By Josh Morris, Crosswalk.com
In the past couple of weeks, the world has changed for churches and continues to change every few hours.
Churches have been forced to close their physical doors, people are being asked to self-quarantine or in some cases, “shelter-in-place”. If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re wondering, how do we continue our mission as the Church in the midst of this ever-changing environment.
Let me start off by saying that I’m not a Pastor, and this article is more practical than spiritual (while there are still spiritual components to this article). As Christians, we are to pray about everything (Phil. 4:6-7), and live our lives in faith that God is still on the throne. This article presupposes you are doing those things. I want to give some hope to those church leaders who are wondering simply, what do we do now.
The movie-industry has a term, it’s referred to as “tent-poles”. These simply put, are major motion pictures that support the overall mission of that film industry. Think of popular movies like Avengers, or the Star-Trek series as “tent poles” for their respective companies. The purpose of creating tent-poles is to increase the reach (and for those companies, turn a profit) in a strategic and intentional way that they aren’t able to do with lower-level films.
I believe that the Church today has a “tent-pole”, it’s called the online church. While our goal isn’t to make a profit, we are still called to reach people (in a much better way than Hollywood), and it’s never been more attainable than today. Over the past 5-10 years, more and more churches have begun to stream their services online to meet people where they are.
Now as the COVID-19 Pandemic sweeps our nation, you as a church leader are left with the difficult task of reaching people exclusively online, as physical gatherings are discouraged and in some cases, banned.
I’m here to tell you there’s hope, and God is ready to reach more people through your ministry than ever before.
At the church where I serve, while we have had an online church for years, in the past couple weeks we have seen crazy numbers as Christians all around the world are forced to consume church, exclusively online.
We have seen 400 and 500 percent increases in attendance, with thousands and thousands making decisions to accept Christ as their savior!
God is doing something special in this season, and He’s ready to use you and your ministry to do the same.
The following are some points that I hope will help you in your journey to implement an online church and follow out the great commission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, and make disciples.
1.The World Is Digital, Now the Church Has to Be
I have spoken to many church leaders over the past couple of years about the concept of an online church. It seems like for every leader I talk to, there is a unique opinion about how an online church fits into the framework of how God intended the church to be carried out.
There seem to be three main camps. The first, are those that are adamantly opposed to Church Online, the second are those that are accepting of it, but always want it to drive local church attendance, and then third, there are those that are completely sold on the idea and want to use it to reach more people than ever before.
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re somewhere in between camps two and three.
All throughout history, the methods of how we communicate have changed, but the Gospel message never has. We are called to go into the world, Jesus never specified how. I think that was intentional so that we wouldn’t get caught up in the how but focused on the who, what, and why. The “who” is Jesus. The “what” is that He came to save people from their sins, and the “why” is because God loves us and has a plan for all His children.
The time for an Online Church is now. The “how” just changed with COVID-19, but the fact remains, we can still reach people through an online experience, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
2. Digital Church Isn't Expensive
One of the most common excuses I have heard from church leaders about why they haven’t implemented streaming their services online is that it’s too expensive. That is simply not true.
If you have an iPhone, a tripod, and a directional microphone, you’re ready to broadcast a live service to multiple platforms at well under $1,000.
Of course, you can spend thousands and thousands of dollars getting high-level production equipment, but you don’t need to.
The tools are accessible to you RIGHT NOW.
Companies like Church Online Platform are giving their products away for FREE. It doesn’t cost you a dime to open up a Facebook account and stream a live service.
I have seen some churches with a $1,000 set-up reach more people than some well-polished televangelists on TV.
If the influx of YouTube stars has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need a production quality set-up, the content is more important than the quality of production.
3. Content Is King
The world needs hope now more than ever before. As a Church Leader or Senior Pastor, that’s where you come in.
As you’re getting ready to go live online, make sure that the content you are putting out there is world-class. Make sure you aren’t reusing some dusty sermon from 5 years ago. Develop something new, address the issues at hand, and minister to people in their time of need. The Senior Pastor at my church often refers to us as “hope dealers”.
We deal in hope, and that is what the world needs now more than ever.
In this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time for us as ministry leaders to roll up our sleeves and work harder now than ever before to provide content that is relevant, edifying, and superior to anything else the world is ready to give our people.
4. Distribution Is Essential
In this online world, you need to meet people where they are at. The worst thing you could do is to figure out a live-streaming option, place it on your website, and hope and pray people will find it. That’s like placing your light under a bowl, instead of giving light to the whole house.
You have to meet people where they are, and you have to tell them about your message.
Most people today are on platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. So sure, you want people to be on your website, but you also should consider how to take that same live-stream, and distribute it to Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and any other platform that is applicable to your audience.
Again, this isn’t expensive, it’s just finding the right tools that will allow you to leverage your amazing content, and tell the whole world about it.
People are dying to hear your message, you just have to tell them about it.
5. Close the Loop
As Christians, we are called to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, and make disciples. So please, please, as you move into live-streaming your messages, always remember to close the loop.
What do I mean by that?
Very simply, give a Gospel invitation, and give people the ability to sign-up for a discipleship process.
Our church has seen over 5,000 people make a profession of faith in the past 2 weeks. That’s crazy. Five. Thousand. People.
If you use a tool like Church Online Platform, they have a gospel presentation function built into their FREE platform. Use the tools, and close the loop.
Then, make sure you are capturing people’s contact information. This will allow you to guide your audience through a mid-week discipleship process.
For us, we deliver daily devotions from our Senior Pastor, we have mid-week messages that play on our online church player, and we provide things like e-books, articles, podcasts, etc. We want to edify them on a daily basis, not just on Sundays.
6. Develop Next Steps
Once you conduct your first Sunday Online Service (which I hope is this coming Sunday), you’ll need to work hard to develop the next steps. Go save yourself some trouble and invest in an email marketing tool, or ChMS that can send an automated email series to your people. I’d recommend having an automated email series for new believers, where you deliver the basics of the faith, and then a discipleship email series for those people that sign-up during your service.
Again, these types of software aren’t expensive, you just need to be intentional about reaching people.
Chances are, you have a handful of church staff that are sitting around waiting for something to do. Get them on the phones calling your people, praying with them, encouraging them, loving them. Then use them to help make some of this digital content.
People’s jobs may shift responsibilities during this time, but that’s ok. Everything has changed, and we need to focus on the major priorities, and figure out the rest. Remember, preach the Gospel, and make disciples.
Hopefully, by now you are convinced that online church is something COMPLETELY attainable for you and your church.
It isn’t expensive, content is king, distribution is essential, and closing-the-loop should be your top priority.
As we consider the concept of the online church as a tent-pole, I truly believe that if we as a church really leverage this digital revolution, when this is all said and done, we will have moved our tent poles.
Once our church buildings re-open, we will see a whole audience of people in our own community that ATTEND our physical locations, because they were so encouraged and ministered to during this time of need.
I know this to be true for our church. We are reaching more people every Sunday than we could have ever hoped or dreamed to reach at our physical locations.
I believe that God can use any situation for His glory and the furtherance of His kingdom, including the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time in a while, people in mass are thinking about questions that only the Church has the answer to. That’s where you come in. Be a hope dealer.
It’s time to roll-up our sleeves, work harder than ever before and reach people where they are at.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn. Used with permission.
Image courtesy: ©Getty Images
Josh Morris has the pleasure of serving as Director of Marketing & Communications for Harvest Christian Fellowship, and Harvest Ministries with Greg Laurie. Josh and his wife Laura live in Southern California. Josh has a passion to see the Church grow both locally and all across the nation through marketing, communications, strategic leadership, and dedicated people.