Church Leadership Lab is a podcast that seeks to empower healthy churches. Through conversations, interviews, and stories, we explore what's happening in ministry today and how pastors and leaders can navigate what lies ahead.
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After any significant disruption in a church, a community, or even a business, there’s a period of readjustment after the disrupting season has passed. In many ways, that’s what we’re seeing in churches coming out of the last few years. Many churches that went all-in on digital have now returned to in-person programming and are trying to reconcile their digital disconnect.
The fallout can be seen in a warmth that stops at the stage. A church might say from the stage, “We’re glad you’re here!” and invite you to text a number to “get connected.”. When congregants text that number, they get a cold, impersonal auto-response: “Thanks for texting this number. Here’s a form to fill out.”
For churches, there was no other choice in 2020 than to jump all-in on digital services, digital small groups, online giving, and more. The model of taking what works in the buildings on weekends didn’t perfectly translate when simply uploaded online. What we’ve learned since 2020 is that there needs to be as much intention in creating the online experience as in creating in-person touchpoints and assimilations.
Technology should be relevant in every part of ministry, though its application will look different in youth ministry compared to small group ministry. Don’t be discouraged if you’re trying to figure out how to use technology to connect with your church. Creativity is unlimited; look inside and be who you’re created you to be in your context.
While most churches began using digital tools out of necessity and stopped short of understanding the full potential of these tools, assessments like the Digital Ministry Matrix exist to help you discover where you are digitally and suggest a starting point to using digital tools to minister.
Try auditing your church’s assimilation process for new visitors. Compare similarities and differences between a physical location experience and the online onboarding process. They will look different but should feel the same. What people expect in the building can be crafted to match the online experience in terms of warmth and engagement. Vice versa, the in-person experience should also incorporate digital tools to make that encounter natural and seamless.
Some pastors perceive online options as competition for traditional weekend programming. Shifting that perspective to view technology as an extension of ministry lets us realize its immense potential to expand our reach. Technology is not a threat; it presents an additional opportunity to connect and foster the community people desire.
Digital engagement and in-person attendance are not mutually exclusive; they can coexist. Recognize that people are used to digital experiences and incorporate this familiarity into the church environment. Combining physical and digital interactions creates a church experience that aligns more closely with people’s everyday lives.
Interestingly, people are often more open to assimilation and adaptation than church staff may think. Church leadership must adopt a healthy model that acknowledges and embraces the tension between digital experiences and in-person engagement without compartmentalizing them as separate entities. Churchgoers are already well-versed in digital platforms, but the church hasn’t always embraced digital tools like its people have.
The church can actively encourage people to allow their faith to be shaped and formed by the platforms they utilize daily. Doing so will help bridge the gap between church and digital culture.
The opportunity to reach more people than ever before in digital spaces is incredible and untapped. Like a missionary studying a new field, the church must figure out how to appropriately leverage technology. The difference between weekend programming and daily digital touchpoints will be as unique as your community. A few ideas of how some churches are leveraging faithful presence in digital spaces throughout the week are:
Everyone regularly uses their phones and social media. The church needs to engage people in spaces where they are already “congregating.” With a whiff of intentionality, digital platforms have unlimited potential to further the gospel like never before.
“Technology is not about taking a service and putting it online, it’s a church saying how do I connect with people daily so that we can together grow and become more like Jesus.” -Alan George
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“I had more information about my people online, but it didn’t feel like I knew them because I couldn’t see them. Many times we think we know our people, but we don’t.” -Alan George
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“Our people are more ready for digital assimilation than those of us who are on staff at a church.” -Alan George
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