During the past 2 years of the global pandemic, all of humanity was isolated around the world and that created a greater need to connect with other people. People also had a greater interest in connecting with spiritual things. Google searches for prayer surged to the highest level ever recorded in March 2020. People were forced to make those connections online not only for their personal and work lives, but also for their spiritual lives.
Reaching Many More People Digitally
With widely available digital tools, a majority of American churches were able to provide online worship through livestreaming or sermon videos on demand, even the ones who had no prior experience. 96% of pastors reported that their churches were streaming their worship services online during the pandemic.
Many pastors and churches had an “aha!” moment when they realized that their church could reach more people online than in-person, because there’s no limited seating capacity! One survey reported 45% of pastors said online participation was higher than in-person service attendance during the first month of the pandemic. According to the National COVID-19 Church Attendance Project, over the span of the pandemic’s first year, American churches’ averaged an increase of 318% in online attendance, with a substantial 558% increase among medium-sized churches (defined as between 100 to 999 in attendance).
Making the Online Worship Experience Better
To make the worship experience more engaging than merely a streaming video, Life.church developed the free Church Online Platform at Online.church to serve churches worldwide. Before the pandemic, 25,000 churches were already using the platform.
When the pandemic started, 42,000 more churches signed up to use it and the platform saw record-breaking attendance in March 2020. Rachel Feurborn, Life.church’s public relations manager, described the incredible impact of this platform in the Oklahoman:
“We saw more than 7 million people attend church services during the March 21-22 weekend, which is up from 4.7 million the weekend before and up from the previous weekend average of a little over 1 million.”
Regardless of your church’s size, the Church Online Platform will not put a strain on your budget, because it’s free! And with over 60,000 churches using this platform, it’s probably safe to say that volunteers run a majority of the worship experiences powered by Online.church.
Becoming a Hybrid Church
The pandemic revealed that digital tools can help churches reach people where they are, and church leaders are realizing that many people would be better served with a hybrid model of church–providing worship and community services in-person and locally, and digital resources for online worship and spiritual encouragement throughout the week.
In the announcement introducing YouVersion for Churches (Youversion.church), Life.church Innovation Pastor Bobby Gruenewald described what the post-pandemic church can be:
“We really believe that the future is going to be a hybrid church model, where it's both physical and digital. And we can see these examples in sports, where for many years, people have been experiencing sports in both physical and digital in a hybrid context; they move back and forth between those.
We’ve already begun to see that in churches. Some return physically; they want to reclaim those physical experiences they had before the pandemic and are excited to do that. But they want to keep the best of what they experienced with those digital tools as well.”
It’s the genius of the both/and: both online and in-person. James Emery White noted how COVID has changed the church:
“While the essence of effective outreach will always be relational and incarnational in nature, the dynamic of the relational invitation has changed from “come with me” to “you should check this out online.” It’s no longer a physical invitation, but a digital one.”
A hybrid church model brings together the best of the physical in-person worship experience and the value of digital spiritual tools during the week. You already know the irreplaceable value of gathering together in person: being with other people, the energy in the room, the immersive experience, and the human touch. (Oh, and some of your churches have smells too.) But, digital spiritual tools can also add tangible benefits above and beyond these experiences, including: content on demand, sharing in real-time, Bible reading and meditation, Scripture study, prayer requests, and more.
Why Your Church Can Do Digital Ministry
Since an overwhelming majority of churches were live-streaming their worship services during the pandemic, these valuable skills are already developed. Your church can keep on practicing and improving its digital ministries to grow your church. Go forward with hope for a better future, because God is still at work!
Here are 3 reasons your church can do it:
- You’ve already done it! Continue doing livestreams and online events, and improve on it.
- Identify the volunteers in your church who are digital natives, and empower them to facilitate more online ministry.
- Get training from resources at Church Tech Today, SocialMedia.Church, online ministry trainings at Life.church Open Network. Plus, the latest and greatest resource is Dave Adamson’s new book, Metachurch: How to Use Digital Ministry to Reach People and Make Disciples.
Plus, digital ministry is very affordable:
- It doesn’t cost as much as in-person ministry
- It opens up more volunteer opportunities for tech-savvy people
- It can reach more people than your church’s limited seating capacity and beyond its geography
Grow Your Digital Ministry to Grow Your Church
As you reach more people digitally, they’ll become a part of your church—virtually and physically. Let’s highlight four groups of people you can better reach online:
- People looking for a church. People are looking for churches where they live. There are around 823,000 monthly searches for “churches near me.” Your church’s web presence needs to be SEO optimized and geo-tagged with your location(s) to be more discoverable.
- Those who have not returned to church. The average U.S. Protestant church has 74% of its pre-pandemic attendance back in person. This means over 1 in 4 churchgoers have not yet returned to church buildings, often for health concerns. Your church’s digital ministries can be the very means by which to serve this 26%.
- Those who want to worship alone. Then there’s another 44% of people who say they prefer to worship alone. They still want to belong to a church, but they just don’t like going to church. Your church’s online worship experience can minister to them.
- The next generation that is digital first. Research found only 41% of Gen Z say that they want to return to primarily in-person worship and only 42% of Millennials say they prefer in-person worship. In other words, digital ministry connects better with a majority of Millennials and Gen Z.
And what can happen as your church grows its digital ministries? Mickey Elliott (Online Campus Media Director at Champions Centre, at Cc.church) has seen amazing results with their online efforts:
“Streaming on our Online Campus has created approximately 20% extra traffic to our site and we’re just getting started. Since we have given our attendees the ability to give online we have seen approximately 70% of our total giving via online.”
Clearly Identify that Your Church Is Online
Because your church is reaching an online audience, make it instantly clear that you’re online and relevant for the future. Use a .church domain to establish your web presence because it makes the best first impression as your digital front door.
Having your domain name that exactly matches your church name can mean getting 25% more traffic! Many of the largest churches are using a .church domain to reach people, including Life.church, Menlo.church, and Freshlife.church.
Get your .church domain name today at name.church or your favorite registrar. Make sure to include “church” in your search.
DJ Chuang is an ambassador for .church domain names, a part of Identity Digital powering the most relevant domain names on the Internet. DJ also works as the Technical Registry Manager for the .BIBLE top-level domain (operated by American Bible Society). DJ is known as a thought leader who helps churches and nonprofits learn how to use the latest digital technologies.
This post is sponsored by Identity Digital
More in-depth articles coming soon
Why More and More Churches are Branding with .Church Domain Names
How to Use Your Domain Name to Maximize Engagement
5 Best Practices for Building a Great Online Presence