You’ve had so much change thrown at you this year, it’s hard to know what to do.

Especially about church online.

As more and more churches regather, it will be easier than ever to look at church online as something you had to do to survive, or as a side project you keep going while you focus 90% of your time and energy on in-person gatherings.

And that would be a mistake. For some churches, it might be a fatal mistake.

For others, it’s won’t be fatal, but it might mean you grossly under-realize your potential and miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

To help you realize the potential of church online and grow your online ministry, I’m hosting a free Online Church Engagement Summit with Levi Lusko, Nona Jones and Bobby Gruenewald.

You can register your entire team for free here and learn how to turn viewers into engagers with insights from the leaders behind YouVersion, ChurchOnline, Facebook and Fresh Life Church.

In this post, I’ll take on seven weird lies about online church I keep hearing that it’s time to finally stop believing.

1. People are screened out

I hear this one almost every day from church leaders.

Sure, the spike in screen time in 2020 has been a shock to all our systems, mine included. And yes, people are looking for chances to meet in person, go for a walk or do something other than take yet another Zoom call.

But just because you personally feel screened out doesn’t mean the culture is.

If you think people are screened out, run your theory by TikTok or Instagram. Apparently, people aren’t nearly as done with screens as you think.

The idea that people are screened out doesn’t resonate with long term trends. In 2019, for the first time ever, the amount of daily minutes people spent on their mobile devices surpassed the minutes they spent watching TV. The younger the demographic, the more true that is.

The truth is time spent on social media has been rising every year since it was invented. The average American spends 152 minutes a day on social media alone…that doesn’t include other online activities.

You can find some evidence Gen Z is being more careful about social media taking over their lives (and some are quitting or taking breaks). That said, 91% of Gen Z still uses social media .

So what’s going on? Here’s my theory.

People are screened out on things that aren’t interesting to them. People are screened out on bad content.

But are they screened out? Nope.

At least not yet anyway.

2. The internet is “temporary”

I have a hard time believing this is actually something church leaders argue, but I’ve heard so many versions of this I had to list it.

“The internet is temporary” is an actual quote I pulled from the comments on my blog.

Other variations of this include:

When everyone can come back in person, they will.

People don’t like technology. 

Online won’t last. It’s just a bridge to get us to reopening.

I personally wouldn’t bet the future on the internet being temporary.

But, resistance to technology and predicting its demise has historical precedent.

This 1985 article from a New York Times columnist predicted that laptop computers were a fad that was fading fast:

On the whole, people don’t want to lug a computer with them to the beach or on a train to while away hours they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper.

Somehow, the microcomputer industry has assumed that everyone would love to have a keyboard grafted on as an extension of their fingers. It just is not so.

Just because you don’t like something, or don’t fully understand it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

And just a reminder, you’re reading this on your phone.

I’m guessing the internet is here to stay, and I’m planning my strategy around it.

3. Online relationships aren’t real relationships

Another argument I keep hearing is that online relationships aren’t real relationships.

To begin with, many leaders are changing their minds on that, as we speak, discovering that people who were either resistant to face-to-face gatherings or couldn’t get to one, are loving the ability to connect digitally. Nicky Gumbel’s story of moving Alpha online for the first time in 2020 and seeing huge results is inspiring.

The reality is we all live in a hybrid of online and real life relationships.

You FaceTime your parents and then see them three nights later for dinner. You text your friend and minutes later meet up for coffee. Some long-distance relationships are kept alive because of technology.

According to a recent Stanford study, more couples now meet online than through friends, family or church.

Naturally, those relationships migrate into real life, but in many ways, that’s what the church can expect for the future.

People who meet you online will eventually meet you in person. But if you only rely on in-person for connection, you’re greatly limiting your options.

Saying online relationships aren’t real relationships is a little like saying online shopping isn’t real shopping. Ask Amazon whether they would agree with that.

4. My people aren’t online

I have to push back on this one a bit.

Really, who are you leading?

While it’s true that in rural areas internet usage and adoption is lower than in suburban and urban areas, even in rural America, 86% of people say they use the internet daily.  In 2019, 90% of Americans overall say they regularly use the internet.

I appreciate the fact that pastors have a heart for people who don’t have internet. That reflects a shepherd’s heart, and there are workarounds for that.

But 8.7% of American’s don’t have access to cars. That hasn’t stopped church leaders from constructing buildings that require cars.

I love that leaders want to help those with little access to technology. But your pastoral heart shouldn’t stop you from using technology.

Almost all of the people you want to reach and connect with are online. It’s time for the church to embrace that.

5. Online attendance will keep dropping

As churches regather (and in North America, the majority are now open for some kind of in-person services), pastors are noticing a drop in online attendance.

A few thoughts.

If you neglect your online presence, online attendance will continue to drop. Almost everything you neglect declines.  As I shared in this post, the trap for many leaders in regathering is the trap of doing nothing well: You don’t have enough staff and resources to do in-person or online well.

Moving forward though, wise leaders will invest more time, skill and expertise in their online experience. And when you do that, you’ll see your effectiveness grow and with it, your online attendance and engagement.

If the internet was declining, it’s reasonable to think online attendance is bound to keep dropping.

But the internet isn’t declining.

And churches who embrace online ministry will see tremendous fruit down the road. Hang in there.

6. It’s impossible to get people to engage online

This is a hard one.

It is tough to get people to engage online.  But it’s not impossible. You just haven’t figured it out yet.

Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and many leaders online have figured out how to get people to engage.  Some churches have done a great job at this, too.

To help, I’m hosting The Online Church Engagement Summit, a FREE 90-minute online event featuring Levi Lusko, Nona Jones and Bobby Gruenewald.

During the summit, we’ll share best practices from YouVersion, ChurchOnline, Facebook and Fresh Life Church about how to turn viewers into engagers. YouVersion alone has 443 million installs on devices globally that see people engaging daily with God’s Word. We’ll share industry best practices that will help you and your team.

You can register your team for free here.

Turning viewers into engagers is a tough nut to crack. But you can do it.

7. I can afford to ignore this

Returning to what you know, what you’re good at and what you’ve had success with in the past is really tempting.

In the midst of an unprecedented amount of change, it’s natural to cling to the familiar. It’s also a terrible leadership strategy.

Here’s the truth, in the short term you can ignore online. And you’ll probably go back to 40-70% of what you used to have in church pre-COVID. You might even eventually grow back to 100% of what you had.

Success is intoxicating. But when your success is based on an approach that was already producing diminishing returns, your success is both short-lived and much smaller than it could have been.

As a leader, you love to think you can defy the odds, recreating something no one else can do and ignore the trends. I do too.

But of course, the rules never apply to you until they do.

And when they do, and your effectiveness is far less than you want it to be, you might wish you could get this moment back.

So, seize it now. The future you will thank you.

So will all the people you reach.

Any Weird Lies You’ve Noticed?

So, this is a strange time. Any lies you’re noticing about the future it’s time to move past?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

7 Weird Lies About Online Church Pastors Need to Stop Believing

22 Comments

  1. Pam on October 6, 2020 at 11:25 pm

    This can be a pretty vague subject for most, so it’s why I bring it up.
    Lie: The internet providers and streaming platforms we use to publish content, will manage the privacy and security and will keep us safe…
    Boy I can rip this one up. It needs to be.

    Everything…everything has third party aspects, and they aren’t liable for anything. If you saw actually all the places your data goes on the web, you’d become screened out in two nano-seconds. It’s like asking your teen son, to be responsible, and go only out to safe places on a date. But he doesn’t tell you he stops at an unsafe one. He does this many times, until once someone picks a fight. He’s in the hospital. This is your data on free social platforms, for example. Usually no one jacks with it, but it is being accumulated. The question: do you have anyone on staff who understands it, and do you actually agree to the terms and conditions of use?
    The easiest way to decide: if you put it on paper, what would you do? Like hiring an attorney, basically hire an IT professional who understands security.
    Do you react and go back into a dark hole…no. You should be informed or hire a Christian who is.
    Any IT professional worth their weight, will never say “we are hack proof” or “our password requirements and storage are top notch” … instead they will say “we have strict requirements and regular verify our providers” , plus, can answer these questions:
    Do you know the terms and conditions, with privacy agreements behind the platforms you use?
    Do you know who your actual providers really are?
    Do you know who to contact if content is down?
    Do you control your hosting and website ( or does a company you’ve never spoke, just “do that”).
    Yes it is possible. In a tangible world, you won’t ask your son to take any route to get to a destination. You ask him to go a safe and known route. Simple.
    I often see the church ignore privacy and security. I just ache when I see…forgive me …a podcast via Facebook or kids photos posted publicly on Instagram. This isn’t BS. I’m not condemning here. My attempt is to educate that being satisfied it’s working, isn’t where to stop.
    People used to laugh at seat belts back in the day. I remember as a kid being thrown into the floor of my parents’ 1966 Oldsmobile during a accident. It was me flopping around in a car/boat. After that I wore a seatbelt without anyone telling me. (There was no such thing as child seats then btw).
    Once, in the Internet world, is once too many if data, your website, is hijacked. I’ve seen it. I won’t tell horror stories. But once is enough.
    A related aspect: war could easily be launched against Christians in the future… and it doesn’t have to be with live weapons or knives.
    I’m the person who thinks 50-100 yrs from now. And in between.
    From a financial standpoint, reacting to internet needs or wants kills a church budget too. Trying to keep up. This is why PRAYER before any purchase or decision is mandatory. If you get on a platform, you’re behind.
    Do it because it’s right for your needs and requirements.

    There is a place and time for church volunteers – no longer the kid who is great running things, or an adult who knows more than the rest. That’s ok for in house content. And they serve a wonderful need there!
    It is ethically responsible to beef up your game now on a public information Highway. When you compete or post content, you are on the marketing Audubon super highway. When you boil it down, that is how Facebook, and any social media, gets their lucrative income.
    Plus, all the subliminal ads do matter. And, They also track you. More subjects.
    My credentials – not to brag but so you know I’m qualified. I come from pre Internet, coding FORTRAN on a Radio Shack TRS80 mainframe. From there, helped country music studios convert from analog to digital equipment and processed. Later, to a major Christian Radio station to convert it from analog to digital – and first order thing began broadcasting across the world to troops, when no one was doing that yet. Later, I was an IT Admin for 20 yrs with the energy sector where I learned how to manage privacy and saw the true nuts and bolts behind all the content on the Internet as it grew, including international side (even China’s Internet makings). I’ve seen patterns of people, both making devices, come and go…as well as the content our media was put (who’d thought our hip-riddled BlackBerry would be a dinosaur).
    It’s probably better put: people aren’t screened out, but they are fickle and very unloyal to where they get their content. MySpace…AOL. Netscape.
    The biggest thing to always keep in mind for a ministry, is responsibility. No one thought of it 20 yrs ago, and today, many don’t know where to begin still, much less understand it. Without understanding, it can jeopardize finances in many ways. Begin conversations with your teams. Find out what you understand, and where you don’t. Start tackling the knowledge of managing your content, instead of reacting.

  2. Aaron on October 1, 2020 at 4:01 pm

    Carey, we’re seeing students (who are the most tech savvy and connected generation) return to in person programming at the highest rate of any demographic. Any thoughts on what may be driving that dynamic? And has anyone else seen similar trends in any other demographics? We’re fully engaged with online, but it is interesting to see who’s coming back and who’s staying online for now.

  3. Drew on September 29, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    You’re dead wrong Carey! I’m not reading this on my phone. I’m reading this on my laptop. Crap. Point taken. Well said! Thank you brother.

  4. Lukas on September 29, 2020 at 3:39 am

    Carey, would you also write some article of some dangers or challenges with online church, or is it only positive from your point of view? I am a church leader and I keep hearing from the people (not leaders) some criticism of online and how it changes their spirituality to a passive mode and many other things not covered in your seven lies in the article. Also, not sure if I would compare the church online with fast rolling through instagram or tik tok. It would be rather compared to a reading a blog, and… this had serious decline as well in my country. Heck, they have a problem to even read a longer status on facebook. Anything that takes more than a few seconds is a problem to them. So yes, people will remain online, but is it really only a positive result? When the national restrictions were lifted in my country in the Summer, everyone immediately filled the pubs, coffee shops and restaurants. Like, flooded. With new restrictions coming now, the main protest and uproar from people is that they would have to drop in-person meetings with friends, pubs, bars, sporting events, and so on, and go back online.

    • Aaron on October 1, 2020 at 3:33 pm

      Hey Lukas,
      In our experience, people will engage with content that’s engaging. Our Church Online average view length is in the high 30 to mid 40 minute range of a 60 minute service depending on the service, with our highest viewing levels being during the message.

      • Lukas on October 2, 2020 at 3:45 am

        I know that, but it doesn’t answer anything that I said.

        • Aaron on October 2, 2020 at 7:35 am

          I would say it has some relevance to this part of your post: “Also, not sure if I would compare the church online with fast rolling through instagram or tik tok. It would be rather compared to a reading a blog, and… this had serious decline as well in my country. Heck, they have a problem to even read a longer status on facebook. Anything that takes more than a few seconds is a problem to them.”

          • Lukas on October 2, 2020 at 9:07 am

            OK, but we are in agreement here, if I understand you correctly. Your online engagement is different (longer) than instagram. Which is really great. It is really more like (time wise) reading a blog. I was referring to Carey’s likening the online church to instagram engagement – nobody spends 30 minutes on one account or picture there. Your point that you keep the audience longer is – imho – proving what I said. But, this was a side (second) question. The first (and main one) was if there are any negatives for online – because all I read is that it is very positive.



    • Dan on October 2, 2020 at 10:17 am

      I have to agree with you I see the same thing coming from my church people. They feel less than gaged when they’re online not more engaged. They look at it as a supplement to ministry not ministry itself.

  5. Scott on September 28, 2020 at 8:42 pm

    There isn’t a one-size-fits-all, but there is a size (method) the fits most. So keeping an open and analytical mind regarding new method is vital for leaders whether they end up accepting the new thing or not or perhaps a variation.

  6. Robin Naipaul on September 28, 2020 at 5:55 pm

    Excellent,it is a blessed day
    Thanks,for your thoughts 👌

  7. Mark on September 28, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    Another lie is the need to get rid of the webcasts, podcasts, emails, and tailor the service for those present in person when the pandemic is over. Webcasts, podcasts, and emails are one way to do outreach now and when the pandemic ends. You don’t know from where people will watch and participate.

  8. Jeff on September 28, 2020 at 1:24 pm

    But when almost all of your leadership believes all of these things, and as the preacher you’re the only one who thinks there are options & opportunities online . . .

    • Anne on September 28, 2020 at 1:52 pm

      Having the same experience. As the Pastor I seem to be the only one encouraging the shift to online. I need guidance on how to get the rest of my Leadership to come along.

      • Jeff on September 28, 2020 at 4:06 pm

        Maybe it’s a Jeff thing, but I am totally with you!

  9. Tim on September 28, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    “Jesus never told the world to go to church, he told the church to go to the world.” Reference to Bob Laurent.

    Carey, I totally respect you and you speak a great deal of truth. You bring up a great deal of metrics that say a lot but really don’t do anything. I apologize if that sounds harsh. What is missing is the idea that people, no matter what the social, political or spiritual climate is, truly desire to be cared for and it isn’t happening. Gaslighting and ghosting has become the churches go to behavior if they don’t want to care. Large churches have devalued the gift of shepherding for the sake of large numbers of shallow believers. People in need don’t want to fill out forms for the privilege of getting a free box of food, get their car repaired or their lawn mowed when the mower breaks down. Are we going to get burned now and then by blindly helping people? Yep! But we were obedient to scripture and to what God is calling us to be, salt and light. Years ago, the money my church youth group raised was stolen by three young, well past at risk, teenage girls. There was anger, frustration and bitterness in our group for a time. We got past it and we grew up and went on to college. One day, while sitting in the student lounge a fellow student that I had known from the church youth group came in and I waved her over. We sat chatting for a while when the conversation turned serious. I mentioned that I hadn’t seen her in about three years and it was then that she admitted being one of the thieves. She talked about how the guilt of what she had been a part of had consumed her. She also mentioned sitting outside the window of the youth room listening to the youth group express their emotions the night she took the money and she said she never had the courage to ever come back to that group. While she had turned her life around, I have often wondered what might have happened had we prayed for the thieves and even expressed a willingness to forgive and to love. If the church is ever going to have an effect on culture it must be about caring deeply for people and being a place of safety for the marginalized. Given the impersonal email responses, ignored text messages and unreturned phone calls that church, these past several months has made it clear that they don t want me.

  10. Ken on September 28, 2020 at 9:31 am

    “Here’s the truth, in the short term you can ignore online. And you’ll probably go back to 40-70% of what you used to have in church pre-COVID. You might even eventually grow back to 100% of what you had.

    Success is intoxicating. But when your success is based on an approach that was already producing diminishing returns, your success is both short-lived and much smaller than it could have been.”

    Carey, I think what you wrote above is a powerful statement… that along with a comment I heard this am at the end of one of your recent podcasts…pour gas on what is working well. In my business I recently decided to scrap a large scale (read expensive production) online multi day event for a less expensive shorter one evening event. We normally do a large in person physical 3 day event every November… this year we will not… and in fact we won’t even try to replicate it online… which was our plan. Over the weekend, our leadership team decided we will pour gas on a smaller monthly event that we have been doing successfully with numbers growing every month since we pivoted to this in May. The smaller event is much less expensive to our customers, and forces us to continue to think differently. It is time for us to continue to innovate and not simply do something that worked in the past because it was what we normally do. Revenue to the company will be less, but I feel our impact in serving our customers will be higher. As always, a heartfelt thanks for you and your team’s insight, advice, and encouragement.

    • Sandy Andrews on September 28, 2020 at 11:56 am

      Pour gas onto is a very bad phrase if you mean invest energy into. Pouring gas on anything is destructive.

      • Ken on September 28, 2020 at 1:38 pm

        Hey Sandy, certainly did not mean to imply any negative or destructive side, sorry if it read that way as an idiom. I meant it as a way to restate what Carey did… pour fuel on the things that are working… Build on any momentum that is happening. As you said… “invest energy into”… thinking of gas or fuel as a positive;) Have a great day!

  11. Jeff Chaves on September 28, 2020 at 8:54 am

    One lie I keep hearing, (often it’s not said but implied) the gospel can only go forward if our buildings are open. In other words, evangelism only happens inside church. I think if you’re look carefully at the book of Acts, you see practically no one is inside a building. In fact, there were no churches at that time.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 28, 2020 at 9:07 am

      Jeff…so glad you mentioned that. I’ve heard that too. Variations include that the inability to meet is a limit on the Gospel. It’s just not true. We’re good at confusing methods with mission right now. Thanks!

      • Dennis Ginter on September 28, 2020 at 1:18 pm

        Just found you on email a few days ago! Serendipity (or someone being helpful?) What’s so frustrating for me is knowing that we must not go back to what wasn’t working anyway, without having a pretty good picture of what church is becoming! I remember Jesus saying something about building church His way!?

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