A couple of years ago, as I was beginning the journey of church planting, I was wrestling with a conviction to do church differently. I set out to find a model for more sustainable church growth, that engaged people where they are, that broke from typical models to utilize resources available to the church today. But to tell you the truth, I was stuck. I couldn't break from the idea that we wouldn't have a "real" church until we started regular services in a building.
I was discouraged because a building felt so far away. In my despair, I went to the place that was the furthest from God I could think of, Starbucks. Surprisingly, God met me there and gave me a vision for the future. It began with this question from Brady Shearer (Pro Church Tools) "What would you do as a church if your Sunday service didn't exist?"
That sparked something in me. If I wanted to think differently, I had to think outside the box. There was an incredible opportunity to reach people in digital space where they spend more time daily than the average church member does each month. I could leverage technology and platforms that were accessible and highly affordable.
In the next two months, we rolled out a plan to launch our church plant digitally first. We developed weekly video devotionals, zoom Bible studies, posted to social media 3-4 times per day to encourage positive engagement and inspire spiritual practice. Along with launching a weekly podcast, we also produced a monthly online worship service.
We learned a lot in the first couple of months. I wish I could tell you that everything took off like wildfire. It did not. It was a much longer and harder road than we expected. We were not graphic artists, podcast producers, or videographers, and we were cranking out more content daily than a small team of unpaid amateurs could handle.
Now we find ourselves in similar territory. We are all forced to think outside the box. We have no choice but to make the pivot and embrace digital platforms and online-only ministries for the time being. Here are a few things I learned as a novice that I think would be helpful for all of us to not just survive this season but to take our ministry to the next level.
- Create native content for the digital platform it is designed for. Recently on Twitter, Brady Shearer posted this comment, "If churches won't be assembling in person for an extended period of time, live-streaming a traditional service from an empty sanctuary doesn't make sense. Creating content for digital platforms is the way forward." Instead of making people feel like they missed out on the real thing, we want our members to see that this is for them at this time. Facebook is for connecting with friends; Instagram is for sharing images; YouTube is a video vault; TikTok is just for fun.
- Keep it short. The attention span on digital is much shorter. We found that 90% tend to check out at 20 min. It's ok to abbreviate your message or certain elements; maybe you do one song and keep your message under 7 min (our data showed a significant drop off at the 7 min mark when it was only a single-shot video). When you aren't tied to that hour on Sunday, you can release content at different times throughout the week. Maybe you make announcements its own video on Monday, worship later in the week, a long-form podcast of your message mid-week, and a morning prayer meeting on Fridays?
- Make it feel personal and authentic. People are most likely viewing or listening to your content by themselves on their phones. Talking to the crowd doesn't feel real. For videos, try using tighter camera shots, eye contact with the camera, and conversational language to make it feel like you are talking one on one. This might be the most crucial, take time listening and watching what you are doing, ask people you trust to give you feedback, and then make adjustments
- Don’t get caught up in the numbers. Our first online worship service had over 2000 views in the first week. But that is only part of the data and did not show how people were engaging or if they would come back. The potential reach of our digital content is exponentially more compared to a physical environment, but the audience is much more passive. It's also easy to see people as just a number on a data chart and neglect the name, face, and story behind that number. There's plenty of data that can drive you to oversaturate platforms and exhaust yourself in content creation. You don't have to do everything all the time, find something you can do well, and commit to it for the long haul.
This time has required us to be creative, to adapt. Take heart; you were made for this. We are going to make it through. As we come to the other side of this, maybe the best answer is not to go back to things as normal. Perhaps this is the time to blaze a new trail and take new ground for the Kingdom!
PS- Pro Church Tools has been the single best resource for our digital church journey. I encourage you to check out their youtube channel, podcast, and resources. Right now they are offering 30 free done-for-you social posts. Click HERE