8 Ways to Lead in the New Digital Default Church

Share This Post

Like it or not (and a lot of church leaders don’t seem to like it), digital is your new default as a leader.

As the country and world slowly reopens, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions on digital church.

With reduced in-person seating, social distancing and substantial evidence that not everyone wants to come back to in-person services, digital church appears to be as much a part of the future as it is the present.

So what’s the key to leading digital church well moving forward?

Here are 8 ways to lead in the new digital default church.

Like it or not, digital is your new default as a leader. Click To Tweet

1. Make Decisions For Today, Not For Forever

I’ve seen some leaders say the church as we knew it is over, that home church with digital shepherds is the new default , or that whatever they’re peddling is the new normal.

Not so fast. That’s very premature.

Do I think things will go back to the way they were? No, I do not. We’ll clearly begin to see a new normal at some point.

But here’s the truth: you and I have zero idea what the new normal is, and have zero idea when the new normal will start.

We can’t even see the bottom of this crisis yet.  So don’t worry about what’s going to happen on the other side. It’s pure, useless speculation.

What you need to do is make the best decision for now, not for forever.

With the situation unfolding the way it is, changes happen in minutes that used to take hours, hours have become like days, and days like weeks.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, focus on serving people today.

When you can't see the bottom of a crisis, focus on making the best decision for now. Don't worry about forever. Click To Tweet

2. Make the Mission Your Focus, Not the Methods

So what filter should you use for decision making then?

Simple. Make your mission bigger than your methods.

What’s felt so frightening over the last while is that the methods we’ve used for decades (centuries) collapsed before our eyes. The mission hasn’t.

Your methods will continue to flex.

Churches that held services inside buildings last week with no congregation either already can’t or likely won’t be able to do that soon as gatherings of 10 or more or any size are banned.

Large churches with studios who offered their buildings to smaller churches with no gear likely won’t be able to do that for long. Again, maybe not by the time you’re reading this post. (Why? Because your production crew alone is usually larger than 10 people.)

Is that the end?


The model is temporary but the mission is eternal.

Make your mission bigger than your methods. Click To Tweet

In a world that’s falling apart, the mission feels more relevant today than it felt a month ago. The methods will change weekly.

Here’s a quick practical exercise that will take five minutes. I did it with my team earlier this week (remotely via Zoom).

Pull out your mission and values statement. Then ask your team which ones rise to the surface.

We have values like “Serve first” “Pursue Health” and “Choose Trust” that immediately jumped out at people.

Guess what? THOSE haven’t changed. They provide a filter through which we can serve in this crisis to help people thrive in life and leadership.

The methods? They change.

But at least now you remember what you’re about.

In a time of crisis, make your mission central. Make your methods temporary.

In a time of crisis, make your mission central. Make your methods temporary.  Click To Tweet

3. Get Innovative…Fast

What you’re probably spending a lot of time doing right now is figuring out how to do what you used to do.

Um, that’s gone. It’s history.

Instead, spend your time on is what you can do. Focus on what’s possible, not what you’ve lost.

Church leaders, trying to revive up what you can’t do is a far less effective strategy than focusing on what you CAN do.

Church leaders, trying to revive up what you can't do is a far less effective strategy than focusing on what you CAN do.  Click To Tweet

So far during this crisis I’ve seen church leaders:

Launch a daily podcast to connect with their church

Start YouTube channels

Get active on Instagram

Take email way more seriously

Do live prayer services on Zoom

Leverage Facebook Live, Watch Parties and Groups

And I’m sure there’s 1000 more examples out there.

I’ve also seen leaders scale back on innovation too soon, which is mistake.

Just to give you an example from my own life…I just saw a significant part of my next few months traveling and speaking vaporize. In about 26 hours, all my speaking engagements are canceled (and wisely so).

I could sit in the corner or pretend to do virtual speaking or conferences, but instead, I asked myself: what does this make possible?

In a single day I went from an idea of launching a new podcast to a launched show in two weeks.

My team and I put together a free course on crisis leadership from idea to launch in 10 days.

These ideas came out of a one week strategy session, and as a result, we were able to help thousands more leaders almost instantly.

Not sure you can move that fast?

I have a brand new online training called the 30-Day Pivot, will show you how to develop your agility as a leader and as an organization to position yourself for growth.

You can access it here.

When I look back on my ‘success’ over the last few decades, a lot of my breakthrough moments came through crisis situations where we weren’t sure what to do, so we just did whatever seemed best.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Crisis can become the cradle of innovation.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Crisis can become the cradle of innovation.  Click To Tweet

4. Think about meaning, message and connection way more than you think about production

So week one of digital church was congregations live-streaming services from an empty auditorium.

For reasons already stated, that’s likely not possible moving forward.

On top of that, it’s a little weird—weird on the level of sports teams playing in empty arenas, which didn’t last long either.

Right now church leaders are worried about production levels, lighting and optics.

It can create a have/have not environment: churches with resources thrive while churches without great production fail.

Again, not so fast.

Production values become far less important when there’s a bigger battle going on.

You know what the world needs right now?




Focus on meaning, message and connection, and you’ll always have an audience.

Production values become far less important when there's a bigger battle going on. Click To Tweet

5. Simple and real beats polished and professional

If you’re studio-less, which many of you probably are by now, just remember to be simple and real.

Simple and real beats polished and professional in a crisis like this.

When it comes to video, simple and real beats polished and professional in a crisis like this. Click To Tweet

You’re probably reading this post on the only device you need to influence the people you lead in the future—your phone. Your phone is probably even 4k…way more than the web requires.

I published a Home Studio Gear Guide that can help you get started broadcasting online for about $100, and also outline the exact gear I use in my current studio.

You want to have a decent camera angle and not look like a slob when you don’t have a studio, but seriously, the internet flattened the world a long time ago.

You don’t need a million dollars to make a difference. Ask any YouTuber.

You don't need great production to get a great message out. The internet flattened the world a long time ago. Ask any YouTuber. Click To Tweet

6. Think Daily, Not Weekly

Our past model of church was hyper-focused on weekends, and I get that.

But let me ask you a question: how often do you need hope, encouragement and connection?

If you’re like me, every single day. Same with your people.

Now more than ever, you can take the energy you used to put into gathering on Sunday into ministry on Monday. Still gather on Sundays of course, but as production simplifies and messages go mobile, you will have time, energy and focus to work on daily ways to inspire.

Want some really low hanging fruit?

A few years ago I saw that social media was not producing what it used to produce in terms of being able to connect content like this with my audience.

So I did something I was terrified of: started email people almost daily with a link to content like this.

I was terrified people were going to hate me, unsubscribe and bang down my door with baseball bats.

Let me just say I was shocked when they thanked me. And subscribed. And told their friends to subscribe.

My email list has grown significantly. And while I get a few dozen unsubscribes a day, we get far more people joining the list than leaving it. And a great open rate.

Go figure.

The key to seeing that happen for you (regardless of choosing email, social, YouTube or whatever), is to focus on serving people. Don’t spam them…help them.

If you can help people, they’ll be thrilled to hear from you.

And suddenly, thanks to digital church as the new default, you can go from helping people weekly to helping people daily.

Suddenly, thanks to digital church as the new default, you can go from helping people weekly to helping people daily. Click To Tweet

7.  Leverage Your People to Reach More People

For years leaders have said “you don’t go to church, you are the church”. That takes on a whole new meaning when no one can go to church anymore.

The truth is for most of your congregation, church is something they went to, not something they really had ownership in beyond their involvement.

What if that changed….now?

You can leverage the power of your social media and your church’s social media to get the message out, but the real force multiplier happens when you leverage the power of everyone’s social network to get the message out.

My guess is your congregation has never been more motivated to do that than right now.

First, people are growing lonelier by the day.

Second, when a disruption like this one happens, people are willing to change their patterns.

Third, people are looking for hope.

Think about it: everyone you want to reach is online. It’s finally time to act like it.

Everyone you want to reach is online. Act like it. Click To Tweet

Last weekend at our church, our Lead Pastor Jeff Brodie asked everyone to share the link to our weekend livestream with their friends. People did.

Rather than shrinking, we grew from a 1500 people in physical attendance and maybe 1000 watch live online on Sunday, to many times that.

As soon as we couldn’t meet, we grew. And that growth has now been sustained for months.

If you think of online church as an obstacle, it will be. If you think of online church as an opportunity, it will be.

It’s pretty much that simple.

If you think of online church as an obstacle, it will be. If you think of online church as an opportunity, it will be. Click To Tweet

8. Repurpose Your Archive

Churches are famous for focusing on what’s next. The relentless pressure of Sunday has you always focused on a new message, new music and the next weekend.

However…you have an archive.

Some of you have an audio archive of MP3 messages. Some of you have a podcast. Others have years of YouTube videos or services captured in HD that sit on some website nobody visits.

Leverage those.

One of the questions I get all the time is “how do you write so much content?” People who subscribe to my email list ask me all the time how I come up with so many insights.

I tell them….It’s easy. I’ve been writing for seven years.

Just because your content isn’t brand new doesn’t mean it won’t be new to your audience. Especially a new audience. (And don’t flatter yourself…most of your church has no idea what you said last year, or last month. Neither does mine.)

Preachers, just because your content isn't brand new doesn't mean it won't be new to your audience. Especially a new audience you're reaching for the first time. Click To Tweet

Back to this website. Sure, I write several fresh posts a week and write a new email every day, but that’s just a few hours of work. The bulk of my content has been developed over years.

And when it arrives in your inbox, so many leaders tell us every day that it’s exactly what they needed to hear.

Here’s what’s true: you may have done your last family series two years ago, but I promise you families haven’t stopped having issues in the last 24 months (quarantine might make that series way more relevant).

Your last money series may be exactly what someone needs to hear right now.

That message you did on hope from the Psalms is exactly what someone feeling at the bottom needs right now.

The amazing thing about email, social media and other online channels you have is you can repurpose and reuse content to meet people where they’re at and reach new people who have never met you.

Not sure how to run campaigns like that of have a budget to hire staff to do it? Check out services like Pro Media Fire (partner link) that can help you for a fraction of the cost of a typical staff hire.

Great older content works. If you’re having trouble communicating with your kids, do you care that Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages was written in the 90s? Nope. You don’t. You read it. It changes things.

The key is to share these on weekdays and on other channels  throughout the week while you’re still directing people to what’s next and new on the weekend.

People don’t care if a message is new nearly as much as they care if a message is great.

Don’t believe this? How many times have you rewatched The Office or Friends?

People don't care if a message is new nearly as much as they care if a message is great. Click To Tweet

Increase Giving and Fully Fund Your Mission—Regardless of Where You're at Now.

When it comes to money conversations with your church, my guess is that you want the outcome (margin in your budget and a generous congregation) without the process (having to raise funds and talk about it).

The Art of Building a Generous Congregation is a proven method for increasing giving, creating a culture of generosity, and building financial margin at your church... without the stress and awkwardness.

Even if you don’t feel comfortable talking about money right now.
Even if you’ve never seen your congregation fully engage with that kind of conversation.
Even if you’ve tried other methods without success.

And yes, especially, if you could make a bigger difference by increasing your budget by 20%, 30%, or even 40%.

Share This Post
Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.