I just recently taught a workshop at a regional gathering for pastors. I shared about how the lessons we have learned during the pandemic will change how we do online ministry in the future. My hope is that we won’t waste what we have learned. During the current crisis, I have seen churches get creative in finding new ways to connect with their communities. Here is what we can all agree on:
- Online Ministry is here to stay.
- Churches of all sizes can be innovative. When you lack resources, it creates an urgency to innovate.
- Churches are going to have to work harder to attract and connect people with in-person worship experiences.
So how do we move forward and build upon what we have learned? Here are six questions that I think we need to be asking.
1) How do we structure our online services
James Emery White shares that we will need to rethink how you offer worship, rethink how you deliver the message, and rethink the length of your service. As we go into the future, I feel that streaming your in-person worship service will fall short of effectiveness unless changes are made.
As I watched and learned from many churches during the pandemic, I’ve seen a shift take place in online worship. What I’m learning is that online ministry is quickly evolving beyond just sharing your weekly service online.
What makes your church unique? If you just focus on the in-person experience, viewers will feel that they are left out. Imagine watching a sporting event with no announcers or play by play commentary. You would know what’s happening, but you wouldn’t feel engaged or connected. That’s what many online services feel like. So how can we do a better job structuring our services to create an engaging online experience?
One option is to add interactive elements to your in-person services that are focused on the online audience. Think about adding a special introduction and welcome, highlighting specific instructions for those watching online. You could do a behind the scenes video with hosts sharing about the service. Also, think about switching to an online host at the end of the service to explain their next steps and responses. You can share discussion questions that they can use if they are watching with friends. All these ideas are easily implemented and can make a dramatic difference.
A second option is to pre-record a separate online service. For this, you can record in a more intimate setting and communicate directly to those watching online. You can take into account the shorter attention span of online viewers, and you can customize every aspect of the online service.
The key is thinking through a structure for your online service that connects with your community, and that doesn’t overwhelm your staff and volunteers
2) How do we choose a livestream platform
Do you want to share your service online? Or do you want to create an online campus for your church? Here’s a recent blog post sharing your options.
Facebook and Youtube work great because you are sharing your video where people are already interacting. The drawback is that you have to abide by their rules, which can change at any time. You can have your videos removed because of potential copyright violations even if you have the proper licensing. Although you can track engagement by likes and comments, you are limited in knowing who actually is present and watching your services.
That’s why many churches have moved to an online campus utilizing the free Church Online Platform (CHOP). The best way to understand how this works is to see it in action.
Finally, you can have the best of both worlds by simulcasting to social media platforms like Facebook and Youtube, while focusing your viewers to your website using CHOP.
While you can embed Youtube in CHOP, you will get the best results by using a streaming provider like Vimeo, Boxcast, or Resi. If your struggle with dropped frames and buffering, Resi is the best solution.
3) How do we improve the quality of our online services
There are two main ways to improve the quality of your online service. You can improve the video quality, and you can improve the audio quality.
How can you improve video quality?
Here are a few ways you can quickly make a difference
- Use tighter framing on your video shots
- Use multiple camera angles
- Use higher quality video cameras
- Stream at a higher resolution (requires faster internet upload speeds)
How can you improve audio quality?
I recently did an entire post about improving your audio for livestreams. By using a different audio mix for online, you can improve the online experience.
4) How do we increase engagement?
Here is a great post with 26 ideas to increase online engagement. Here are some of the best ways to create engagement online.
Ask Better Questions
Have hosts during your online services ask questions. When you ask good questions, you will get more comments. Pastors can also engage with the online audience by directing questions directly online. Here is a list of great questions you can use.
Think Beyond Sunday Morning
If you want to see more people engage during your weekly message, it is important to engage with your community during the week. Share community events, comment on local business posts, and interact with the people who attend your church.
You also can post valuable content throughout the week. I encourage churches to post content that answers questions that people are asking. Don’t just post content about what type of ice cream people like best. Instead, post content that answers the real questions that people are struggling with, so that you can engage with them in dialogue, and point them to the Gospel.
Another way to engage is to give people a peek behind the scenes. Most attenders see online content or in-person experiences, but rarely get to see what happens behind the scenes throughout the week. Use social media to share a look at what happens behind the curtain. Typically, behind the scenes peeks get much more engagement on social media regardless of context.
You can highlight your volunteers, share small group success stories, do Monday morning sermon recaps, and record podcasts. Your options are only limited by your creativity.
5) How do we expand our online ministry without adding staff?
The simple answer is that you may need to add or reassign staff. Even if they are unpaid volunteers, you will need people focused on online ministry if you want to be successful.
If you have ever tried to recruit volunteers from bulletin announcements, you know that group appeals don’t really work. You have to share your vision with potential volunteers one on one. Don’t forget that you have an unexpected talent pool of teenagers and college students who are already doing a great job posting on social media. Your current volunteers are a great source to help you find new volunteers.
One of the best ways to get more done is to quit doing what is unnecessary. There are many tasks in your weekly schedule that you can eliminate or delegate. Michael Hyatt talks about your ideal week, and Carey Nieuwhof shares about having a fixed calendar that allows you to focus on what is important. Learn how to block off time each week to focus on online ministry.
6) How do we improve our online presence?
The best way to improve your online presence is to be more consistent in posting quality content. Think about what you want to post on your website, your Facebook Page, your Facebook Group, Instagram, and any other social media platform you are using. Develop a strategy and posting plan to guide what you do.
Posting quality graphics is easy using Canva (Here’s a recent blog post about it). It’s a simple drag and drop graphic editor that is available in your web browser and mobile devices. Canva has a great content planner that will schedule your graphics to be posted to your social media accounts.
Facebook has the Creator Studio that allows you to schedule posts on Facebook and Instagram. If you block off time each week, you can schedule an entire week’s worth of posts at one time.
While a social media plan primarily focuses on sharing content to get likes, comments, and shares, a social ministry strategy focuses on building relationships and facilitating connections between and among people so that discipleship can happen. Relationships are the foundation for discipleship.From Social Media to Social Ministry by Nona Jones
Hopefully these six questions will help you evaluate your current online ministry and find new ways to engage and connect. Online ministry allows you to do discipleship from a distance. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas and experiment! Let’s reach our communities for Christ.