By Andy Jung
There’s no mistaking that the COVID-19 pandemic has made us ever-more reliant on technology. Many of us have come to depend on it for work, for connection and for entertainment. We spend countless hours on Zoom or other meeting platforms to continue our work in a variety of fields. We use the same technology to connect with one another for family game night or to catch up with our Sunday school class. We log hours on Netflix and Disney+ to binge watch shows and movies. This pandemic season is proving that technology is here stay!
As churches have shifted to online worship since mid-March, many have noticed the web views of worship far outnumber the weekly average of people in the pews pre-COVID-19. Church leaders have been surprised at the number of their own members who might physically be present in the pews just once or twice a month but are now logging-in weekly. In addition, online worship services are reaching beyond traditional church networks to others throughout the community and even around the world.
So, how do we measure the effectiveness of online worship? Do we count the number of views? What multiplier should we use to have a more accurate count? Are these even the right questions? Are numbers of “attendees” enough?
Perhaps we need to ask deeper questions. How do we engage the people who are watching the service who might not have a church home? How do we begin developing a proper relationship with someone online? How do we disciple people who are in another state or even another country? Maybe these are the kind of metrics we should consider for developing an online ministry that can impact the Kingdom.
On a podcast by Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman (Church Pulse Weekly, April 20, 2020), Kenny Jahng of churchcommunications.com shared some insight on how to move people from content consumers to engagement and community involvement. According to Jahng, the primary way to encourage engagement is to illicit a response. Just as we would encourage people to respond during an in-person worship service by requesting prayer or surrendering their lives to follow Christ or by signing up to volunteer, why not offer similar invitations online?
Maybe a Zoom link is shared during the online worship for people to go and request prayer. Maybe a SignUpGenius link can be shared for people to volunteer to work in the food pantry. Maybe an invitation is given to complete an online visitor card or to “like” the church’s Facebook page so someone could follow up through direct messaging. Maybe a virtual “meet the pastor” can be scheduled immediately after the online worship is broadcasted. All of these ways can help elicit a response that can open doors for meaningful relationships.
Another way to encourage engagement is to interact during the online worship. Just as we would welcome visitors during in-person worship, we should verbally acknowledge them during our online services. As the worship is broadcast, a church leader can host a “watch party” and pose questions pertaining to the sermon that could help people engage deeper in the act of worship. Once a worship broadcast is complete, someone could follow up with the people who posted comments to engage with them. It requires some time and energy but it can be a difference maker for someone who may be seeking for answers to all that is going on in the world.
COVID-19 has shifted our world in unimaginable ways. How the Church responds to this change will determine how relevant we will be to those who have not found a church home or who have yet to place their faith and trust in Jesus. Let us not simply wait until things return to “normal.” Let us take advantage of this opportunity to reach a hurting world with the love of Jesus and the care of his people.
Who knows, maybe the changes we are undergoing due to COVID-19 might finally propel us to become the missional churches we in the CBF community have long aspired to be. May we be focused on Kingdom ministry and the people we are called to love and disciple.