A Bird’s Eye View of the Nationwide Pivot to Online Church
COVID-19 instantly elevated every church website from being its “front door” to being its “only door”
“Church online is no longer a ‘fad’ or something reserved for mega-churches,”says Jason Hamrock, CEO at Missional Marketing. “At the present time it is the ‘only door’ to every single church, no matter the size. Every church now has the opportunity to make a strategic shift that will long outlast the end of COVID-19.”
No one could have imagined a time that virtually every church in America would be forced to close its doors on the very same Sunday. It turns out a microscopic virus did just that, and church as we know it may have changed forever.
Pastors have been fervently asking how to deal with this over the past few weeks. While the idea of online worship services is not new, it’s not exactly common. Video live-streaming of worship services through the internet is a weekly practice for many mid-sized and large churches across the country. But roughly half the congregations in the United States have fewer than 100 attendees and most of these churches have never contemplated a need to take their church service to the internet. In the past, these smaller churches may have recorded the pastor’s sermon and posted it publicly for on-demand listening or viewing. Rarely would the production be deemed “broadcast quality,” and the logistics and equipment required for a “live” feed to the internet did not seem worth the hassle or investment for a small church.
Then came COVID-19. All of a sudden there was an urgent need to provide some expression of the weekend worship service for the congregation. And the Googling began: “how to live stream church.” Pastors across the country began pulling out all the stops to find fast, efficient and affordable means for conducting their services online. A lack of resources often sparks the best innovation as iPhones, webcams and a host of affordable digital gadgets were repurposed for online streaming of worship to Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.
While pastors quickly strategized to get their services streamed to their congregation, the next issue that had to be addressed was how to be the church and not just do church. Small groups, Bible studies, children’s ministry and care ministries took the next round of creativity. The function of the church is not merely to deliver a Sunday worship service. There are an additional 167 hours in the week that are vital to the life of every growing believer and church relationships require a great deal of interpersonal engagement from week to week. Once again, technology is playing a significant role. Platforms such as FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and GoToMeeting provide groups of people the ability to maintain contact, pray together, and do Bible studies together. Churches have had to do this in a way that is also “grandma-proof,” in order to be accessible to all ages and technical competencies.
While no one is eager to talk about the financial implications for churches during COVID-19, there have been, and will continue to be, challenges for many of them. As much as 25% of all churches had no online giving heading into Covid-19 and therefore no practical way to continue receiving offerings from their attendees. These churches have been scrambling to set up online giving platforms in the last few weeks. Though online giving transactions have become more commonplace in recent years, most churches were still dependent on an offering taken during the service for a significant percentage of their donations. One pastor of a large church in North Texas stated that about 60% of the church’s offerings are given online. At any other time, that might be seen as a positive figure. Yet, it highlights that 40% of the church’s donors are dependent on an opportunity to give when gathered at the church building.
For most churches, the foray into digital church is likely to permanently change the way they do ministry, in multiple ways. If they had never done a live broadcast, they’ll probably continue doing so. If they had never recorded and posted videos of their sermons, they now have a system in place for providing their content online and on-demand. For churches that have never offered virtual small groups or daily teaching and discipleship content, they now can do so, and will likely continue. For the thousands of churches without online giving, that problem has been tackled. No matter what, it’s certain this “forced” move into digital church will have a lasting effect on churches around the country. It may also prove to be the solution pastors and church leaders were looking for to connect with a younger audience, a challenge that has perplexed them in recent decades.
About Missional Marketing: Missional Marketing is a Christian marketing agency that specializes in church growth. Through cutting-edge digital solutions and a team of experts with decades of knowledge, Missional Marketing has helped hundreds of Christian churches expand their web presence, ultimately bringing more people through their doors whether physical or digital. In recent weeks, they’ve provided guidance to churches going through the challenges of COVID-19 including the creation of church online website landing pages and providing online sermon consulting and online giving consulting. For more information, visit missionalmarketing.com.