This is a three-part series about how the church is changing during the pandemic and discovering new paradigms of ministry. This week we will explore worship services. Next week, we will cover small groups. Then, in the third installment, we will consider the “chocolate hummus” of ministries and what should be left behind.
Part 1: Online Services are Bigger Than Ever
Church went online, and everyone showed up. Churches across the country have reported online attendance that is double their average weekly adult attendance or more. I see a few reasons for this happening. I also see a few opportunities moving forward.
The Easter Phenomena
Easter is typically the highest attended Sunday of the year. While we’d love to think that our congregations have done a great job inviting unbelievers to Easter and that our advertising really paid off, the reality is that Easter is the one Sunday of the year when everybody who is a part of your church shows up (along with some visitors and invited guests). Don Corder in his book, Connect: Grow Your Church in 28 Days – Guaranteed, uses a formula based on his work at The Provisum Group, which demonstrates that an actual congregation is more or less five times the size of the weekend attendance. You can read more here about the True Size of Your Church. Your church database will testify to the fact that you have a lot more people associated with your church than regularly attend.
As online services got rolling everybody showed up, and that’s a good thing. Now, the challenge is to change your thinking from online services as a necessity during quarantine to online services as a necessity to connect more regularly with your congregation and your community. Online services shouldn’t be a temporary stop gap. This is the gateway to a new way to serve your people.
Church Shopping and Hopping (and Other Pastors Lurking)
I have to confess: I haven’t been watching my church’s online services. I’ve been watching Saddleback Church, where I used to be a member. Last Sunday, we “visited” Hillsong California. All of this happened from our living room in South Carolina. Church shopping and hopping has never been easier! I know I’m not the only one.
Now, smart pastors are looking at a lot of online services to pick up tips on improving their own online services. Also, for the first time, pastors are at home on Sunday and have time to relax and watch online services. This is all factoring into online attendance, even in a small way.
New Online Attenders
After 9/11 churches were packed. The United States faced a catastrophic attack unlike anything since Pearl Harbor. It shook people to their cores. They turned to the church. In this pandemic there were no churches to pack.
Churches were closed, but online services were open. People went online to find help and hope during the uncertainty of this latest catastrophic event. Rock Church in San Diego saw their Easter attendance increase from a regular worship attendance of 10,000 to an Easter 2020 attendance of 200,000. They received the largest offering in the history of their church.
For the church, this is an event unlike any other in recent history that will launch new forms of ministry to reach an online audience. Prior to the pandemic, people were jaded and content. Life was pretty comfortable. Everyone was riding high on the S&P 500. Coronavirus has shaken everything. Over 30 million people are out of work. Tens of thousands have died. People are tired of sitting at home, but uncertain about their future. While they can rail against politicians and process the anger stage of grief, the reality is the world has become unstable. The church, however, is built on a rock.
Online Campuses Might Have Replaced Multisite Campuses.
If people will worship and respond in their living rooms, then why go to the trouble of maintaining multisite campuses? Many multisites are essentially hosting online services in a group of hundreds or thousands. Yet, online services during the pandemic have demonstrated that families, small groups, and watch parties have become a much larger audience than all of a church’s multisite campuses combined. Some churches discovered the exponential potential of microsite campuses sometime back. You can read more here.
We understand that an online campus is more than just streaming the video from a weekend service. It’s a campus. There is a service host. There are next steps. And, the coffee is better than it is at the multisite campus I attend! Why go back when multisite campuses are reopened? I’m not saying people shouldn’t. I’m just asking if multisite campuses are still necessary.
The Format of Online Services Matters
With online services there is a vast difference between streaming your regular service and creating an online service format. Why split the hair? Streaming regular services creates online viewers. Offering a unique online format creates participants. A church service shouldn’t be something that people merely watch, but something they engage in. If they are not engaging, it’s not their fault. The format makes the difference.
Online services that work honor the principles of other online content. First, tighten up the shot. Think about how newscasters talk directly into the camera. They’re not standing on a stage in an empty auditorium looking elsewhere. Newscasters look directly into the camera. Their audience is on the other side of that lens. So is yours. Use a low cost teleprompter for your notes or manuscript so you’re looking at the camera and not looking down. Tighten up the shot.
Next, personalize the background. Think of Jimmy Fallon creating the Tonight Show in his home with his kids climbing all over him. It’s personal. It’s warm. Let your people into your home. Sit in your favorite chair like you are sitting with your people in their living rooms. Use multiple cameras to add visual interest from different angles. And, while you’re at it, you could pre-record your service to edit in your main points, Bible verses, and next steps.
Lastly, tighten up the sermon. People are used to watching 30-minute sitcoms and 60-minute dramas. Anything over an hour is a movie, which requires millions of dollars and a captivating plotline to keep people’s attention that long. Think TED Talk. It’s harder to prepare shorter talks, but it’s important to keep people’s attention. Don’t let your pride get the best of you here. Going forward, consider using a format like LifeTogether’s Conversation Service which is built entirely for an online audience.
How Will You Disciple Your New Online Congregation?
Now that you’ve engaged with more of your congregation on a regular basis online and attracted a multitude of people outside of your congregation, how do you help them take next steps in their faith? What should you offer to people who come to Christ through an online service? How can they connect with the church through a small group or a membership class? How are you discipling your online followers?
By streaming your Growth Track, membership class, and other core components of connecting people into your church, you will not only include your new online followers, but you will also create a more convenient format for busy people who can never make it to the classes. The message is the same, but the methods have to change. That’s what we said when we went from traditional services to seeker services 30 years ago. Welcome to a new era of ministry. Quarantine is producing some new ways of doing ministry. It gives the church permission to experiment. It also gives the church an opportunity to launch new initiatives to reach people with the Gospel and disciple them.