Why Your Church Should Expand (Not Decrease) Your Online Footprint
As churches all over the country eventually return to in-person services, it's becoming clear that things are now very different.
For those churches that have already resumed in-person meetings, the first reality is this: Not everyone has returned.
From what I'm hearing, most churches have seen initial in-person attendance numbers at around 50% of their pre-COVID numbers. (Of course, some are higher, and others are lower).
While some anticipated a quick return to pre-pandemic normals (with some even predicting a revival-like spike in church attendance the first Sunday back), this hasn't happened in most cases.
Shutting down in-person services was like a light switch. One Sunday, you met. The next Sunday, you didn't. On/Off.
Opening back up, it seems it is much more complicated. The doors re-open, but we're not instantly back up to full capacity.
During this transition, almost every church is doing some hybrid of in-person gathering/online gathering model.
We know how our church's in-person model should look. We've been doing it for years.
But what about our online gathering?
Most churches, out of necessity, will continue to provide some online offering, for the time being, at least for those that do not yet feel comfortable returning to our 'big room' or those with pre-existing medication vulnerabilities.
Many churches, though, don't have their online strategy figured out just yet.
Very few church leaders that I've talked to think that online is going away.
(Honestly, I've not talked with anyone that says that they are abandoning online ministry moving forward.)
The question I'm hearing leaders asking is this: How MUCH attention should we give right now to planning our online strategy for the future?
How much financial resources should we re-allocate to online ministry?
And how should we be readjusting our staffing for this pivot?
This new reality of both/and ministry (both in-person and online) is not going away. And now is the time to start working out your strategy and expectations for your church's online ministry for the next 18-24 months.
Here are some reasons that you should consider making permanent some of the things you've been doing online (and in most cases, actually expanding your church’s online footprint moving forward):
R E A S O N 1
Online church is now standard practice and expected.
For the past three months, we've ONLY done church online.
Going to church online has become, for many people, a totally acceptable way to go to church.
Others (probably a smaller population of your church) enjoy the online experience as much if not more than your in-person service. (They can sleep in, watch in their pajamas, and get a quicker start on the day).
Regardless, the online church is now standard practice and will be an on-going part of most church's future.
For most churches, the question will not be whether or not to continue ministry online, but what that online offering will look like, how it will be staffed, and how it relates to and complements what your church will be doing in your physical building and services.
R E A S O N 2
You WILL reach different people.
One of the things church leaders have discovered is that your physical building can actually be a barrier to new people checking out your church for the first time.
Many are reporting brand new people that are viewing their online services during the past three months.
These are people that have never stepped foot on your property. Some never will.
Churches that continue the innovation and experimentation with what they've offered online during the past three months will have the ability to reach new people that they would never have in person.
Some churches will view online services as a front door, allowing people to see what the church is like and becoming the first step to attending their first in-person service.
Other churches go 'all in' in their online strategy as a way to make disciples WITHOUT a physical campus. These churches will innovate what online evangelism and discipleship could look like for the next generation.
R E A S O N 3
It's a sustainable ministry model financially.
For some ministry leaders, the past three months have been a bit of a revolution. For most churches, millions of dollars of facilities stood empty for weeks.
But the Church continued.
This has shown many how expensive your physical building is.
Every church in America went multi-site nearly overnight. With multiple campuses. All online.
While it would have previously taken months or years to plan, fundraise, finance, construct, and staff an entirely new campus or facility, churches mostly did the same thing over the past three months for a fraction of the cost.
And by a 'fraction of the cost,' I mean pennies on the dollar.
While many churches don't yet know what their online strategy will look like entirely, they see the potential it could bring. They are understanding, many for the first time, online ministry as a viable and sustainable model to reach, teach, and disciple people in the future.
R E A S O N 4
Technology will make it easier (not harder) to connect people
When I graduated from college in 1986, I would never have believed that I could take my phone out of my pocket, push a button, and broadcast live to anyone in the world who wanted to watch.
For next to free.
Or that I could video chat with my then-girlfriend (now wife) for free for as long as I wanted. (A daytime peak hours wired phone call cost about 40 cents a minute back in 1986. That would be 94 cents a minute today).
Technology has made it incredibly easier to connect with people today than it did 34 years ago.
And new innovations are happening all the time.
It will be even easier (not harder) to connect people with technology in the future.
The church is slow to adapt to technology.
Many churches weren't live streaming at all before COVID-19.
Some churches will go back to the status quo as soon as possible afterward.
But some churches will take what they've learned in the past month and continue to discover some great new ways to connect people with the gospel using technology and online engagement.
Digital natives are real. And the church has some catching up to do to reach them.
So, what is your online strategy moving forward?
Most church leaders aren't really sure what their online ministry will look like this time next year (or in September of this year!)
But you've got to be thinking about what your strategy will be. And you need to start thinking about it now.
In fact, you need to nail down your online strategy BEFORE you determine how much budget or staff you'll need to allocate to your online model.
Next week in MMI, we'll guide you through determining what your actual online strategy might be. Here's a hint: You'll need to choose one of five online models moving forward. Once you select your model, you can better determine the effort, budget, and staff that will need to be allocated to make that model a reality.
Can't wait until next Monday? Let's you and I talk this week. I'd love to hear more about your church and what you're thinking about the future of your online ministry. I don't have anything to sell to you. And there is no ulterior motive. I would just enjoy the conversation around what you're thinking about your church's online strategy and how it aligns with the online/virtual structure options for churches that we've been contemplating.
I've got a few times that are open this week. First-come, first-served. Here's a link to grab 30 minutes on my calendar.
Have a great week!