Utilizing Church Online to Grow Your Impact: A Recap from ENGAGE Conference 2020

If you're like many, 2020 is a big year for your church. The new year inherently brings new excitement, new goals, and the ever-catchy “20/20 Vision” theme that many have adopted. In this new year, what steps will you take to reach people with the Gospel and make disciples? 

For many churches, 2020 will be the year that they launch into online ministry. On Day 4 of the Engage Conference, Ben Stapley gives us an overview of the differences between two digital outreach strategies for your church: streaming your services and implementing a robust “church online” experience.

ABOUT BEN STAPLEY

Ben Stapley currently serves at his church in Miami, Florida and was previously an online pastor. Not only is he still actively involved with church online, but he also brings more than 20 years of knowledge and experience to his session on the topic. You'll benefit from his broad background of ministry, broadcast, and plenty of practical advice.

Ben's session provides a high-level overview for those considering church online or getting ready to dive in. He covers how church online is different from streaming video, digital discipleship strategies, and best practices for anyone holding services online. 

You'll also benefit by hearing some of the pros and cons of church online, and what to avoid. Plus, he mentions some of the tools he uses and recommends to make all of this happen - even the free ones! 

DIGITAL MINISTRY FOR BROADER OUTREACH

Why is digital ministry so important? As a society, we consume a lot of video online. Like, a whole lot. While the majority of this content likely isn't sermons and spiritual teachings, it means the medium is “comfortable” for folks. In other words, you're not trying to ask people to do something that doesn't already come naturally for them. According to one study, people are consuming almost 7 hours of online video per week. Google's own YouTube is one of the most popular websites in the world. Even Facebook has put more resources and algorithmic clout behind video. 

So what does all this mean for your church? If you're wanting to minister to the next generation and to your local community, then Stapley's session provides expert guidance to determine how your church can increase its digital reach. Online is the new mission field. With an intentional digital outreach strategy, your church can connect with people and communities that may otherwise never step foot inside your physical location – either because of schedule, preconceived notions, medical conditions or a variety of other reasons. The field is ripe for harvest! 

TECHNOLOGY ENHANCES, NOT COMPETES WITH, THE MISSION

It wasn't all that long ago (and perhaps still the case for some) that holding church services online was widely seen as a deterrent to local church growth. It was assumed that if people were given the option of attending online that they would do so at the expense of the brick-and-mortar, and if they weren't there in person then they couldn't volunteer, they couldn't connect, or they couldn't give. Largely though, this fear hasn't come to fruition. In fact, as technology has improved and evolved, church online is now seen as a positive, cost-efficient way to stay connected with the current congregation while also reaching new people - and discipling them. No longer a growth deterrent, it's now seen as a growth strategy. In some ways, streaming and church online is akin to what televangelism was to the early 1980s except with a greater ability to engage and build relationships locally. 

CONTINUITY AND INTENTIONALITY

At Firm Foundations Marketing, we coach our church partners on the importance of the total guest experience and being purposeful when it comes to outreach in its many forms. As Stapley addresses in his session, this even translates to the church online experience. Ben reminds us of the importance of being personable, personal, and purposeful when it comes to church online. 

While the specifics may look different for the online experience, Ben encourages us to approach church online in much the same way we would when setting up a great in-person experience. The online experience should have an intentionally welcoming environment that feels authentic rather than forced to the format. Different than just passive live streaming, church online should also seek to build community through active, personal engagement. This means greeting people, asking and responding to questions, and even means being more intentional about how we talk (Ben recommends opting for secular language over sacred language when possible so as to not confuse those new to or far from the faith). 

In a nutshell, church online should be a natural extension of the healthy ministry already occurring within your physical walls.

VULNERABILITY = OPPORTUNITY

In the not-always-pretty corner of ministry lies pain, struggle, and regrets. Many people suffer silently under the weight of their past decisions. But as Ben points out, church online provides an environment where there is increased personal vulnerability. It is specifically because we are not face to face with one another that people feel safer to be more candid with their struggles; which means that by hosting church online, your church is now uniquely positioned with an opportunity to connect and minister to people with felt needs and daily struggles. 

The times we live in have people more “connected” than ever, yet they lack deep relationships more than ever before. When you follow Ben Stapley's recommendations for church online, you'll create an online church community that can serve as a bridge to the powerful advantage of being able to minister personally and locally. This 1-2 punch is an amazing opportunity to share God's grace and redemption plan with those in the community around you!

IS CHURCH ONLINE RIGHT FOR YOU?

Truthfully, only you can answer this question. But prayerfully consider this – church online can be a great fit not just for a certain “type” of church but rather churches in many stages and styles. 

Are you a church plant looking to launch your physical location? Consider church online to build momentum for launch!

Are you an established church that has plateaued? Did you know that most churches who do church online are more than 50 years old? Church online can help you reach new people in your community without adding service days and times!

Are you a younger, engaging pastor placed to revive a small congregation of older people but struggle to get young adults to “stick” as a result? Church online can remove that generational barrier!

While church online is not a practical solution for every church, it is one many churches should be praying about as they seek to reach their communities in 2020.