The church is not a place. The church is people. People meet in buildings. But the building is not the church. The church is people. If we embrace this truth, we can make the mind-shift necessary to become effective in this season of digital-forward ministry. The strategy of moving your analog ministry (what you did in your church building) online without appropriate changes will not be effective long term. Changes must be made.
When COVID-19 was just at the point churches were required to close, members were simply thankful their church was still operating. Now, after a taste of the digital superhighway of ministries available all around the world, members are looking for a satisfying spiritual experience each week. Stumbling through the normal liturgy using officers who are ill-equipped to engage with a digital audience will cause members and nonmembers alike to look elsewhere for their spiritual nourishment. Young adults are beginning to remove themselves from the digital church altogether. We cannot continue to do the same thing in hopes of achieving different results.
The primary message of this post is — follow-through.
Are your members regularly inviting people in their circle of influence to tune in? If not, why not? It is vital you know the answer to this question before you can make necessary corrections to become more effective in your mission. Never forget why you exist. It is not to produce live streams. It is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Live-streaming is only a necessary method and not the goal.
Members and nonmembers alike are viewing your ministry online. What are you doing to invite engagement? Engagement is getting people to take action to further a relationship with you, your ministry, and God. This invitation must happen early and often during your digital offerings. Systems must be in place to smoothly achieve this goal. If you do not address this issue — engagement — you may find the only people you minister to going forward are the people you have always ministered to, and your church will not likely grow.
I suggest there are seven elements your church needs to be effective in advancing your mission through engagement in a digital-forward ministry. I will briefly touch each to help activate your imagination.
A System for Registration
How do you capture visitor information online? How do you distinguish a visitor from a member? These activities must be intentional. You might ask all visitors to write “visitor” with their name and email address in the chat box. Someone could be assigned to capture the contact information from the chat box to put on a list for further follow-through. You might even add an incentive by offering gift cards. The amount must be high enough to get a response. You could control your budget by letting visitors know only “X” number of visitors will be randomly selected to receive the gift card each week. And each visitor can only receive it once.
Whatever you do, find a way to register the visitor and get contact information. You will not be able to pursue a healthy relationship with visitors if you do not know who they are.
A System for Immediate Follow Through
Once you have the contact information, follow through. Immediately begin pursuing a healthy relationship with every visitor. At a minimum, formally thank the visitor for coming. Not just during the live stream but after it is over. You may send them an email, a text message, or make a phone call. Whatever you do, make contact within two days at most. And make it a system.
A System for Ongoing Communication
Design a system of follow-through that is consistent. Some say you need to make at least 7 to 15 impressions before you can begin to capture attention. What will you do? Include personal engagement with the high tech to connect people with people instead of just connecting with your technology.
A weekly newsletter sharing spiritual encouragement and relevant programs with members and visitors can help begin a healthy relationship with visitors. Whatever you do, make it part of a system so anyone can pick it up and see it through.
A System for Making Decisions
At some point, you want your visitor to make the decision they are no longer participating as a visitor to your ministry. They should want to belong because they feel they have found their church; their spiritual family. But what do you do to get them to make a decision? When do you begin asking the question? You must prayerfully decide. It may take some trial and error to find that sweet spot. But unless a visitor chooses to deepen the relationship, they may forever be an intermittent visitor.
A Schedule for Baptisms
An important step in one’s spiritual journey is baptism (Romans 6). Baptism is not a final goal. It is a step in the process of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. But there must be an expectation people will take this step at some point. And dates should be set on the calendar to accommodate this decision.
I have discovered many churches do not plan for regular baptisms. Year after year goes by. No dates are set for baptism because no one is preparing for this sacred ordinance. In my view, this is a dereliction of Christian mission work. At the very least, set dates to accommodate baptisms and keep this ordinance before the members as part of the very purpose the church exists.
A Schedule for Interviews for Ministry Engagement
If you want people to be part of your ministry, give them relevant work to do. Typically, churches invite members to participate during bi-annual elections. This process leaves too much time between a visitor making the decision to become part of the ministry and allowing them to participate.
I recommend making short job descriptions with time commitments and other expectations for people to access to help them decide where they might want to participate. Provide a simple application for each vital role in the church. People will choose work they believe fits their personality and gifts. A short interview will aid both leaders and applicants in understanding the commitment required and whether this particular ministry is for them.
A Schedule for Leadership Training
Just because a person has a leadership position does not mean they understand how to lead. How many organizations do you know are functioning far below their potential because people in leadership positions do not have the skills to lead? I am not speaking of competence. People can learn to be competent if they are diligent. I am referring to leadership skills. Leaders are not born. Leaders are trained.
In this season, we have no choice but to minister in a “socially distant” manner. Still, ministries can be effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ. However, ministries must be intentional about making adjustments that produce progress toward personal engagement that attracts people to participate in relationships that blossom into discipleship. Unless the leader of the ministry makes the shift, there is a real danger the church will decline and possibly die out.
May God help us not to be so paralyzed by current circumstances that we never embrace new opportunities to advance God’s cause.