One of the biggest lessons the church has (hopefully) learned in the past couple of years is that we must transition from church as a building to church as a community. When Christ commissioned us in Matthew 28, the call was to go and make disciples. The New Testament church was not necessarily concerned with how many people filled a building, but with the quality of disciples they were making. What if the modern-day church began to measure effectiveness based on the church’s capacity to make disciples instead of filling a building?
By being intentional about connecting with one another, growing in Christ, and reaching the world around us, the church can truly make a difference and influence culture.
Sometimes making disciples can be difficult even in a physical setting, but how do we navigate the fact that more people are watching online and possibly may not return to a physical building? How can we help online attendees become more than spectators, but engaged followers of Christ?
Someone’s digital journey to connect with your church is very similar to a physical one. People first become aware of your church, then consider and connect with your church, and eventually become fully engaged in community and discipleship.
Most churches have a good understanding of how to create awareness of their church online. This can be done through various communication channels:
Your church website serves as your front porch to your physical building or your online experience and is one of the most important tools you have to build awareness of your church. In this article, I share five essentials for every church website and tips for creating websites that convert here.
Once people become aware of your church, they may consider visiting in-person or virtually. As a church, we need to be prepared for their visit. If someone came to your physical church building and no one said hello and no one welcomed them, do you think they would return? Probably not. The same applies to an online service.
Chat hosts are one of the most important keys to success for an online service. As they welcome guests in the chat and encourage discussion, the foundations for connection and community are laid. Viewers realize that there is someone on the other end of the stream that cares and is willing to pray for and connect with them. Any time a church goes online for a service, pastoral chat, or Facebook Live, chat hosts should be present to welcome guests and build community.
Once people have become aware of your church and are attending service, what is next? How do we begin to develop a true connection? Commenting in the chat is just the beginning; true connection begins with follow-up.
Just as you would follow-up with someone who attended your physical service, you can do the same with someone who attends online. During the week, reach out to those who commented in the chat and see how they are doing. This can be done through a DM, text message, or phone call. Let people know someone cares; ask how you can pray for them. You will be surprised at how well people respond and how willing they are to open up to someone they hardly know.
Regularly scheduled Zoom or Facebook Group discussions with the pastor are powerful tools to build connection and authenticity with your congregation. Imagine every Sunday evening or Monday night at 7 PM, your pastor goes online for 15-20 minutes to dive deeper into the word that was shared on Sunday. This is not another preaching session, but an opportunity for people to ask questions, learn more, engage with others, and build community.
Discipleship is more than connection; we must go deeper. Through online Bible studies, Facilitated Groups, and outreach, people are given the opportunity to learn more about Christ and grow in their walk with Him. If people are centrally located, these online groups may lead to a meet-up where people can connect and grow together.
Online Bible Studies
An online Bible study can be conducted through Zoom or a private Facebook group. This provides an opportunity for a leader to share from the Word and expound on its meaning and practical application in an environment that is conducive for discussion and interaction. Some groups prefer to read a book together and discuss it each week. Find the format that works best for your church or group and embrace the opportunity to dive deeper together!
Another model provides a video and discussion guide for group leaders to facilitate each week. Using this format, all groups (whether in-person or virtual) watch the same pre-recorded content but have personalized discussions and interactions facilitated by a group leader.
Discipleship is far more than just growing internally. A true disciple follows Christ’s instruction to “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). How do we reach out into our cities, nations, and world in a virtual setting?
There are various opportunities to impact others in online communities. Join an online neighborhood or interest group and listen. As people begin to share needs or even ask for prayer, be there to respond and interact. People online are hurting; they need someone to show them Jesus’ love.
Outreach is not just limited to the community around you. My husband and I have been involved in world missions since 1993. Over the last couple of years, we have not been able to travel and “go into all the world” as we were accustomed. However, through regular Zoom calls, we are reaching remote areas of developing nations; God is moving and people are growing in discipleship. Our mission never changed, but our methods had to change in order to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.
I understand we can never replace the power of physical touch, gathering together, and “laying on of hands.” However, if the church refuses to embrace its online community, we are missing a divine moment to make disciples and impact our world.