Increasingly, congregations are returning to their church buildings. Just how long that will last is yet to be seen, but increasingly, church leaders have felt and succumbed to the pressure to return to “in person” worship. With giving at historic low levels, we can’t hardly blame them for the return. However, it seems, that in most cases, returning to the building hasn’t returned giving to BC levels (Before Covid), and the attendance levels in mid-sized churches and larger is running somewhere between 30 and 50 percent. (Many smaller churches, especially small town and rural churches, have found themselves swelling in attendance – in part because the larger churches in their communities shut down and their members wandered into those churches that were open.)
Returning to the building isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for many churches (I’d wager most), the return has come at the cost of their online services … those who have continued to engage an online presence have largely gone back to streaming their sanctuary service. It appears that there has been little thought given to the online campus and their online worship and discipleship experience.
We’d be the last ones to say that the coronavirus was a good thing, but it hasn’t come without some positive results. Churches across the nation that were stuck in 1954 suddenly realized they were stuck … and that propelled many of them into action. For a couple of months, there’s been a serious backlog on video camera orders … wait times of weeks and sometimes months as church boards sprung for technology purchases. In some communities, virtually every church had some sort of an online worship service … Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Vimeo, and streaming services did a roaring business. That said, it would be a shame to waste all that expense and effort just because we have the opportunity to return to our buildings.
A Real Opportunity Awaits
We’re in a crack of history … earlier I referenced BC … something Scott Musselmen came up with: Before Covid and After Distancing. Our culture, and especially the church culture, has been touched and effected in ways that are permanent. Although there is a pining by many for things to go “back to normal,” there will only be a new normal where masks are common and crowded elevators are taboo.
But this has opened up a new window for the church. Back in February, if someone was going to visit your worship service, they had to dress appropriately and travel across town. Your church’s marketing reach was generally limited to a twenty-minute commute time. Worship, evangelism, friend-making, and discipleship was largely limited by distance.
None of that is true today.
Although John Wesley claimed that the world was his parish, he could really only say that euphemistically – though he could train and send men and women into all the world, his personal reach was limited. You and your congregation, on the other hand, have no such limitation.
Okay, so far, I’ve probably not said anything that you’re unaware of. Yes, the internet has created a global option heretofore never available to the church, but options and opportunities aren’t the same as strategies, plans, and reality.
Except that if your congregation has seriously taken to virtual worship and discipleship, it’s time for you to get real about your impact. For instance, if your service is on Facebook Live, have you taken a real look at your analytics? (I know already that you have … you’ve let slip that your worship service was seen by 600 people last week – even though you and I both know that Facebook’s definition of “reach” has nothing to do with anyone even looking at your worship service, let alone actually watching it!)
One church I work with dug into their analytics and in the months of July and August, they had people view … view, not just reach … their worship service from twenty-two states and two additional nations. As they explored, they found that about half of those viewers were related in some way to current members of the church. Former members who’d moved away; sons and daughters, parents and cousins who’d relocated; and friends who’d been invited. Someone had the audacity to suggest, “Well, that doesn’t really count then, does it?” Except that every one of those who stopped in are tomorrow’s potential members who have friends and relatives they can invite and connect with.
The church I’m associated with has already seen one conversion baptism because of our online worship and ministry … and the young man is engaged in one-on-one discipleship with one of our members. The potential for a church without walls looms before us.
There are a number of questions before you and your congregation in these AD Days.
First, will you take your online campus seriously? If so, you’ll have to make some decisions about how you’ll retain your online viewers … in a world where your worship service is just a swipe away and you’ve got three to twelve seconds to hang onto a viewer, laggy worship services with multiple dead times are death.
Second, how will you connect with those who “drop in”? Just like your in-person worship services, getting some sort of contact information is critical in relationship building. And then, once you have it, how will you follow-up and connect them with someone or someones at the church (online campus or otherwise)?
Of course, you’ll need to engage in evangelism and discipleship, just like you do now, only differently 😉 But the reality is that relationships are still the key to those practices … and your online relationships will begin, or hopefully are beginning, to take on less a virtual nature and more a reality nature.
So, let me ask you … what are you doing and what are you seeing? Will you be expanding your influence, not just your reach, for the Kingdom’s sake? What are you doing now and what are your plans? Share with us in the Comment Section below. A church without walls is more reality now than ever before.