Trends in the Black Church: A Q&A About Tips for Leading Online
As part of an ongoing Barna Group study on the State of the Black Church, conducted alongside partners including Rev. Dr. Brianna K. Parker (of Black Millennial Cafe), Gloo, Urban Ministries, Inc., LEAD.NYC, American Bible Society and Compassion, researchers sought to learn more about Black Church leaders engage in online ministry.
In light of this, Barna asked Nona Jones, head of Faith Partnerships at Facebook and first lady of Open Door Ministries, to offer more insight about how COVID-19 has shifted Black Church leaders’ perspectives of online ministry and tips for leading well online.
The full Q&A, including responses from Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr., is available in the Trends in the Black Church report. Order the report or subscribe to Barna Access Plus today to explore these impactful insights.
Barna: Almost every Black Church pastor says they have seen their congregation change for the better in some way during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eighty-nine percent say they have seen more online engagement. How has the pandemic changed the way Black churches show up online? Do you think the change is here to stay?
Jones: I think the most significant way the pandemic changed how Black churches show up online is the fact that they showed up online. Like any church, Black churches tend to be a reflection of their leaders. With a pastorate that tends to skew older, many Black pastors I have talked with over the years have refused to go online or stream their services because they saw it as competing with “real church,” or church in a building. They felt that if they went online, people would stop attending in person.
The pandemic forced a paradigm shift for many Black pastors and churches that had resisted online ministry because they were confronted with the fact that if they didn’t go online, their church would die. Live streaming has become the new traditional model of ministry. My hope, however, is that we would continue to expand our definition of Church from being a “program” to being a community.
Jesus called us to be fishers of men, but we’ve become comfortable being keepers of the aquarium. Since COVID forced Black churches online, every local church is now a global church.
Barna: Thirty percent of Black Church pastors say they wish their church’s use of technology were different. What tips for leading online do you have for pastors who feel behind with their technology use?
Jones: Many pastors have a heart to disciple online, but they don’t have the expertise. Although I provide many more tips in my book, From Social Media to Social Ministry, I strongly recommend pastors think of their digital presence like a house. Let’s use Facebook as an example: Your page is your front porch. It’s public; anyone can find it, see it and visit it. Facebook Live is like your front door. You can open it to interact with the people on your front porch. But we have to remember that people don’t get vulnerable on a front porch. They need a safe, supportive space for that. This is why I strongly encourage every church to have a Facebook Group. Your group is like your living room or kitchen. It’s the space you can invite people into so you can get to know each other and, most importantly, they can get to know the other people inside of your house. There was a time when content was king—and it is still important—but engagement is emperor. If you want people to see your posts, they need to be the type of posts that make people want to engage; not just with you and your content, but with each other.