by Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Cincinnati
It’s a conversation everyone is starting to have. And you’ve all heard me say “normal” wasn’t working for us, so “going back to normal” shouldn’t be an option. Neither in-person or virtual worship is perfect, and hybrid is hard; church membership has been declining for decades before COVID, and online church can’t solve the church issues either.
But: Here are the top 5 things we could get wrong moving forward.
1. Ignoring the value of virtual worship and ministry
There will be a real temptation to, once the world moves past COVID, think of virtual ministry as an add-on, not something integral to our work. Barna research shows that 7 in 10 churched adults agree that, post-pandemic, churches should use digital resources to reach and engage their neighborhoods. In addition, 21% of US unchurched adults are open to watching an online service alone. For those unchurched adults with a high digital openness though, that percentage climbs to 87%.
If you care about reaching others with the message of Jesus Christ, ignoring virtual is a mistake. Churches who have figured out how to offer great in-person and virtual worship experiences are the future. Let’s face it – we’ve had a hybrid life for years. One moment you’re on social media, the next you’re having coffee with a friend in real life. Treating digital as something interesting or nice to have may have been an acceptable strategy in 2011. But this is 2021.
2. Only 1% of your budget is sustaining a vibrant online presence
Too many church leaders will step into the past as they step back into their buildings. Although we feel under-resourced and unbudgeted, giving your online ministry, website, and social media a single line in a job description is a mistake. At least it is if you want to build a future. Think virtual small groups, Bible studies, worship, meetings, invitations. Think virtual members and maybe even Deacons to care for them. You will have to decide how to devote a meaningful chunk of your budget to continuing those – regularly. One expert said 40% of your budget devoted to maintaining a strong online presence across all platforms is not out of order. And look for 15-25 year old volunteers to help – they see the future because they are the future.
3. Going back to normal, with a twist
Online worship can’t become just a live-stream of whatever is happening in the sanctuary on Sunday.
Things to think about: Online services are best when they’re shorter. Worship music online is hard. And you have to preach to the online people directly – otherwise, you’ll lose your online visitors by making them feel like the kid you sent to bed early while the party is still going on downstairs.
Consider shooting the online version of the message and service mid-week to broadcast on Sunday and for access on-demand, or a series of 5 minute devotions. Then create a live experience in the room on Sunday that doesn’t get streamed, with Fellowship – meaningful Fellowship – when we can really get back together. I get it – lots of work. Too much for the Kingdom? Naah.
Because if everything your church does in the future feels downloadable, that’s what you’ll get: a lot of downloads, not a lot of gathered people.
4. Confusing your personal and church presence Online
Sometimes the reason people who don’t come to church don’t is – your social media posts.
According to a recent Barna survey, only 30% of non-Christians have a positive reaction when they see people post things about their Christian faith on social media. (45% don’t have a positive reaction, and 25% indicated they don’t know.)
Tirades, personal political, vaccine, moral, and justice issues on a constant stream can be exhausting, alienating, and leave an impression of you that becomes an impression of your church. Influence takes years to build and seconds to lose. Church friends, we’re losing a lot of influence right now.
5. Resenting people who don’t do what you want, or feeling forced by others into doing something you don’t want to do
I once read that to calm a cranky child, put them in water. It didn’t work for me, but it sounded good.
However, what do you do with people who are in conflict? You love them. You respect them. You embrace them (6 feet away for now). Ultimately, people gravitate to where they are valued most. So value people.
We’re in a new place. God is here with us. Isn’t it awesome?