contextually with how they go about streaming their corporate gatherings as well as how they engage people via their online platforms.
There are at least three options churches have when it comes to how they stream their corporate gatherings.
First, churches can stream their in-person gatherings. In other words, all of the music, giving, and teaching moments are geared for an in-person audience, but the church streams it to an online (or on-demand) audience.
Second, churches can stream their gatherings engaging both the in-person and online audience. This might include the pastor/preacher/teacher recognizing the online audience multiple times throughout their message as well as them looking straight into the camera at least 30% of the time to make those connecting online feel as if you are speaking to them.
Third, churches can stream a gathering for just an online audience. With this option, churches create a worship environment designed for an online audience. This naturally lends itself to a church having a shorter song set as well as a shorter message.
Leverage social media
Just because a church has a Facebook account doesn’t mean they are leveraging social media. For many churches, they use social media like a bulletin, solely for information.
But we must not forget there is much more to “social” media than information. Social media—in its various platforms—offers a digital space to communicate, share, connect, interact, learn, and market.
Now that the church has finally arrived in the digital age, many will need to play catch up to where the culture is with regards to utilizing and leveraging social media.
Let me offer a few suggestions as to what I mean.
First, churches need to engage with those who are part of the online community. Many churches who do this well have a designated person(s) that posts questions, points, and thoughts in the online chat forums. In addition, they offer ways the online audience can connect to the church whether it is through giving or to join a virtual small group.
Second, churches will need to create a social media strategy throughout the week. This will involve thinking through what kind of engaging, inspiring, connecting, informational, or teaching material they will upload. Again, you don’t just want informational/bulletin style content. That might be welcomed by engaged committed church members, but that isn’t what is going to resonate with the hundreds and thousands of people that are within the sphere and reach of your church members.
Third, churches will need to coach their people on how to leverage their social media. In short, leaders will need to teach their people not only to “like” and “share” the church’s posts, but why they should share their churches like and posts. When you “like” something you are more likely—based upon social media algorithms—to see similar posts in your feed. When you “share” something that post goes out to those in your social network. There will be times you just want to share a post, and then there will be other times you will want to share a post and comment on why you are sharing it.
Keep in mind, not all social media platforms are created equal. There does seem to be a generational following on many of the social media platforms. Thus, if you want to be a church that engages all generations, you will need to make sure you are present and producing contextual content on each of the platforms.
Begin building out digital resources
We are a digital, on-demand, virtual, always-on, convenient, and variety kind of culture. Think about all the online platforms that have digital content—whether it be written or video.
News platforms have written and video content that is daily updated. YouTube has a never-ending supply of any kind of video you would ever want. Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and other streaming companies have an overwhelming supply of TV series, shows, documentaries, and movies.
Now that we have arrived in this digital age, churches will need to think strategically, creatively, and visually how they can create and build out their digital resources. Here are some suggestions that will hopefully stimulate more thinking:
- Curating content—links to written articles, books, and online content (from sources like Right Now Media, Explore God, BibleProject etc.) that will help your people.
- Written content—developing your own blogs, articles, and positional papers on important themes and topics. This could even be as simple as adapting sermons into articles that are easier to share and reflect on with others.
- Sermon Series Archives—easily searchable from a passage and theme search.
- Devotionals—whether they be written or video, this is a great way to connect with your church members regularly, even daily.
- Short-story videos—highlighting testimonies of people coming to faith in Christ, marriages restored, mission-work conducted, etc. that would be encouraging and inspiring to others.
- Learning-base videos—on theology, book-of-the-Bible studies, parenting classes, financial classes, etc. (Keep in mind that research suggests that you keep online teaching to 7-minutes or less.)
- Partnerships with Bible Colleges or Seminaries—where church members and attenders, for a fee, can take Bible and Seminary classes and earn a certificate in a field of study (like theology, counseling, leadership, etc.)
- Fun videos—like shooting short videos with pastors and church leaders having fun. (For example, I want to shoot something entitled, “Pastors in Cars Getting Coffee”)
As churches move into a post-COVID-19 era they must realize they are still in a digital world.
Digital is here to stay. As such, churches must craft digital ministry and mission strategies that will engage not only those who are part of their church but those who have yet to put their faith in Jesus. Such a strategy will take time to create, craft, build, and execute. But those churches who do so, will be better positioned to engage and even disciple the future church.