We rightly rejoice as this season of upheaval in our churches draws to an end. But the temptation will be to slide back into old habits. I’m begging you, though, please don’t lay aside your online efforts. Redouble them.
It’s been a year since COVID-19 first drove churches from their buildings. For many churches, this marked their first foray into online ministry. When it first began, I was serving as the Director of Digital Platforms for Grace to You. And I can’t count how many pastors contacted us asking where to begin. Most had never live-streamed a service before; many didn’t even have a website.
In a matter of weeks, however, just about every church in the world was suddenly streaming their Sunday services. And many went even further in their efforts to serve their digital diaspora. They created blogs, weekly video updates, emails, and stepped up their social media communications. Though it has saddened me to see congregations not meeting in person, my heart leaps at the online ministry opportunities this pandemic has opened our eyes to.
I fear, however, that once this is all over, churches will abandon many of their online efforts. So, allow me to offer you three reasons your church should not only continue doing online ministry post-COVID, but actually expand its efforts.
A Supplement Not a Substitute
One of the mistakes many churches made early on in the pandemic was treating their live-stream services as though they were a replacement for in-person gatherings. The church, by definition, is an assembly. A live-stream cannot replace that. But that does not mean online ministry has no place once things get back to normal. Online ministry as a supplement, not a substitute, to in-person gatherings, is a common grace we should not give up.
Just last week, I was speaking with a group of pastors from various churches in my area. One raised this question to the other pastors, “When are you planning to stop live-streaming your services?” I was surprised to hear most of the other pastors say they hoped to stop as soon as possible. That response makes sense if online services are being treated merely as a substitute for in-person meeting. When the perfect comes, what need have we for the imperfect, right?
But many churches have been doing live-streaming for years, long before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. And it wasn’t just the mega-churches with their “online campuses” who were doing it. Some streamed services because they wanted to serve their missionaries and those who were physically limited from attending. If you are able, you should continue live-streaming services for those who truly cannot attend. If the concern is that some will default to online services out of laziness and neglect, that’s a shepherding issue, not a technology issue. But I actually want to talk about more than just live-streaming.
I believe there are two aspects to a church’s online ministry efforts, the first and primary is as a supplement for serving your congregation. The priority of pastors and individual believers should be ministering within their local church. Continue to take advantage of technology where it aids in that priority.
But there should be a second aspect of our online efforts: Outreach. And in my experience, most churches have never even considered how they can participate in online outreach.
You Want to Go Where the People Are
Have you ever wondered what the apostles would have done if they had the internet? We can’t know for sure, but I think we can speculate based on the principles we see in Acts and the epistles.