During this crazy COVID season, churches have learned how to engage with churchgoers online through Facebook, Zoom, Youtube, you name it. Some churches already had that feature and others have learned on the fly. But as churches look toward the future, we hear many of them talking about returning to normal and how long will it take to get back to pre-COVID attendance numbers.
But what if there is a strong percentage (20%+) that never comes back, at least physically in the building? The argument can be made that they need community, fellowship, and corporate worship, but what if they like worshiping through their computer, with their own coffee and minus the awkward “Find someone you don’t know” part of worship service? What if it is more convenient? What if they attend more regularly online than in person? What if they give more regularly online than in person? And, what if they get just as much, or more, out of the message?
What if? You may say that it is impossible. You may argue that the church has always been in person and will always be in person or that people need that human connection. But people (yes, even churchgoers) have used Amazon more during this pandemic than ever before so they didn’t have to go to the store. They have used DoorDash or UberEats in order to avoid restaurants and contact with others. People have bought homes, cars, and even pets online. Students are doing classes online.
What if the Church is the one industry that needs to adjust? What if we need to do more to engage the online community? How can connection happen through a computer and an unstable internet connection? Here are a couple of ideas to get started:
- Have a service just for the online community. Maybe it’s a blend of pre-recorded and live. Maybe it is all pre-recorded. Have a service that calls out to them and refers to the unique challenges and trials of your online community.
- Have a consistent online pastor or two that are the welcome team and the closing team. Choose or hire one or two people that become the online church community’s pastor. Give him or her that title and allow them the freedom to try new things in this new space. Many churches are finding that broadcasting services to Facebook and inviting online members to engage has been extremely successful. Asking people to comment prayer requests or a favorite line from the message keeps people engaged. People love seeing their friends join the service and being able to comment “hellos” to each other. You can also ask questions that people can respond to in comments so they feel like part of the experience.
- Create online small groups. Help them set up Zoom meetings for everyone to be a part of. They could be part of the same neighborhood, same city, or be miles apart. Maybe they get together occasionally in person, but for a parent of small kids, maybe it is more convenient to meet once everyone is down and they don’t have to get a sitter and can Zoom with their online group.
- Allow your online community to give online. Churches might never pass offering plates to the same capacity again, so you have to rethink that anyways. Make the online offering a regular announcement in the online service. Give them simple, easy options to give. And to give regularly. Maintain this staple of your service even online. This reminds your congregation why they’re giving and creates a consistent experience they can rely on and find comfort and connection with.
- Invite them to all the social events and happenings at the church, but try to create ways for them to be a part of things even still online. They could be in a different state or country and love the teaching, worship, and community. Hold fireside chats and church-wide updates on Zoom so your online community feels in the loop and connected to the rest of the congregation.
The world is changing. Church will always be centered around Jesus, but what if you shared Jesus in a different venue and a wider audience? Don’t wait for people to come to your door. Go to them! Meet them in their living room, when they travel, and any time they reach for their phone. It might look different than “normal,” but if our world is moving online, and our mission is to intersect with the world, maybe this push is exactly what the Church needed.