If you’ve been waiting to start something new, 2020 is a great year to experiment. Some might say that 2020 is an experiment gone wrong, but with life so some completely disrupted, you should embrace this as an opportunity to launch new things or end things that need to go away. Blame it on the pandemic! As difficult as this year has been, the healthy crisis, economic crisis, racial crisis, and political crisis are breaking up some very hard ground in the world, in the church, and in the hearts of individuals. There couldn’t be a better time to innovate. What needs to change in your church? Here are a few things that I’m seeing right now.
In my recent Small Group Network huddle, Bill Cleminson from the Church at the Mill (a.k.a. The Mill) in Moore, SC shared an experiment their senior pastor, Dr. D.J. Horton, launched this fall – they launched egroups. An egroup is five people or fewer who commit to meet together for 13 weeks. The group views a 15-minute teaching video from the pastor, then uses a sermon discussion guide for their meetings. In addition, the egroups journal daily based on a reading plan provided by the church or something else they choose. For accountability, the egroup members are asked to share a picture of their journal with their group with the words blurred out. This increases participation.
The Mill intentionally chose a new name for these groups to avoid confusion with their other small groups and discipleship groups. eGroups are a short-term trial run at groups, but more importantly, they give their members an opportunity to connect and process life together. It’s a great combination of both communication and content. After the first 13 weeks, eGroups may have served their purpose at The Mill, but depending on how 2021 looks, they could certainly serve an extended purpose. As with most churches, planning is in pencil and prayer.
Find Your Loopholes.
Some churches have rather rigid leadership requirements for small groups. While the bar for leadership should be high, the issue comes down to two things: (1) How many years will it take for you to connect people into groups? and (2) Do you really need a “leader” to make disciples?
Recently I talked to a pastor whose church leadership was leery of inviting people they didn’t know into small group leadership. I understand that feeling. That’s how my church got stuck at 30% in groups years ago. I understand that every church has an acceptable level of risk. There is a line they are reluctant to cross for a variety of reasons. I can’t force anyone to cross that line, but I can work to convince them.
I asked this pastor, “What’s too small to be a group in your church?” He said that three people was too small to be a group. Then, I challenged him to form some non-groups of three people. He just needed to ask people to invite two friends to discuss the weekly sermon questions. These non-groups won’t be advertised or acknowledged anywhere, but they will do two things for the church: (1) It will prove to the pastor there isn’t as much to worry about as he once thought, and (2) the non-groups will give people confidence to expand their group and eventually become a recognized group in this church.
Level Up Your Online Services.
Most churches did better with online services before anyone regathered in the building for worship. When the house was empty, pastors looked directly at the camera. Pastors got up close and personal with the online audience. Some even created interactive experiences to field questions during the message. But, then people started coming back into the building, things got weird.
When people are in the room, most pastors want to talk to the people in the room. I do! But, there are more people “out there” than there are “in here.” Yet, you can’t look over people’s heads and only look at the cameras. The churches who understand this are producing separate online services and in-person services to meet both needs. It’s more work, but it’s certainly worthwhile since so many unchurched people are looking in on online services. After all, streaming video is NOT church online.
Put Everything Online.
Some aspects of life have permanently changed amid the pandemic. I don’t know that I’m ever going to pile items into a grocery cart again, when we can order everything online for pickup or delivery. Going to the bank has been replaced by an app. I’m reconsidering whether I still need two cars in my driveway. Online group leader training has gone so well, I’m not sure I need to fly to you to train your leaders (but after the pandemic I might consider it).
In a world where people can do a doctor’s appointment online, they could take your membership class online. They could go through your Growth Track online. You no longer have to limit these to a Sunday afternoon. People can participate anytime over 168 hours per week. Potentially, they could become a member of your church at 2 am!
Practice these phrases with me:
We stopped doing [Insert Ministry Name] because of COVID.
We started doing [Insert Ministry Name] because of the pandemic.
Allen White gave us that idea, but now we realize it’s really stupid. LOL
This is a great year to experiment. Don’t waste your time waiting for things to get back to normal. Normal is gone. To quote Jason Caston, “The church was moving slow because they thought the world would stay the same.” Nothing is the same. Get moving!
Tell me how your church is innovating in 2020 in the comments below.
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.