As the COVID pandemic brought life as we knew it to a screeching halt thirteen months ago, churches of all shapes and sizes were forced to transition to online services with no notice or advance planning. Church leaders were not thinking about strategy at that time; they were focused on survival.
During the first few weeks of quarantine, pastors and other church leaders were immersed into a world of technology for which many were completely unfamiliar. Pastors learned the difference between Facebook Live and Facebook Premieres. They learned how to preach to a phone sitting on a tripod in their office or in an empty sanctuary. Small groups began to meet virtually, if they met at all. It was a challenging time.
However, many church leaders quickly recognized the great value that technology added to their ministries. Pastors who once were ambivalent or even opposed to online ministry were now posting daily video devotionals to their social media accounts and sending out Zoom invitations like it was candy at a Trunk or Treat event. Even the smallest churches began to provide an online giving option.
Online ministry was king…for a day.
As the initial lockdown began to be lifted in various states, churches began to focus their efforts on reopening safely, and with good reason. After all, the church is meant to gather together. A verse that has been quoted many times over the past year is Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”
A much less familiar verse is found in 2 John 12, in which John writes: “Though I have many things to write to you, I don’t want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to come to you and talk face to face so that our joy may be complete.”
As helpful as technology has been over the past year, nothing can replace in-person interactions with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The church is meant to gather together.
While many churches continue to utilize some form of online ministry, I have begun to notice some churches (particularly smaller churches) who are abandoning these technologies almost as quickly as they adopted them. As I heard Thom Rainer explain on a recent podcast episode, these churches viewed their online efforts as a temporary placeholder rather than an ongoing opportunity. Now that they have safely regathered, online ministry has served its purpose.
If you have adopted this mindset, here are 5 reasons why I believe that your church should continue to conduct some form of online ministry.
- Online ministry ministers to the members of the flock who have not returned. As the numbers of fully vaccinated members continue to climb, the number of people who have not returned due to health reasons will continue to decline. Still, other non-COVID related health problems may cause members to be unable to attend for long periods at a time. Similarly, others may not be able to attend due to their work schedule. Online ministry can keep this small minority connected to your church, just as it did for the whole church during the early days of the pandemic.
- Online ministry keeps members connected when they have to miss a Sunday. I was not feeling well recently and had to miss a Sunday, but I was still able to watch the worship service from home. Similarly, I know of a Sunday School teacher who had to take a business trip this past Sunday. However, through the blessings of technology, he was able to teach his class in Kentucky from his hotel room in Arizona. If a church discontinues their online ministry efforts in a post-pandemic world, those opportunities to stay connected with members who have to miss a Sunday will cease unnecessarily.
- Online ministry gives potential guests the opportunity to check out your church virtually before visiting in person. As church leaders discovered in the early days of the pandemic, streaming their services online helped them to connect with folks who had never visited in person before. I’ve heard several testimonies from individuals and families who have joined churches in recent months because they first discovered the church online during the pandemic.
- Online ministry provides ample evangelistic opportunities. As Jesus issued the Great Commission, He commanded His followers to go into all the world. In the 21st century, that world is online. If your church wants to reach this generation for Christ, you must be willing to go across the street, but you’ll also need to go online. Connecting with lost people online is a starting point for connecting with them in person.
- Online ministry will not replace in-person gatherings for vast majority of church members. One of the reasons that some churches are ceasing their online ministries is because they fear that church members will not gather in-person as long as they have an online option. However, according to a recent Lifeway Research study, that won’t likely be the case. In fact, when COVID-19 is no longer an active threat to people’s health, 91% of churchgoers plan to attend in-person worship services at least as often as they did before the pandemic. Furthermore, nearly 1 out of 4 (23%) plan to attend more than they did before.
At the end of the day, your church needs to make the decision about your future online ministry efforts based upon your local context. However, I believe that churches of all shapes and sizes have tremendous potential if they maintain or improve their online ministry efforts in a post-COVID world.