The below article was written for Exponential by Ralph Moore.
The last couple of weeks have seen the internet slow on Sunday mornings—lots of churches going online at the same time.
This is good as it shows we’re adapting. Yet it identifies several problems we face.
A recently published COVID-19 Survey Summary Report by Exponential (in collaboration with the Billy Graham Center’s Send Institute, Leadership Network, Catalyst, Discpleship.org, and ARC) identified several questions that pastors are asking:
- Can we adapt our content to meet needs in an online world?
- What technology should we be using and how do we learn it?
- Will our people gravitate to those who put on a better show than the churches we lead?
- How can we adapt our delivery style to fit into the new medium?
- How to ensure that there is real engagement with content and engagement between our members.
The first four are fairly pedantic. The crucial issue is engagement. Without that we’re lost—attendance, loyalty, even finances go out the window without adequate engagement.
We’ll get around to answering those five questions a few paragraphs from now, but let’s look at our world for a moment. You must remember that the future is never a straight line extrapolation of the past. The world changes a little every day. Some days more than others.
Coming out of COVID-19 we’ll see that the new use of online communications has changed us in ways we don’t yet perceive. People will be more used to church in the comfort of their home. They will be more connected in smaller groups than they were in the buildings and programs that we’ve relied on for so long. Education is moving online very quickly. Medicine too—one of my friends had three doctors appointments online just last week. Do you think he’ll ever again want to drive to a doctor’s office and wait 45 minutes in a crowded room to see a physician? If our culture is moving quickly online, why won’t that affect the church?
Throw in the bad press aimed at churches and Christian organizations that have rejected the isolation orders and we’re in for a not-so-good time. It’s already a disadvantage to talk about Jesus in some workplaces. Local governments have tried chipping away at the tax advantages enjoyed by churches for several years. Real estate is getting so expensive that church planting will have to change. Millennials, sometimes unfairly, criticize the way we spend money supporting real estate and the weekend show. Some things will change whether we prepare for them or not. Perhaps the COVID-19-generated move online has a silver lining in that we’ll come out of it more nimble and less dominated by our own recent church culture.
My friend Jeff Christopherson recently published an excellent book entitled Venal Dogmata. It’s a mini-novel about doing church in 2050. If you read it you’ll find it plausibly projects where we go from here. Coupled with the questions coming out of the pandemic, I find the book prophetic.
So let’s discuss practicalities. Here are a few suggestions coming from my experience as a pastor who worked hard to press all ministry away from paid clergy and into the hands of ordinary believers.
- Content online probably need to be shorter and more often. Twenty minutes on Sunday and a 3-5 minute daily message in Facebook Live works well.
- People need connection and will stay loyal to your church if you connect to them on a daily basis.
- It’s wise to ditch high-production values for a conversational setting in a living room. Actually, your living room with nothing more than a smart phone for a camera works well in a world dominated by YouTube.
- Engagement comes when you either ask for direct feedback (if your technology allows it) or organize people in small online groups. Build around your weekend teaching or an assigned scripture reading. Ask these three questions:
- What did the Holy Spirit say to you through this content?
- What will you do differently because of it.
- How can we support you or pray for you as you make this move? Pay strict attention to engagement—it is where church actually happens.
- Technology is pretty simple. Though you can find more sophisticated stuff. Facebook Live is free as is the ability to organize people into Facebook Groups. Zoom offers interactive conversations at no cost for groups of $100 or less (perfect for smaller churches or home groups). PlanningCenter.com offers a stand-alone online giving platform for just $14 per month. PayPal is free.
The world has changed. We’d best try to get ahead of it.
Interested in taking this conversation further with your team? We have two opportunities coming up: