A popular meme going around depicts Forrest Gump sitting on his bench in Savannah with the caption: “Just like that, all the pastors became televangelists.” It’s true. Since quarantine, the vast majority of churches have figured out some way to have an online ministry. Some pastors propped up their iPhone and shot a sermon from their desks. Other churches with more equipment recorded services and edited them into good-looking worship experiences. Through the weeks of shutdown, worship was recorded, transmitted and received.
Now churches are regathering. Even with social distancing, we want to gather again and worship in person. But I have heard churches big and small say, “When we regather, we are doing away with our online service.” That is a mistake. Why?
I heard Tobias Lütke, a founder of Shopify, say in an interview that COVID-19 has brought the technology expectations of 2030 to 2020. Our relationship with technology is not going away; it is only going to get stronger. People expecting an online worship experience from a church is the new normal.
Here are five reasons your church should continue an online ministry:
- Your most vulnerable members may not regather with the church body for some time. One older couple shared with me they would not be back to church until a vaccine was developed. This couple have been faithful servants and givers, but now feel like they must protect their health. Online worship will be their way of connecting to their church family.
- People want to sample your worship experience before entering your doors. I’ve heard from several churches that have already regathered. Every one of them report first-time guests their first Sunday back. Why were first-time guests there? They had viewed the services online during quarantine.
- Your church’s “impact zone” is bigger than you think. Being located near a large military base, our church is accustomed to having members deploy overseas for long periods of time. Business travel may slow, but some of your members still travel. One of our regular online participants is an over-the-road trucker. Online is his most reasonable option.
- Your church’s view of the world expands. During quarantine, we discovered people were watching our services around the globe. We realized jokes about Clemson and Carolina, though funny, didn’t make sense to a bigger audience out there. Being online forced us to more fully inhabit 1 Corinthians 9:22b: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
- Fringe people can stay connected. During shutdown, I called one of our members. I’d been told he was mad about something, and had not attended in several months. He assured me he had watched faithfully every Sunday during the time he was away. But, he said, the Lord had been dealing with him during quarantine and knew he needed to get back to church (although he phrased it in a more colorful fashion). Online ministry helped him stay connected while he was halfway out the door.
“But,” you protest, “if we keep offering online services, won’t we just give people an excuse to stay home?” Here is the uncomfortable truth: If a person is inclined to stay home from church, they will. Refusing to offer an online ministry will not motivate people to come to church. In fact, just the opposite will occur: They will disconnect entirely.
Keep doing your online ministry. Up the quality of your video. You may have some high schooler or college student who knows technology in your church. Put them in charge of this. Allocate resources to get good equipment. Ask someone to lead an online Bible study during the week. You can use Zoom or Google Chat. During quarantine, we’ve had over 400 adults participate in online groups. People like this option!
Let me give you one more reason to continue your online ministry: A second shutdown is likely. It is a little like waiting for the second coming. We do not know the hour, but we need to be ready.
— Clay Smith is lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.