Turn Your Online Church Into an Engaged Church Online!

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On Wednesday, April 21, VP of Business Development Pastor Jason Daye, and Digital Product expert, Kevin Hertel, hosted a webinar called Online Church vs. Church Online. During this one hour discussion, they outlined how to increase engagement and truly disciple a church’s digital audience. Below is a synopsis of the conversation. To watch the entire webinar replay – click here… 

As a society, over the past year we have had to shift from in-person events and meetings to everything being online. And this is true for all areas of life, not just the church: businesses everywhere are doing meetings online; conferences, movies, education and even live theater have all adapted and moved online.

A recent study conducted by Anyroad, an experiential management company, interviewed a variety of businesses about online virtual events.  Just like churches, many businesses hosted virtual events for the first time in 2020. But over 85% said that virtual events are here to stay! (Click here to learn more about the Study)

Prior to COVID, many churches were already hosting online services but once the virus hit, we have seen tons of churches who have gone online for the first time ever. Initially, as churches closed, the important thing was to just have a Sunday service that people at home could watch. 

But as time has gone on it is becoming more important to look beyond just broadcasting our services. As the church, we need to answer this question: How do we build the church and disciple people online?

First, it’s important to remember what the church is called to do – we are called to go unto all the world and preach the Gospel, making disciples. So as we look at how we can do this digitally, it helps to focus on that mission.

“We need to think like a missionary,” says Pastor Jason. “We are disciple makers  – this is our mission. If we really focus in on this and what it really means and then let that lead and guide the things you do online from this perspective, you will see increased engagement.”

He continued, “LIke the Apostle Paul,  we need to connect with people where they are. Church online provides you with an opportunity to meet people where they are – online at the gym, in the middle of the night, when they’re looking for answers. This is the ultimate mission field – it’s Digital Evangelism – getting the Gospel out online.” 

So what is the difference between Online Church and Church Online?

Digital Products expert, Kevin Hertel, defines it this way:  “Online Church is making your service available to watch – it’s more like you are an outsider looking in. There is no connecting point between the viewer and the church. Church Online is developing a church that is in a digital environment – creating engagement, relationships, discipleship, online.”

Both men agree, you can’t just put your service out there as a broadcast and expect to create true authentic relationships.

How do we embrace being the church in these online spaces?

Make Our Church Online services better

  • Improve Your Online Platform

Kevin and Jason recommend these options: 

  • FreeOnlineChurch.com – Provides you with the ability to take your Facebook or Youtube live feeds and embed them onto your web page – that way you eliminate ads and distractions commonly found on those platforms. This creates an intentional environment where God can speak to people. FreeOnlineChurch.com includes a chat window, notes section and online Bible. 

Lifechurch.tv offers a service called churchonlineplatform.com – it’s a streaming provider that is great for churches that are more technical. They provide the You Version Bible and  Live chat and prayer rooms.

Add More Visual Elements

  • Open Broadcast Software (OBS) – captures your live stream in one place so you can add in visual elements to make your online presentation better and increase engagement. Through OBS you can upload videos, show your slides, and include worship songs if you have a CCLI license. For more information, visit OBSproject.com.

Manage Time for Maximum Kingdom Impact

Studies show that online viewers have a much shorter attention span – on average 15 minutes on Facebook and 20-25 minutes on YouTube. Consider this when planning your messages – you need to edit your sermon down so it’s tight and has maximum impact. 

If your online audience is only engaged for a short period of time, then they won’t stick around until the end, when most pastors present the Gospel. You need to get to the meat of your message earlier. Of course you also need to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. So just be thoughtful about the attention span of those you are speaking to and try to keep them engaged – it may not be how you have always done it. But again, think like a missionary. 

Using a service planning tool like Planning Center can help you time out each element and order your services in a way that creates engagement in the key time frame.

Recruit Online Hosts

Use members of your staff or lay leaders who can connect, comment, take prayer requests, and YES, ask questions during the sermon. While talking in church is not normally encouraged during live in-person services, this is one area that is drastically different for Church Online. Use your chat window to encourage your digital congregation to comment and answer questions during the sermon – it’s a great way to keep people engaged and help them get to know each other better!

Think Beyond Sunday

If you shorten your services, or just your message, one way to make sure you are reinforcing the learnings and creating another point of engagement, is by developing follow-up steps and resources. 

The Anyroad study also showed that the online events that have the highest impact are those who had something the audience could interact with – something physical or additional resources to use after the initial experience. 

One way to do this is through Digging Deeper Guide. This tool can be a short PDF that includes five Scripture readings for the week, some reflection questions or related texts. A guide like this is perfect for individual study but can also be used for small groups. Distribute the guides by offering a PDF that can be downloaded from your chat window online or from a QR code in your bulletin for in-person worshipers.

Use Social Media as an Engagement Tool

Social Media sites like Facebook and Instagram can be powerful connection and engagement tools. Encourage your congregation to follow your church’s pages and to share your posts with their online friends. Here are some tips: 

  1. Go “live” a couple times during the week to reinforce an action step from your sermon and preview the next week’s message.
  2. Post every day: words of encouragement, questions, scripture, highlights from the sermon or previews the next week’s sermon. 

Make your social audience feel like they are part of your online family during the week – and then Sunday is the family dinner. The key is to be consistent – find a tool that helps you schedule- like Outreach Social – which provides you an easy way to post daily, upload your own graphics and see reporting. 

You can’t ignore this  – it helps build relationships during the week. 

Finally this can seem like a lot of work, so you may need to adjust how you spend your time. 

In the past, pastors invested a lot of time creating content – sermons, small groups, emails, newsletters. But now you may want to shift how you spend that time, looking for ways to collaborate with other creatives to create some of this content so you can spend more time creating engagement and making disciples. 

Think about resources that can help you shorten your sermon preparation time, like SermonCentral.com or the Outreach Church Kit and Video Subscription plan. These sites give you a starting point to help save you time. And often the Kits include visuals so you don’t have to create them yourself. Then you can spend that time for maximum kingdom impact. Relational engagement stuff. 

Click here to download a complete list of resources mentioned in this blog and during the webinar.

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