As a church leader, you probably have a love-hate relationship with online church.
For many leaders, 2020 was either an about-face on online church that found them suddenly embracing it, or it was a quick pivot from a hybrid approach to going totally online.
For many pastors, the pivot to online church was a reluctant embrace.
But just as quickly as pastors spun to adopt online church in early 2020, many pastors have now quietly retreated from fully supporting church online.
If they haven’t shut it down, they’re giving it second-tier status.
They’ve quickly swung back to trying to fill up the room, only to discover it’s harder than it’s ever been to do that.
As much as full rooms make for great pics on Instagram and make you feel better about yourself, full rooms do not guarantee a fulfilled mission.
Reaching more people fulfills your mission. And when everyone you want to reach who’s not in the room is online, it only makes sense to dive deeper into online ministry.
For several years now I’ve argued that scoffing at online ministry or subverting its importance is a mistake. (For example, I outline 7 weird lies pastors need to stop believing about online ministry.)
But as we finally appear to be leaving COVID behind as 2022 progresses, it’s worth revisiting some additional myths about church online that finally need to disappear, for good.
Here are three.Pastors, as much as full rooms make for great pics on Instagram and make you feel better about yourself, full rooms do not guarantee a fulfilled mission. Click To Tweet
1. Online ministry is second-rate ministry
Too many church leaders still see online ministry as second-rate ministry. They use terms like ‘real ministry’ or ‘real services’ to describe in-person, and then dismiss anything that doesn’t happen in their building.
The only legitimate reason to call online ministry second-rate ministry is if there are second-rate people.
If you don’t believe there are second-rate people, then online ministry is not second-rate ministry. It’s every bit as valuable as in-person ministry because you’re actually reaching real people with real stories and real lives.The only legitimate reason to call online ministry second-rate ministry is if there are second-rate people. If you don't believe there are second-rate people, then online ministry is not second-rate ministry. Click To Tweet
The much better approach is to start treating the people you’re reaching online as though they’re real people, because they are.
Sure, the algorithm can jack your numbers artificially high and 10-second views don’t amount to much. But some of those people are sticking around. Following you. Watching. Engaging.
In the same way you wouldn’t intentionally ignore a first-time (or third-time) guest in your lobby, don’t ignore the people engaging you online.
If you really want to leverage that opportunity, work as hard at cultivating community online as you do on creating content.
In addition, put some of the money you were going to put into physical ministry into improved digital ministry. (Hint, digital ministry doesn’t come even close to costing as much as physical ministry does. Here’s why).
My guess is, that like the rest of life (like it or not), more people will access your ministry for the first time through a screen than through a facility.
Churches that behave as though that’s true will simply reach more people.More people will access your ministry for the first time through a screen than through a facility. Churches that behave as though that’s true will simply reach more people. Click To Tweet
2. The main purpose of church online is to get people to come to you
For a brief moment during the onset of the pandemic, most church leaders were focused on bringing ministry to people where they were.
With the building gone as an option for gathering, pastors intuitively knew it was time for the church to bring ministry to people.
But as soon as congregations reopened for in-person worship, there was a quick snap back to the room.
Online innovation stopped as church leaders sought to bring back in-person gatherings on a Sunday morning. All the IG lives ceased, the digital prayer rooms stopped, and things went back very quickly to “Be here Sunday at 9 or 11.”
When innovation died, so did the opportunity to reach more people through new methods.
But it’s not too late for leaders who are still open to change.
Here’s one question every church leader should ask: What if the main purpose of church online is not to bring people to you but for you to bring the Gospel to people where they’re at?
In the future, the churches that bring ministry to people will have a much bigger impact than churches that expect people to keep coming to them.What if the main purpose of church online is not to bring people to you but for you to bring the Gospel to people where they're at? Click To Tweet
3. Your digital channels are best utilized as free advertising (i.e. a digital billboard)
A third mistake many leaders are making right now involves seeing their digital channels as free advertising to get people in the room.
To some extent, that’s understandable.
As someone who’s led a church for two decades, I promise you I like full rooms too. A little too much, to be honest.
But to see your online presence as simply a way to channel people into your building for the first time or the thousandth time is a bad strategy.
Why? A few reasons.
First, it makes you look far more concerned about yourself than the people you serve. Your church far too easily becomes like that person who only talks about himself.
Second, you end up ignoring your audience. Addressing their needs, talking about their challenges, and reaching them is something you rarely or never think of.
Third, your messages become predictable and boring, If you’re always leading into or riffing off of Sunday, you miss the wide variety of conversations, connections, and opportunities to truly engage people.
As Nona Jones has put it, you’ve opted for social media rather than social ministry.To see your online presence as simply a way to channel people into your building for the first time or the thousandth time is a bad strategy. Click To Tweet
As soon as these three myths start to die, the church can begin to move on with the next, and more exciting, chapter of ministry ahead of us. One that involves reaching far more people.