One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that it’s more important than ever to have an online presence. When a church can’t get together in person, everyone can still gather around their screens and connect across cyberspace.
But the real lesson for church leaders is that ministry needs to happen where people. Having a building and inviting the community in is great—but it can’t be all there is.
Just consider for a moment the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, well-established in Jerusalem and comfortable in that setting. But he didn’t stay there. When he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he made it his life’s mission to go where people are, to minister and share the gospel. That brought him all over Asia Minor, to Rome, and even (according to tradition) to the far-flung reaches of Spain.
So where are the people today? It is estimated that more than half the world’s population is online—that’s 3.8 billion people who can be reached through your ministry. That is, if they can find you.
The shape of your online ministry
For a lot of churches, the first step into the world of online ministry is to simply reproduce the elements of their in-person church service online. That means they stream their services, either live or for later viewing, from their website.
That’s a great way to begin, but one of the essential elements of any ministry endeavor is to remember your context. People don’t consume content online the way they do in person. What might work as a live worship experience rarely lands the same way when streamed on a laptop. Be sure that your online offerings fit the shape of the format.
Speaking of format, here’s a sampling of some of the ways churches are reaching people on the world wide web today:
- Live sermon messages: Stream over YouTube or Facebook Live. Be sure to remember your online audience, and speak to internet viewers directly. Invite them in as you preach.
Also be aware that a person’s attention span viewing a video online isn’t usually what it is in person. For archiving, many churches remove the worship portion of the service and post the songs as individual files.
- Blog posts: I know what you’re probably thinking—maintaining a blog with any regularity, be it daily or weekly, can be a lot of work. That’s true. But blogs also help focus the conversation of your community. They can help you keep your members engaged with a sermon series between Sundays. Blog posts can be shared or turned into social media posts, allowing your church’s content to reach new people.
Blog posts don’t all need to be pastoral reflections either. Be sure to invite lots of folks to contribute. There may even be someone or several people in your church with a flair for writing engaging content.
Oh—and one last thing. Not all blog posts have to be written content or even require a ton of prep work. You can simply record a short, three-to-five minute video and share your heart with your congregation. Again, invite others in. You may be surprised by how much fun it can be!
- Podcasts: If your church has the bandwidth, consider creating a podcast. These can range from offering the audio of your weekly sermons in podcast form to special content created to address current events or issues in the life of your church.
Formats include guest interview, round-table discussions, in-depth Bible studies, or classic sermons made new.
- Social media: Most of us spend far too much time on social media. Still, it’s where people are, so it’s worth taking the time to craft at least a few engaging posts each week.
It may be worth creating special pages on Facebook for small groups, church membership, or special events. And don’t forget that well-placed social media ads may bring your church to the attention of people who might not otherwise visit your website.
It’s also important to remember that social media can serve as the funnel to invite people into your church’s total online experience. The work you do on your blog or podcast can be reproduced in social media form.
- Worship audio and video: Does your church have an awesome worship band? Put a spotlight on them while they put a spotlight on Jesus! Upload audio to streaming services and post videos on Facebook and YouTube. Just do your research to avoid bending or breaking copyright laws when it comes to songs that don’t belong to you
- Bible studies over Zoom: When the coronavirus pandemic limited capacity in many churches, a lot of activities moved to Zoom or other video conferencing software. But what was a way to make do in a bad situation quickly became an opportunity. Now, distance need not be an obstacle to community. You may even find that your online Bible studies are a great way to welcome newcomers and reach people far outside of your geographic impact zone.
- Texting: For those with whom you’ve already connected, adding a text messaging component to your outreach makes your online ministry much more personal. There are several services available that will help you keep tabs on group and individual conversations. Plus, text messages are the most opened form of electronic communication out there. It’s a great way to make sure you’re reaching the people in your church and online community.
Your particular online strategy may focus on one or two of these elements or incorporate them all. Just remember: it may take some trial and error to find out what works for your particular brand of ministry, and it always takes time to find your footing.
Over to you
What does your online ministry look like now? What would it take to reach more people for the kingdom of God?