Early in 2020, many churches were unexpectedly plunged into a digital world. When social distancing guidelines constrained in-person gatherings, churches turned to streamed services to continue ministering to their people. Now, more and more churches are settling into the rhythms of online outreach—and looking to a digital future.
On the most recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, podcast hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman sit down with Alejandro Reyes, CEO of Digital Napkin and executive pastor at New Vintage Church, and Haley Veturis, director of digital engagement at Bayside Church, to talk about digital outreach in the church.
Churches Need to Give Digital Its Due
Barna research suggests that congregations contain a wide variety of desires around digital and in-person gatherings.
While most churchgoers don’t prefer digital gatherings, they are interested in having both physical and digital options. About half (52%) of churchgoers say that their preference is for physical gathering, one-tenth (9%) say their preference is for digital gatherings and a third (35%) claim a preference for both.
For Veturis and Reyes, this is a sign that churches need to move forward in the digital space. Veturis implores church leaders to take digital engagement seriously: “Social media has created meaningful systemic changes to the status quo of the church at large. We’re still treating it as something that we should just hand over to our intern, and I just don’t understand that.” Now that churches have been thrown into online services, “it should never come off your plate.”
Reyes also encourages churches to rethink their staff roles to adapt to digital. With fewer in-person options, and a need for new ways of connecting, leaders should work to define and redefine roles. By responding to the current hunger for digital content, say both Reyes and Veturis, the church can set itself up for successful online connection—even after physical distancing is a thing of the past.
The Importance of Innovating Online Content
As churches explore the digital space, though, there are pitfalls. Reyes and Veturis both caution leaders not to treat social media as merely a space to share logistical details.
While it can be helpful to provide some information about upcoming study groups and seminars, “you don’t need to give everyone the kitchen sink in a post,” says Veturis. “If the post is intriguing enough, they’ll go to your website and find the information to get there. Or better yet, they’ll watch the livestream if you make that available digitally, which you should.”
And, Reyes says, social media can be the location for brand-new content, not just adaptations of old approaches. “Find something your pastor is good at,” suggests Reyes, “put them in front of a grill and start just talking about the gospel or talking about parenting … If you can create some sort of episodic content, you’re starting to build trust because people are looking for on-demand content.”
For some pastors, online content might seem likely to reduce attendance at in-person events. But Veturis argues that attendance shouldn’t be solely an in-person metric. “Attendance is not dependent on four walls in a room. It is limitless online… You would help not just your immediate community, but a more regional and global community by putting that content online for all to find.”
Shifting to Focus on Engagement
As churches move to create digital content, Veturis and Reyes both counsel leaders to consider individual engagement.
While the internet can be thought of as a “one-to-many” platform—one person broadcasting to the world—Reyes wants leaders to think of it as an opportunity for one-to-one interactions. Says Reyes, “[Facebook’s] algorithm is actually lending and giving a lot of goodwill, if you will, to [direct messages], and the algorithm is benefiting people that are connecting one-to-one.”
Veturis suggests a one-to-one connection strategy modeled after Jesus’s own ministry. “I really just look back to the ministry of Jesus with his strategy of how he engaged with people, and it really just comes down to three words, connect, teach and share. He connected with people on a personal level, he taught them life-changing lessons and then he shared with the ministry opportunity to do more.”
The tools of social media can help create opportunities for person-to-person engagement. For Veturis and Reyes—and many churches seeking to spread the gospel in 2020—new technologies are just another way to continue the two-thousand-year-old tradition of following Christ.
About the Research
State of the Digital Church, 2020: Barna Group conducted an online survey among 1,300 U.S. adults, ages 18-74. Data collection occurred September 1-15, 2020. Weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on age, gender, region, ethnicity, and church engagement.
Barna Research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2020