Let’s begin with some truth:
Screens can be cold.
An online church service just doesn’t offer the same opportunities for personal connection.
There are no hands to shake, no church connection cards to fill out, and no coffee meet-ups after the service.
What’s worse is that a recent report from the Barna Group reveals that nearly half of churchgoers haven’t watched an online service in the past four weeks.
And more than half of those who did watch said they tuned in to a different church than the one they would normally attend.
If you can’t say, “Amen,” say, “Ouch.”
Over the past four weeks, this means that nearly half of your church may be disengaged.
There’s a good chance your church members are not …
- watching your services online;
- reading your church newsletters;
- keeping up with your social media updates;
- connecting with each other; or
- participating in your online events
Thankfully, in the midst of this new and difficult reality, here’s some good news:
Real discipleship has always happened in smaller settings anyway.
Whether that be one-on-one relationships, traditional Sunday school classes, or home-based small groups held throughout the week.
That’s not to say Sunday services don’t matter, but it’s a reminder that the goal has never been attendance.
The goal has always been about engagement.
While church size is often measured by the number of members or attendees, more and more those metrics are revealing themselves to be meaningless.
And what those numbers were always trying to get at anyway was the number of disciples being formed.
But discipleship is a product of engagement—with the Bible, with your church community, with the mission, and most importantly, with Jesus.
As you move toward reopening your church, this is where your focus needs to be.
Let’s take a look at these in detail!
#1. Engagement with the Bible
Sundays and Wednesday nights were often thought of as times to build community—and yes, that happened—but the main thrust of these meetings was always about teaching.
They were primarily opportunities to deliver content about the Bible and how it shapes the Christian life.
Now, much of this content delivery will need to move online.
Audio and video can be long-form (as in a sermon) or short-form (addressing tough questions or issues). Blog posts, devotionals, online book clubs and Bible studies, and shared Bible reading apps are also helpful.
The key is to keep things moving.
If fewer people are watching on Sunday mornings, it’s more important than ever to have a strategy to keep people continually engaged with God’s Word.
Consider tailoring services for an online platform rather than simply reproducing what used to work so well in person. Don’t hate me, but that may mean reducing the length of your sermon. The way people consume content online is far different than in person.
This is also an opportunity to train up and to enlist those with the gifts of writing and teaching. And social media is a powerful way to keep your congregation informed about new content.
During online services, be sure to offer people multiple ways to connect, including:
- direct messaging (Facebook, Instagram, etc.);
- text messaging services;
- dedicated email address; and
- digital connection cards
Whatever option provide, keep in mind that people tend to use whichever avenue is most familiar. What this looks like in your church may be different than another church.
Be sure to have elders, staff members, or long-time members available to respond quickly.
#2. Engagement with your church community
For many, small groups are taking place over Zoom.
But as restrictions lift, small groups may return to in-person affairs, though the six-foot rule will likely still apply for the foreseeable future.
With many people feeling isolated, an invitation to a controlled-environment small group may encourage people to move from online church viewer to engaged with your church community.
There are two ways you can pull this off.
First, serve your small groups by offering your facilities if space allows.
If this scenario, you can use a plug-and-play setup model to eliminate the stress small-group leaders would feel if they had to open up their homes each week.
To pull this off, you’ll want to …
- sanitize the rooms after every meeting;
- pre-arrange chairs to allow for proper social distancing; and
- provide prepackaged snacks if your church budget allows
Second, equip your small-group leaders to host meetings in their homes.
Like the previous option, you’ll want to ensure your leaders follow your community’s protocol. What is more, if your budget permits, consider providing your small group leaders with the resources they need to fulfill their calling.
#3. Engagement with the mission
Followers of Jesus Christ are called to do just that—follow Jesus.
And Jesus served others (Matthew 20:28).
While this may take on a thousand different forms, following Jesus is a ministry of your entire church—not just the leadership and the few people who volunteer for everything.
Be specific about what you’re asking them to do.
Take precautions that allow for no-contact ministry (i.e. think drop-offs, online giving, service projects that can be completed from home, whatever it takes).
Now is the time to mobilize your people.
Even though meetings are limited, there is still a lot that can be done to help those in need.
Online services, social media, church blogs, and videos all can help you get the word out about what your church is passionately pursuing.
At the same time, consider newcomers part of your mission. Have a plan for making individual connections with online “visitors.” Don’t inundate, but invite these folks into the life of the church often.
Most people won’t respond the first time, so keep at it.
#4. Engagement with Jesus
This is what it’s all about.
This is what engaging with the Bible, with the community, and with the mission were all leading to: engaging with Jesus.
If we want people to walk with Jesus every day of the week, we must model this kind of prayerful, Jesus-centric life, and we must make Jesus the focus of everything we do.
He’s why we read and study the Bible. He’s why we exist as a community. And he’s why we have a mission to serve the world.
Jesus is it.
He’s everything that counts.
He’s why we make disciples, pandemic or not.
Over to you
Church leader, don’t be alarmed.
This is a difficult season for everyone—including you and your church.
As your church reopens, make plans to re-engage your church in these four areas:
Don’t panic at the headlines or your numbers.
In time, as you lead your church to re-engage in these four areas, you’ll see your church engagement numbers increase once again.
Coronavirus tool kit for pastors and church leaders:
- The (Near) Future of Church Giving: 6 Things We Learned from COVID-19
- Coronavirus in Church: 10 Ways to Keep Your Church Healthy and Discipled During the Outbreak
- Online Attendance Down? Here Are 4 Ways to Re-Engage Your Church
- Transitioning to Church Remote Work: The Definitive Guide to Managing Your Church Staff During the Outbreak
- How to Preach on Coronavirus: 7 Overlooked Sermon Writing Prompts from Scripture
- 7 Ways to Avoid Pastoral COVID 19 Burnout: How to Care for Your Soul While Caring for Others
- The CARES Act: 4 Must-Know Provisions for Churches
- Church After COVID: 7 Predictions for How the Church Will Change by 2025
- Returning to Church After COVID 19: Practical Lessons from the Bible
- Live Discussion w/ Pastor Larry Osborne of North Coast Church: 3 Things to Think About Before Opening Your Church’s Doors after COVID 19
- 7 Ways to Avoid Pastoral COVID Burnout: How to Care for Your Soul While Caring for Others
- 11 Online Church Ideas to Use During the COVID 19 Coronavirus Outbreak
- The Best Live-Streaming Video Solutions for Churches
- How to Take Your Church Virtual (Fast): The Ultimate Guide to Church Live-Streaming During Crisis