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5 Addictions Pastors Need To Overcome (To Grow Their Church In the Future)

You’ve probably learned a lot about yourself in the last year.

Crisis does that to you. Crisis isn’t just an accelerator, it’s a revealer, showing you some surprising things about yourself—some good, some not so good.

Since COVID struck, church leaders have seen more than a few addictions, wants and preferences revealed.

At this point, with only half of churches re-opened, and with most re-opened churches experiencing low attendance numbers compared to pre-COVID, it may be wise to take stock of what we’ve learned so far.

You never know how much you love something until it’s taken away. And for church leaders, some of our most dearly held ways of doing church were snatched away overnight.

Despite the fact that church leaders claim that the church never closed, many behaved like it did, bemoaning what was lost and racing to get back.

As the culture becomes more and more digital, mobile and home-centered (think work, school, shopping and more), the church needs to respond to keep reaching people.

If the people you’re trying to reach change, your strategy needs to change with them. Otherwise, you lose touch and become irrelevant. And while the Gospel is never irrelevant in a fast-moving culture, outdated models of church get old, fast.

If the church is going to thrive in the future, here are 5 addictions church leaders need to overcome.

1. Buildings

Probably the first dependency to be revealed by the crisis is how facility-centric most approaches to ministry have been.

For a lot of pastors, losing access to a building felt like losing access to their ministry.

If you look at the filter through which almost all ministry has been run for decades (or centuries) it’s this: ministry happens in a central facility where people gather.

A very good question to ask is ‘why’?

While I completely agree the church needs to gather in person as well as online, gathering can happen in homes, smaller venues and a whole variety of places. The emerging idea that a church can be a church with hundreds or thousands of locations (i.e. peoples’ homes) is a really liberating idea.

While we’ll need facilities in the future, the idea that for ministry to happen it needs to take place in a public building officiated by church staff feels increasingly restrictive and anachronistic.

I’m not suggesting we should move to the house church movement as it’s existed in North America, which is disproportionately filled with insider-focused, disgruntled Christians who actively resist affiliating with others, but I do think it’s worth rethinking a more distributed and released church that can be more effective at reaching friends, neighbors, co-workers and communities.

In 2020, if coming to Christ means coming to your church in a set location and a set hour, you need a new strategy.

2. Packed Rooms

Look, I’ll lead with a confession here. I love packed rooms. Packed rooms at church. Packed rooms when I’m speaking somewhere.

I’ve spoken to empty rooms and to full rooms, and I’ll take a full room any time.

There’s a bit of a thrill when you run out of seats and people are standing at the back or sitting on the floor.

And, yes, those of us who love that kind of thing know exactly where you need to take the picture (from the back of the room) to make the room look even fuller than it is in real life.

And you know what the ugly underbelly of that is? Ego. (See point 3 below).

Look, I get it. Communicating without a crowd is a different art and science than communicating in front of a crowd. And there’s something about a sermon that gets richer when you’re interacting with real people. Sermons are more than just content drops.

But packed rooms don’t always mean full impact.

What if God’s plan for your church is bigger than the size of your room? What if the number of people you’re called to reach don’t fit in a room, no matter what size room you build?

If the size of your vision shrinks to the size of a room you can fill, you’ve missed the church’s mission.

3. Our Own Egos

Okay so I guess this is turning into a confession post.

Ego is a real struggle for most of us in leadership.

Some leader’s pride springs from narcissism. Far more leaders grow proud because of insecurity than by narcissism.

I know…you’re thinking…but I’m insecure. I feel bad about myself.

How can that be pride?

Well, if pride is an obsession with self, then (surprisingly) insecure people qualify as proud. After all, insecurity makes you think about you all the time.

So let’s apply that to this moment. The future is so uncertain, and so foreign. And you’re asking yourself

Do I have what it takes to lead into tomorrow?

All my gifts and skills have been honed to work for what was, not for the future that’s emerging.

If I can get us back to where we were, I’ll feel good about myself again. 

You know what that is, right? Sure. It’s your ego. That’s all about you, not the mission.

As a Christian leader, you know that self is something you need to die to.

I have to die to self daily, hourly. Minute by minute.

But on the other side is a trust that is the only thing that can supplant the fear of the deep unknown.

When you die to yourself, something greater rises.

4. Budgets and Staffing Centered in the Last Era

If you want to see someone’s idols, just look at their bank account and calendar. Regardless of what you say publicly, your bank account and calendar reveal what you really value (and what you don’t).

The same is true for churches.

Look at most church budgets though, and try to find some line items related to digital ministry. You’ll come up empty-handed.

The vast majority of churches spend 99% of their staffing dollars on in-person gatherings.

Outreach and ministry online is usually tagged onto someone’s job description as an afterthought (if it’s listed at all), and the budget for digital ministry usually has to be scrounged from other line items.

The point here is that’s probably not a wise 21st-century strategy.

Increasingly, this will be the year many churches realize you can’t have a massive impact online when you spend 1% of your staffing resources on it.

The internet is the venue in which the entire community you are trying to reach lives. If you want to reach them there, spending 1% of your resources on it is likely not the smartest strategy.

Do you know of any church near you that’s spending 30% of its resources to reach people online?

Didn’t think so.

And we wonder why we don’t see more direct results from online outreach.

Mystery solved.

5. Creating Your Own Truth

So many leaders have started spinning their own truth.

As a former President of the United States once said, “In my presidency, people were entitled to their own opinion. They were not entitled to their own facts.”

It seems pastors are increasingly falling for creating their own facts in this post-truth era. It’s so strange that church leaders who profess adherence to truth try to create their own truth when they don’t like the situation they’re facing.

You can’t make up truth, but we try.

I’ve had so many pastors tell me “Well, the coronavirus just isn’t an issue here” when thousands of people around them are infected and others hospitalized.

I’ve had others tell me that people will return to church in droves, when the evidence points in the other direction. (Look, I hope they’re correct. I’m just not holding my breath. Here’s why.)

Truth is hard.

But wise leaders don’t deny the truth. The smartest leaders realize their approach isn’t working and adapt.

The more you deny reality, the crueler reality is to you.

Just ask anyone who went bankrupt or whose spouse walked on them because she just couldn’t handle being treated that way anymore.

The truth is your friend. Even the truth you don’t like. Especially the truth you don’t like.

There’s a lot of hope for the future. This is the church and the mission is eternal. The fastest way to get to a more hopeful future, though, is to respond to reality, not to try to change it or deny it.

Leaders who do that get to a better future so much faster.

Any Other Addictions? 

As hard as all this is, there’s a brighter future ahead if we embrace it.

What do you see?

Any other addictions you see or you’re weaning yourself off?

5 Addictions Pastors Need To Overcome (To Grow Their Church In the Future)

31 Comments

  1. Barry on August 18, 2020 at 8:12 am

    Thanks so much Carey. I would love to lead a Church without a one member one vote model as I think it is really restrictive on good leadership. Another blog I know, but I wondered if you had any thoughts on thriving Biblical leadership models maybe reflecting on the fast-paced nature of change ever-increasingly with COVID-19?

  2. Craig Sweeney on August 17, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    Carey, I agree with your blog. I pastor a church and recognize online has its issues but frankly, in-person services have many issues. The problem is that too many leaders and pastors just accept that they are the only issues worth fighting. I see online as a new frontier with a lot of potential to the take the gospel of Jesus further and faster. I wouldn’t say “NO” to online anymore than I would television and radio and a packed out stadium of people I would not be able to personally connect with. Of course it’s an mazing tool and instrument to further the gospel just like the writings of the Apostles were for the first century churches. They allowed the teachings of the 12 to be magnified in their impact beyond their limited location by copying them down for more people to experience their words. Online allows us to get the incredible news of Jesus to more and more people so they can experience God.

  3. Barry on August 17, 2020 at 10:47 am

    Love your work Carey. Any thoughts on how governmental models might need to change through the pandemic?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 17, 2020 at 11:07 am

      Barry that’s a great question that’s taking up a lot of my social media scrolling these days. For what it’s worth, I don’t have any thoughts on government changes. I spend almost all of my time focuing on what’s in my control, not on what isn’t. I find it produces better results.

      Not saying the government response isn’t important, it’s just we have so little control over it. And innovation comes from constraints.

      • Barry on August 17, 2020 at 12:14 pm

        Thanks Carey. I’m UK based and I meant more on church governmental models for example how this will affect those with one member one vote models and how it may affect leadership team decision making? Those with long term strategy (online and offline) versus those with trying to get back to ‘normal’ which I don’t believe is going to happen!

        • Carey Nieuwhof on August 18, 2020 at 7:30 am

          Ah…gotcha. 🙂 I think that’s a great question. I think we’ll have to figure that out. To be totally transparent, I think a lot of the governmental models worked better in other centuries and probably need an overhaul. Most parish models were developed when people rarely traveled more than 50 miles from home and made sense then. We don’t actually have membership at Connexus (I founded the church in 2007). You can’t join, you can only be involved. But I realize that’s a stretch for most people.

  4. Roland Berggren on August 17, 2020 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for your article! It is clear God want us to think differently, I fully agree. Me and my wife are missionaries (not so important) Just want to question your wording in your fist point regarding house church… “the house church movement as it’s existed in North America, which is disproportionately filled with insider-focused, disgruntled Christians who actively resist affiliating with others…” It sound so rough! I’m sure there are house churches with hurt and disgruntled Christians that are huddling around their woundings. I know you know this; there are (and should be) house churches that are healthy, outreach focused, pastoral communities that actively affiliating with others. Your description ‘house churches’ can certainly fit other churches, that have hundreds and even thousands of members, I believe God is ‘after all of us’ to change. Obviously the Judgments of God start with the house(es) of God, regardless of size or denomination and He is shaking things up for the good.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 17, 2020 at 11:05 am

      Thanks Roland…I appreciate that. I do think the house church movement hasn’t taken off here because it’s been largely fueled by those dynamics. You can find exceptions for sure, but they seem to be rare. I appreciate all you’re doing for the Kingdom.

  5. Bob Wiseman on August 17, 2020 at 9:39 am

    There are five huge issues with number four (Regarding resources and staffing for online)

    1. Most churches simply don’t have the budget and don’t have the competency to manage an online presence. Most of the churches who do online really well spend a lot of money on it. This isn’t even an arguable point. Those neat graphics: takes a photoshop subscription. And yes, for A LOT of churches, even that can be an expensive budget item. Even streaming alone, in order to do it well, costs a lot of money. Streaming subscriptions, cameras, lighting. Then you get post “boosting” and marketing and SEO. It’s not cheap. And frankly, the overwhelming majority of churches cannot operate their church AND manage an online presence with their resources.

    Not to mention competency. Most pastors, frankly, don’t have the skills to pull off an online presence well, and don’t have the time to learn (alongside the myriad of other things they are having to learn or re-learn in these times).

    2. A constant focus on online presence shifts our attention to wrong places. I call it the AOC effect. (Yes, the congresswoman). AOC is an impressive politician, regardless of how you feel about her views. She has found a working strategy: go online. Reach out to people online. Get your message out. She’s wildly popular for that reason. The problem down the road: her constituents in the Bronx will eventually take notice. They will eventually realize that AOC cares more about people on Twitter (who may or may not live in the Bronx) than she cares about those in her district.

    The push for online presence is not bad, but if you focus too closely on it, you could lose the people in your building. The truth is, people watching your Facebook/YouTube/Vimeo stream aren’t giving money to your church (regardless of how much Matt Chandler begs at the beginning of his videos, they don’t). They aren’t volunteering. They aren’t working to become an active member of your community. They aren’t working to bring your neighborhood to Jesus. There may be a few exceptions, but that’s exactly what they are: exceptions.

    Don’t lose the people who are attending in person and have major investment into your church so you can reach people in another zip code who will move on to the next church when they get tired of yours.

    3. Online presence just leads to a giant pissing contest. Pardon the crassness, but it’s true. And it’s a never-satisfying pursuit. Because the moment you get 25 views on your stream, you want 250. Then 2500. And the same goes for followers. Then you start asking, “how many people liked the Baptist church’s recent post?” Or, “hey, the Presbyterian church just boosted their event, let me do it for ours!” And on and on the cycle goes. The constant focus to go online leads to a place we don’t want to go and a competitive spirit that is woefully unhealthy for churches.

    4. The internet is a godless place. I say that as someone typing a comment on the internet, on a blog focused on how to make God famous. So I see the irony in that, but there’s no doubt blogs like this are few and far between. And the audience that you will reach is so minuscule compared to what’s out there. Truth is, pornography and other godless internet pursuits will outweigh your church website/social media in ratios I’m not sure we can even articulate or calculate.

    That doesn’t even remotely hit on the point regarding the conduct of people on social media. Go look at the comment sections on any major brand’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram page. Go look at the comments on a big YouTube video. And ask yourself, is this what I want? Because if you get big enough, it’s what you’ll find. Subjecting someone in your church to that kind of godless behavior will almost undoubtedly beat them down or beat them into submission.

    5. You can’t say what really needs to be said. Piggybacking on the last point: try going on Twitter and speaking biblically about topics like homosexuality and transgenderism. If you’ve got enough presence, enjoy that suspension. You can’t say what the Bible says about it.

    Going online requires your church, in a way, to conform to the pattern of the (online) world. If you’re not walking in step with them, then they’ll kick you out and beat you down. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself: why is it that some of the most theologically-centered pastors we know (think: Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, etc.) are buying into this white privilege BS? We all know there’s no room for both white privilege and the Gospel (or if you’re in ministry, you SHOULD know). So why’d they buy in? I’d contend that it happened because they knew their online presence and their popularity would absolutely tank if they said what the Bible actually says about these things. They knew that if they veered from the consensus, they’d be toast.

    There’s no wonder we get a lot of pastors who have turned into losers and have no biblical views on things that matter: they care far more about being liked by man than approved by God. They care far more about being a celebrity than about being faithful. They care far more about people following them than they do about people following God.

    Moral of the story is: if you’re going to focus on an online presence, proceed with tremendous caution. My suggestion: find the minimum that’s needed online, and just a do a tad bit more.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 17, 2020 at 9:55 am

      Bob sounds like you’ve made up your mind. It also sounds like you’re really angry.

      The reality is online doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Some of the best YouTubers simply use their phone.

      “Find the minimum that’s needed online, and just do a tad more.” It will be interesting to see how that lands a decade from now.

      • Rev. Vivian C. Hiestand on August 17, 2020 at 1:46 pm

        It sounds to me like Bob and Carey both have a valid point, and that they don’t share enough world view to be able to hear one another. I say this as a pastor of a small local church that has financial resources but an older, tired congregation.

        Online may not have to cost a lot of money – IF – and it’s a big IF – you already know what you’re doing, your people are very comfortable with apps on phones, and you know what to do with the technology in your hand.

        “Find the minimum that’s needed online” is a good example of what I mean by not sharing world views/experience. Even knowing how to do that can be overwhelming to an older pastor who spends 50 hours a week just trying to keep things going – no other clergy and not much staff (certainly staff has less knowledge than the pastor). In the last few months I’ve had to comfort people who are frightened, locked in their homes – I can’t visit, they don’t do internet, and they don’t hear well enough to use the phone. Plus learning video. Plus creating and publishing weekly E-news that must also be printed and snail mailed. Plus, plus, plus.

        We may not use facilities as we have in the past, but this situation is not really preparing us for the future – at least in my area for we cannot gather in homes, we cannot gather in coffee shops, families don’t want to come to outdoor services only to chase children playing on the lawn, and it is very difficult to gather people in walkers outside in 100 degree heat.

        It’s going to be interesting to see what all shakes out in the long run. For now, it might be a good thing for people like Carey to go out of his comfort zone and be with a small, less urban, less e-connected congregation for a month to experience again how challenging that can be in the best of times. And for Bob to appreciate the amazing amount of resources and information Carey has so generously provided to every and any church leader who will log on and listen. I have learned a lot from him, and I am looking forward to learning more.

        In the meantime, I am praying for all those who are faithfully pastoring in these challenging circumstances. It sure ain’t easy – but at least the Holy Spirit is always with us and the grace of Christ will lead us!

        • Bob Wiseman on August 17, 2020 at 2:36 pm

          Your comment on my last sentence actually understood what was meant. It’s fascinating what can happen when you respond in good faith.

          I don’t doubt the effectiveness of online connection. As I say to Carey in my response to him, the church I’m at does a pretty good job of this. It’s something our senior pastor is very competent with. And great for him. He’s by no means obsessed with online presence, though. And that’s a good thing.

          I’m in a fairly good sized community now, but I’ve spent most of my ministry in small, rural communities where physical presence is paramount. The amount of people in those communities, even those under the age of 40, simply weren’t online very much. In fact, the Facebook page for the church in my last ministry, the average age of anyone who interacted (like, share, comment) with our posts: 66. There was rarely interaction with our younger church members and rarely with those in the community—and I’m not even 30.

          Contrast that with the average age of a newcomer in our church while I was there: 36. A 30-year gap. One interacted online, the other didn’t. This was true for most of the communities businesses and entities, as well as social media as a whole (I was connected to a good majority of the town).

          Frankly, I don’t think Carey understands this, and I’m becoming more convinced that he doesn’t care. In a response to a different comment, he writes, “everyone you want to reach is online.”

          That level of arrogance and that level of carelessness to others is why we should reject wholesale what Carey has to say. He frankly doesn’t give a crap about a fairly large demographic of our society. He doesn’t even hide it.

      • Bob Wiseman on August 17, 2020 at 1:47 pm

        To put money in the budget and staff your online presence costs money, Carey. Many churches are running on shoestring budgets, and having to pick between paying their pastors or withholding from missions, that also need the money. If you think YouTubers are making their videos by only using their phones, you might be more outside your mind than I originally thought.

        YouTubers, at least those with a staying presence, are spending money on production, software, hardware, travel, and marketing. None of those things are particularly cheap, at least not if you want an online presence worth having.

        And therein lies the rub: having an online presence with no budget, no staffer to manage it… it likely won’t be enough to make it worth anyone’s while. You need competence and consistency. If you’re competent at it, by all means, knock yourself out. The Senior Pastor at my church is extremely competent in online presence, and he does a fantastic job. He puts something on the church’s social media almost daily—videos, graphics, announcements, sermon information, encouragement.

        The difference is, he’s not doing it because he feels we *need* an online presence. He’s doing it because it’s just one more way to connect with others. The overwhelming majority of our focus is face-to-face, in-person community. We make no bones about that.

        Your church can do whatever they please. But I found it a little ironic that in a post about addictions pastors need to break, you tried to defend probably the most vulnerable (in terms of lasting power) form of ministry there is. Let’s put it this way: online presence is the church’s Sega Genesis. Use it now, but don’t expect it to sustain your congregation or your church. It won’t have the staying power you think it does.

        • ADEYINKA FELIX SUNDAY on August 18, 2020 at 4:27 am

          The digital church will certainly be affected by the cultural environment, inconsistent government policies, cost of technology, and cost of data, but more importantly the low level of income and high level of abject poverty, most especially in Africa. The reach is limited to those that can afford to subscribe to watch your channel or read your posting.
          A shepherd tends the flock. How does the shepherd monitor effect of preaching on the membership, expected growth level due to attitudinal change and welfare of the flock? We must not forget in some environments the church meets the daily needs of the members, food, clothes, accommodation, health, money etc. What now will be the relevance of Hebrew 10:25?
          In summary, the digital Church is one of the platforms to reach people but can still not replace the assembly of worshippers in an auditorium. Our experiences these last two weeks of the lifting of restrictions by Government in our churches, people have trooped to their churches as if the holiday is over!

        • Carey Nieuwhof on August 18, 2020 at 8:36 am

          Bob,

          Thanks for replying back. I’m not sure we’ll agree on this, but I do strongly believe that a solid online presence does not require a big budget. And you have a lot of people (i.e. volunteers)in your church who can help. The younger they are, the more natural this is for them.

          I started my leadership podcast for an investment of under $1000 and this blog hit its first million pageviews using a $75 WordPress plugin. I still record most of my IGTV videos on my phone using a $99 microphone.

          And for sure, now I have a staff to help with the growth of the podcast, blog and speaking. But it didn’t start that way. And as our church has grown we’ve added staff, but I just don’t want people to think that a big impact online requires a big budget.

          I completely agree face to face is the best, but we live in a slipstream of digital and real-life interaction. I’m just excited to see the church reach out.

          Best wishes Bob

          Carey

          • Bob Wiseman on August 19, 2020 at 9:42 am

            You’re talking around $1000 just to run a podcast… now add in live-streaming, graphic design, website hosting, subscriptions, and other services necessary for a church, not a podcaster, to have an online presence that is going to draw people to it.

            I’ll round up some basic costs, if these are too cheap or too expensive, I apologize, but it’s a baseline

            Camera for live-stream: $1000.
            Sound equipment for camera: $250.
            Computer capable of handling streaming: $400.
            Streaming software: $200.
            Website: $1000 annually, plus $1000 start-up.
            Domain Hosting: $200.
            Graphic design software: $1000/year (basing on Adobe Creative Suite)
            Subscription services for graphics, sounds, etc: $200.

            There are likely some notable exclusions, but you’re talking $5000 in year one. That’s based on an awfully generous estimation. How many churches have the ability to drop $5000 on their online presence AND not have a full-time staffer making it their sole responsibility? I’ll set the over/under at 5.5 percent and take the under.z

            If you add a staffer, even a part-time one, you’re looking at 20K annually. I’ll set the over/under there at 2.5 percent, and once again, take the under.

            The overwhelming majority of churches cannot afford an online presence that would be quality enough to justify spending the money. It wouldn’t be wise stewardship, and it wouldn’t be beneficial or edifying to the kingdom.



  6. Eric on August 17, 2020 at 9:24 am

    I completely agree with a great deal of this. I have a good college friend who spends a ton of time on social media talking about his church and what they are doing and honestly they are doing a lot but my struggle is that very rarely does he promote what Christ is doing in the church. Self promotion in Christians to me is a little ironic. I do have a question though about digital church. How is it sustainable? I get where you are at but isn’t it all the in-person ministry paying for the digital work? I do see the need of a digital presence and we have quadrupled our online presence and have been growing it gradually every week but that is my question.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 17, 2020 at 9:57 am

      Eric I love that. I think that’s a really great question. We ask it a lot around here. Are we leading people to Jesus or just to ourselves.

      Digital church is sustainable because it’s an expression of where everyone you’re reaching lives. They already live digital lives. You’re just coming alongside them in fresh ways. And everyone you want to reach is online.

      • Bob Wiseman on August 17, 2020 at 2:25 pm

        Digital anything is one of the most unreliable and unsustainable forms of doing business, anywhere.

        Very few online retail companies last.
        Very few technological advances last.
        Very few tech startups last.

        Now ask, why is the church investing their time and resources so heavily into something that has a horrible track record? Then ask yourself, why is it that attending church in a building—with other people—has stood the test of time for 2,000 years? That’s sustainable.

        Our society is so transient when it comes to the internet. There’s some pretty cool market research that shows online habits: one of which is that a person will peruse a website for about a couple of hours, and then will never return. I’d bet if you looked at visitor numbers on your own site, this would be true: most people who visit this website visit for a couple hours; read a couple posts, and then never return.

        That’s not a sustainable model for anything, and especially not ministry, which involves a serious level of spiritual shepherding (or are we even doing that as pastors anymore—I can’t keep up). You know who is visiting your church’s website and social media? People who already attend your church. It’s not new people. Check the people. liking and commenting on your posts: I’d bet you know 99% of their names (or you should, since they attend your church).

        Then there’s one other factor to its lack of sustainability: the more churches in your area that are online, the harder it is to keep your audience. The minute a new church starts up and has a better graphic designer, better preacher, better band, or just is better than you is the moment your online audience moves on. It’s really that quick.

        There’s a reason Paul was so eager to see his churches in person. He knew his letters, while encouraging, couldn’t fulfill the needs of the people at those churches. He knew it couldn’t sustain the church. There’s a reason that the FLDS church in south Utah is struggling without Warren Jeffs in person (maybe not a great example, but it fits)… yeah, he’s sending taped messages, but they are struggling because there’s no personal human connection.

        God wired us for human connection. And there’s thousands of books about how online presence is destroying our societies for that reason alone… and yet, here we are, as churches, focusing on the very thing that goes against how God wired us.

        It’s unsustainable because it wasn’t meant to grow the church. Use your resources to draw people to the church, and ultimately, to Jesus. But if you’re putting all your stock in your online presence, don’t be surprised when you’re dying five years from now. But of course, in any of our prideful states, we all think we’re going to be the ones to change the mold… and yet, we rarely are.

        Best of luck on your unsustainable model.

        • Scott Poirier on August 18, 2020 at 8:26 pm

          Hi Bob,

          I just want to start off by saying that I totally agree, you can never replace in-person interaction, and you shouldn’t try. God has wired us for connection (though I do think there is room for some valuable connection online).

          Although I would like to push back on the claim that starting anything digital is unreliable and unsustainable, and you’re right, a lot of digital businesses have failed. But that’s just the reality of all entrepreneurship. After 10 years, only about 1/3 of small businesses survive, but I’m sure glad that people are still trying to make it work. I’m sure glad that restaurants still begin, even though that’s one of the most volatile industries around. And to be honest, the numbers for church planting aren’t so hot either. A lot of church plants fail quickly. But I sure hope that people don’t stop trying.

          Brick and mortar stores are struggling. Many of the most valuable companies in the world today tend to be ones that have revolutionized digital (Amazon, Google, Facebook, Alibaba, etc). If that is the trend in the marketplace, is it not at least worth a shot that it might be the trend in churches too? And maybe Google won’t be around forever, and that’s when it will be time for the church to shift again!

          But this is where we’re at for now.

          I’m at a small church. We’re putting a decent amount of effort into online, way more than we were pre-COVID, and honestly, our numbers are really, really puny in comparison to a lot of other churches. But we have a handful of people from across the country who are now calling our church home, faithfully tuning in every week, and have chosen to financially support our church, and honestly, that’s enough for me. I know that there’s about 6 billion people in the world who don’t know Jesus yet, and I want to see them reached, but for now, we’re reaching a few, and that makes it worth it. There are going to be people who are unable to ever attend the physical church that they would like, and digital is a great way for them to be a part of that.

          It may not be perfect, and you might need to move people from a digital experience into something else, but at the very least, it is a way to introduce people to Jesus and to your ministry.

          Hope that helps,

          Scott

          • Bob Wiseman on August 20, 2020 at 10:12 am

            Beneath every Amazon is a mountain of tech start-ups and online companies that failed miserably. Amazon is by far an exception to the rule, and not the rule.

            This doesn’t even take into account the horribly unethical practices that got these tech giants where they are today.

            The truth is, some industries succeed online. Retail is a huge example. It works, in part, because of the nature of their industry: a customer wants something, buys it, and the item can be shipped to their doorstep. The entirety of the business can be done successfully online, and exclusively online.

            But go ask newspapers and magazines how the online industry is treating them. It’s been awful. Journalism has other issues, obviously, but their move to online subscriptions has cost the industry billions, annually.

            Or ask why Yahoo!’s value, when sold to Verizon, sold for pennies on the dollar compared to what they used to be worth? There’s this odd notion that everything online holds insane value, and it’s completely false. SOME things online hold value.

            The question churches have to ask is: what am I offering online that you can’t get somewhere else? What will keep that person coming back to our website, our social media, our online presence and not leave for another church? How do we innovate?

            The thing that Amazon has mastered is customer retention: keeping people coming back to Amazon. They do that by offering lower prices than anyone else. And they do it by innovating new ideas, new opportunities, and being the best. Unless your church is doing that, you should be prepared for a short season of traffic, then a complete bust months (most likely, weeks) later.

            Online is not sustainable. And if leaders are wise in how they use their resources, they should avoid this massive trap.



        • Blake Brewer on August 26, 2020 at 9:34 pm

          Bob,

          I would never recommend for you to be in charge of the online presence at your church. This job would require a visionary.

          My friend Jason just started a church in Denver. He’s having unbelievable success at reaching lost young adults. And he launched his church with an Instagram account!! (https://instagram.com/thebrookdenver)

          His account went from 0 to 2,000 followers in a matter of months.

          But way way more important than that, its led to people coming together for in person events. Hes getting 100 people to his gatherings (mostly lost young adults), 60 in small groups and most of those are meeting up individually with Jason and his wife for gospel appointments.

          This is just the beginning but Jason and his team are on to something.

          Social media is just a front door. It’s not the end all be all.

          Almost every single person in our communities is on social media. Why would we not leverage it for God’s kingdom.

          As you mentioned, theres a lot of evil that happens online, but why not redeem it?!

          • Bob Wiseman on September 1, 2020 at 2:45 am

            Blake, first off, I’d kindly suggest you drop the smugness. You don’t know the first thing about me, so perhaps let’s drop the attitude.

            Let’s be honest: online church has been around for a long time. It’s been done in every medium—chatrooms, forums, video chats, social media, you name it—and EVERY one of them thought they were changing the way church would be done. I don’t have firm statistics, but based on a fairly cursory overview, the track record of success is not great.

            Somewhat anecdotally, the guys I know that spent exhaustive amounts of energy on their online presence fizzled out after 12-18 months. Most of their churches moved on to something completely different after realizing the sustainability isn’t there. I’d wager that if you asked around, most churches you’ll see haven’t had great runs at it, either. For every successful online church venture, there’s several dozen failures.

            Does that mean we don’t try? Not necessarily, but trying to re-create a square wheel doesn’t make you a “visionary”.

            The true visionary in the coming age of the church won’t be the 14,000th “pastor” who put a Craig Groeschel quote over a picture of 2 millennials laughing… it’ll be the one who finds unique ways to confront the significant needs that have risen out of this pandemic: the desire for offline, face-to-face interaction between people.

            The visionary among us will zig where everyone else is zagging. If you’re pushing online, I promise you, you’re not a visionary.



  7. Julia on August 17, 2020 at 8:44 am

    Carey, God’s calling me to launch an on-line church in September. I couldn’t agree more that we have to pivot our tactics not our mission in this season. Looking to create a church native to the digital space. Thanks for filling a great need to mentor church leaders.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 17, 2020 at 8:45 am

      Julia, if I was launching today I’d start online and add in-person gatherings later. Way to go!

  8. Tim on August 17, 2020 at 8:33 am

    Carey, you stated “You never know how much you love something until it’s taken away.” For me it has shown me how little I need to attend church at a building and just how little the church I attend cares for me. Through this time only one Christian has intentionally reached out to see how I am doing and she was and continues to be a stranger as we have never met and we live 350 miles apart as she I obviously not from the church I attend. Once pastors and leaders stop dwelling on numbers, because dwelling on numbers always causes “acceptable” casualties and losses be they realized or not, the church will again be a vital part of society. I knew a woman once who commented to me that in a room full of people she becomes invisible. This kind, caring beautiful woman could stand in the middle of the room and no one would see her. It made me wonder what people are trained to look for and value in other people.

    Why is it that we don’t allow teams to go through a rebuilding process? In churches, we just pressure to leader of the team to always produce something better than the last. Volunteers move on. Team makeup changes. There are teams at the church I attend I would never consider serving on because they don’t do well with rookies. I am not saying that we intentionally sacrifice quality but we have to find a way for rookies to be in ministry because their time as leaders is coming.

    Thanks for making me think about leadership and how I lead in my little corner of the world.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 17, 2020 at 8:46 am

      Tim…this really makes me sad. Thanks for staying engaged and for even reading blogs like this.

      I think the old is passing away and the new is emerging, and hopefully there’s room for more in the new. That’s my prayer.

    • Don Jones on August 18, 2020 at 8:40 am

      So Tim, looks like you have identified an area that you feel is a concern and a need in your church. So that is often an indication of a place for ministry and service to the body. So I would ask you, how have you reached out to people in the church? What are you doing to contribute to this area of perceived need? Who have you called to check in to see how they are doing and how you can pray or serve them? Perhaps invite others to join you in this important area of ministry. You don’t need an official “position” in the church to do this.

  9. Mike Tilley on August 17, 2020 at 7:45 am

    Carey, I’ve been following your posts more than ever. Always helpful, thank you.

    There’s one area where my experience seems to diverge from your consistent message. Despite having an excellent online worship experience that is widely acclaimed and appreciated, it cannot be truthfully said that it is the future or the new normal. If anything, we have seen a heightened interest in gathering for in-person worship, which for us will be August 30th. You can check out our online worship service at our web site below.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 17, 2020 at 8:44 am

      Good for you Mike. Glad to hear that.

      Not to be a downer, but I think that’s what every pastor says only to discover the voices they were hearing weren’t accurate.

      Most churches are seeing 20-40% of former attendance for in person, and the best (usually small churches) are seeing 60-70%. I hope that improves, but time will tell. I haven’t found one exception to this rule, and even if that exists, it’s the exception.

      If you’re the exception, more power to you! For real. But just remember your entire city is still online ready to be reached.

      • Nate on August 17, 2020 at 2:55 pm

        I’m not sure using statistics from a global pandemic is not a great way to project the future, especially as it pertains to things like earnings/giving, corporate growth (this involves churches), or online growth.

        What will it look like on the other side? We don’t know. But it’s important to note that panic causes people to do react differently.

        People are online more because there’s not much else to do. With businesses closed, school activities canceled, sports canceled, people have no choice but to go online. It’s the only option. So there’s no doubt that more people will be online, and there’s a good chance, they’ll stumble upon your church. If so, great.

        But I wouldn’t bank on that staying the same. If the overall stats regarding depression, suicides, drug overdoses, etc. tell us anything it’s that the isolation is not good for us and most people are not desiring it. I might offer another alternative: pushing IN PERSON church is MORE NECESSARY, not less.

        In fact, I’m led to believe that once things open up again, and more fully (read: with fewer restrictions: masks, social distancing, etc.), I have a gut feeling that online interaction will take a tremendous hit, perhaps lower than it was pre-COVID. I think a lot of people are realizing how vital it is to be in community with one another. Again, that’s just my perspective.

        Interesting perspectives.

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