Most churches used to be in-person gatherings that potentially had some online offerings and resources. Now the shift in thinking has become that you’re an online church that potentially has some in-person gatherings. At this point, in-person church attendance is only between 10% and 40% of what it was pre-Covid. So how do we move to a both/and approach? How do we make the interaction between online and in-person as seamless as possible?
A Common Use for Online Information
Let’s start by thinking about a restaurant. I always check out a restaurant’s website before I go. I look at the menu, at the pictures, and at some online reviews. Then I make the reservation online. The process is similar for casual restaurants. If I’m out with friends and we get hungry, I can look online to see what restaurants are near me. Then I look at their locations, star ratings, and check their hours to make sure they’re open. In both cases, I’m walking in prepared, and there is a seamlessness to the process. My phone can even give me directions from my current location.
Before Covid, this was the most common use of church websites as well. People shopping for a church would often google churches in their area, look through the website to learn about the pastor, the statement of faith, and available programming. If they liked what they saw, they might watch or listen to a sermon or two online. Only then would they consider visiting the church in-person.
Can Church Be Effective Online?
Covid changed the way we interact online. Unlike a restaurant website, where we now might order our meal to be delivered or picked up, the Church is challenged with creating an online presence that is equivalent to what is found in-person, in most cases sans delivery or pick up.
Even after months of virtual church services there’s a level of false thinking around simply taking a large group worship service format and putting it online. It doesn’t work. Some adaptation is needed.Even after months of virtual church services there’s a level of false thinking around simply taking a large group worship service format and putting it online. It doesn’t work. Click To Tweet
The Church Needs to Adapt to be Effective Online
In the case of online worship services, one of the most important adaptations needed is creating shorter segments and interspersing them with interactivity.
Online, people will only pay attention for three to four minutes before shifting their focus to something else. In order to increase engagement and interactivity, we can provide chunking and framing of these three- to four-minute segments. For instance, listen to this next song and think about how God has been faithful to you. After the song, share some of the ways God has been faithful to you with a person you’re watching with, or type it into the chat feature.
Give a part of the sermon, then pause for reflection or prayer. Ask questions and then take online polls that let people virtually raise their hands. Don’t talk too long without getting interactive. It makes more sense to give people a bit of breathing time to process and digest what they’ve just heard before they’re really ready to receive more.In the case of online worship services, one of the most important adaptations needed is creating shorter segments and interspersing them with interactivity. Click To Tweet
Embrace and Empower Small Groups to be the Church
One great way this more interactive approach can work is to do pre-recorded services designed for small groups to watch together. Doing this can be much more effective than streaming a live worship service in real time, because you can instruct people to pause it. For instance, read aloud this Psalm about “forget not his benefits.” Then ask them to press pause and brainstorm 25 of God’s benefits together. When they’re finished, they can restart the video. This approach allows you to create smaller bites of information and input that feed into a group process. You can do a sermon in three or four parts, interjecting praise, prayer, reflection, and interactivity. Pre-recorded interactive worship services also have the benefit of taking the pressure off the group facilitators. It’s literally plug-and-play.
Stop now and brainstorm ten ways to make your online services more interactive. You can brainstorm with others or post some of your ideas in the comments section.One great way this more interactive approach can work is to do pre-recorded services designed for small groups to watch together. Click To Tweet
This blog entry is part of a series called “Journey toward a new beginning.” Each entry explores a different topic in light of the Covid-related question: “What if things stay the way they are for the next three to four years? What would you do?” You can see the original blog entry here.
Creativity and Effectiveness Resources– On-demand creativity is difficult. If you and your team are struggling to innovate in this season, this is a great series. Start by working through the Creativity and Effectiveness Profile to help you pinpoint areas for development. Then work through the Creativity and Innovation Skills Builder Booklet to help renew those creative juices. If you are a coach, the Creativity and Innovation Coaching Guide with Storyboard is a terrific resource to work through with clients struggling in this area.