When you think of church, you probably think of freshly brewed coffee, the laughter of friends, welcoming hugs, your favorite hymns, and the preaching of God's word. It's a place to belong, be enriched, and build up spiritual strength for the week ahead. Why would we ever want to give all this up for church on a screen? Well, there are a number of individuals unable to meet in-person, and for a time online church became a mandate out of our control.
Circumstances have left many churches scrambling to establish personal connections in a digital world. For many people, online church is a space to think, reflect, and spend sacred time with the Lord. When we create opportunities for people to engage online, we open the door to communicating the Gospel, connect with guests, and deepen relationships. But none of this will happen by accident. It requires an intentional goal and plan of action.
Here are five ways to cope with the necessity of online church, and suggestions for how to use this time as an opportunity to develop an exceptional online church experience moving into the future:
Before we get started: This post is about taking your online church to the next level. If you're just dipping your toes into online church, consider getting started with your mobile device (or DSLR camera), a well-lit environment, and an uncluttered background. When it comes to online church, it's all about getting started, not perfection.
#1 – Set a Goal for Online Church
Developing a better online church experience starts with the end in mind. That's why setting a goal for the upcoming series or sermon will help bring focus and clarity to your online service.
What's missing as we take church online? Relationships are the first thing that comes to mind. Let's counter that by focusing on relationships as you establish your goal.
Whatever your in-person goal, your online church goal will look slightly different but carry equal importance. Here are a few ideas that have a measurable beginning, and an indefinite outpouring:
- Connect new believers to digital discipleship.
- Join a virtual small group.
- Take the online next steps class.
Use this editable worksheet to help develop your goal – click here
#2 – Make a Plan
Once you set a goal, determine what should be a part of the online church experience. Two items to consider: the service elements and roles/responsibilities.
Start from an online first mindset. Think through a few things:
- Will congregants be able to do communion with what they have at home?
- How can we facilitate an interactive children's message?
- Is it possible to host an online meet and greet?
Decide what elements you are going to include: music, offering, sermon, announcements, personal testimonies, interactive Q&As, etc. Each element should work toward the goal and engage the attendee.
During an in-person service, people are less likely to get up and leave in a moment of disinterest. During an online service, they're only a click away from moving onto the next attention-grabbing activity. This is not to scare you but rather to reinforce the importance of being intentional about the order of each element.
As you're assembling the online service, continue to reference your goal to ensure that the elements and their order are all structured to achieve that goal.
Roles and Responsibilities
The goal is set, the elements are in order, and now it is time to delegate roles and responsibilities. Online church calls for a unique set of roles consisting of but not limited to:
- Pastor: Delivers the sermon and performs other traditional pastoral responsibilities.
- Online Host: Responsible for welcoming online attendees, casting the vision for the series, engaging with people via live chat, social media, or texting.
- Next Steps: Follows up with people interested in joining the church as well as first-time guests.
- Offering / Announcements: Gives the offering pronouncement and online specific event updates.
- Audio/Visual Team: Responsible for audio and visual aspects of the service.
- Worship Team: Could be the in-person worship team or a dedicated online worship team.
- Live Production Coordinator (Optional): Runs the software to live stream the service and directs the camera and audio team.
If you feel overwhelmed by the number of people that could partake in the production of online church, remember that these roles are not all necessary. Simply get started and consider incremental improvements over time.
Once you map out these roles, assemble your team and confirm that each person is excited about their role. You never know when someone on the Audio/Visual team actually wants to be the Online Host or vice versa.
Use this editable worksheet to help create your plan – click here
#3 – Give a Call To Action
The call to action is the crux of online church. Without one, viewers are left without a clear next step. The call to action is often dependent on the goal of the series or sermon. Here are a few recommendations:
- Salvation decision.
- Become a member.
- Join a small group.
- Participate in an activity (ie. 40 days of prayer).
- Invite a friend/start a home church.
- One-on-one discipleship.
Online church has fewer barriers than one might assume. It is a space without walls, locations, and expectations. It is a fresh start for the timeless Gospel.
Use this editable worksheet to create your call to action – click here
#4 – Connect
Make sure everyone who attends your online church is welcomed back and knows that you value their participation. They're not just another view for your metrics during the Monday staff meeting. Every view is a person. Stop to think and it's obvious, but how easy it is to forget this and get lost in the numbers. There is a great responsibility to follow-up with the relationships you're developing through your online church. Engaging with online guests is just as important as in-person guests.
Following up with guests is crucial. One of the best way to connect with online guests is to get set up with a church texting service. You can easily collect first-time guest information and send automated follow-up messages through texting.
First-time guests are on a first date with your online church. So when it comes to following-up, let's consider the first-date etiquette. Introductions to your entire family, asking for his/her home address, a proposal of marriage, and who you'll be voting for in the next election are majorly taboo on a first date. With that clear and humorous picture in mind, let's continue.
Call to Action
A proper call to action aligns with your goal. What is the one step that you wish every first-time guest would take? ie: introduce themselves? Share what they're looking for in a church? Whatever that one step is, make it your call to action and provide one singular, simple way for your guests to move forward.
Whatever call to action you choose, don't hesitate to use it throughout your service. Here are a few ways you can include your call to action whether you are connecting via social media, live chat, or texting:
- Introduction slide during the countdown before your live stream starts or during the intro of a pre-recorded service.
- During the announcements welcome online guests and encourage them to get connected.
- At the end of the sermon, the online pastor can remind people to get involved.
- Have a graphic that slides into the video at various points in the sermon letting guests know how they can get connected.
This is a sampling of ideas that you could implement but isn't an exhaustive list. Implement all of them, just a few, or mix in your own.
Once the initial connection is made, engaging in two-way conversations to answer questions can naturally lead to phone or video calls fostering meaningful connections. Speaking of video calls, let's dive a little deeper.
#5 – Nurture
Once guests take the initial step to get connected, it's time to nurture those relationships. You'd never shake someone's hand the first time they attend your church, and then ignore them the next four weeks. One-on-one discipleship video calls, virtual small groups, and participation in prayer campaigns are just a few ways to integrate regular attendees into the DNA of your online church.
By connecting face-to-face with your online regular attendees, you are filling the void that is often felt when doing church online: the lack of personal connection. You now have the ability to build intentional relationships with your members regardless if they are around the corner or around the world. Using a texting service to connect with first-time guests can help move them from guests to active members quickly. Texting is a great way to nurture the relationships you're building with the people in your church.
Whether you've been investing in an online community for decades, or you were tossed into it by circumstance, online church can be an immense blessing for your congregation. If you're in the latter group, start small and simple. Create your beta online church, ask for feedback to better serve guests and regular attendees, then grow into your dream online church.
Keep your vision in mind to inspire you and push through the tough weeks when attendance is low. But most importantly never forget that every view is a soul that is longing for hope, community, and ultimately redemption through the blood of Christ.
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