By Molly Matthews
The global pandemic has brought about immense change, and many have unfortunately felt negative effects.
However, not everything that has come out of this is doom and gloom: some churches have seen positive impacts from pivoting their business strategies.
Primarily, ministries were forced to turn to digital solutions to maintain connection with their congregants and for some, this yielded positive results. One example is Connection Pointe Church in Indianapolis, who months after closing its doors is seeing the impactful, positive changes in its community, due in part to its shift to digital ministry. Many churches like Connection Pointe are realizing that leveraging digital opens new windows of opportunity to reach more people which can lead to increased engagement with younger congregants, expanded ministries beyond the church walls, and growth in donor giving.
Engaging the youth
On average, 260,000 young people walk away from the Church each year, creating a major strain on the future of giving and discipleship. Simultaneously, reports show that 98% of Generation Z currently owns a smartphone, showing the proliferation of technology among the age group. Technology offers a way for churches to bridge the gap with young people by meeting them where they already are: their phone.
Connection Pointe Church recognized this opportunity and seized it. When the pandemic hit, the church’s digital plan for younger members was still in its infancy, but leadership rose to the challenge and was still able to deploy the program.
“The longer planning timeline we had for this more fully thought-out digital ministry had to be sped up,” Denise McCleese, the church’s Director for Strategy and Engagement, said. “That breeds creativity and movement when you are willing to let it.”
Ministry leadership created a new, digital-specific curriculum utilizing Orange, which is accessible on a mobile device. Connection Pointe also ensured that the program was personalized for its youth specifically, adding supplemental content like introductions, closings and games. In doing this, the church has increased engagement with younger members. Beyond these larger programs, junior high and high school students even continued to meet online with their small groups — sometimes meeting as much as twice a week.
Beyond these four walls
When churches were forced to close their doors due to the pandemic, people’s relationship with their faith changed forever. A study from LifeWay Research conducted last fall showed that more than 40% of pastors said they don’t livestream or put any portion of their service online. While digital solutions used to be a value add for a church, they suddenly became their lifeline to reach their congregation outside of the physical space. Prior to 2020, many churches heavily relied on their in-person services to establish connections — shaking hands, conversations in the lobby after service, etc. However, if the pandemic has taught the church anything, it’s that ministry doesn’t come from within the four walls.
Because the church was already deploying technology for nearly every aspect of their ministry, Connection Pointe was prepared to make important shifts once the pandemic closed the church for in-person gatherings. Once the church needed to go fully digital, leadership prepared to ensure that all members felt supported in that transition. For example, ministry leadership recognized that some of their senior citizen members were struggling to engage digitally, so the team developed a plan to accommodate them. Gift bags were distributed with CDs that had the weekly worship service on them, as well as communion elements and other encouraging items. Furthermore, Connection Pointe has even seen growth in its small groups throughout the pandemic. Leadership encouraged its members to continue to meet digitally, which was widely embraced.
Digital giving on the rise
COVID-19 created a lot of sensitivities, including a heightened concern of high-touch areas. What this meant for the Church was that collection plates — normally passed around during services — were no longer an option for gathering donations. Many churches were hit hard by this, as some hadn’t implemented an alternative for giving. Technology use as a whole has skyrocketed, but it was crucial for a church to offer digital giving options.
Connection Pointe had been using a digital donation platform before the pandemic hit, which gave leadership a leg up on helping its congregants transition to the new normal. Not only were they able to maintain donations but giving even saw an increase. Connection Pointe Pastor John Dickerson developed a “Greater Things” vision, an initiative to help solidify the future of the church that put an emphasis on going digital. Even during the pandemic, congregants continued to donate towards the Greater Things vision, as they saw first-hand how impactful a digital ministry could be in their lives. Furthermore, the digital option allowed Connection Pointe to develop specific donation campaigns, including a fundraiser created to help the family of a firefighter in the church who had to go on a ventilator because of COVID-19. This campaign alone raised $20,000, further demonstrating how digital solutions support the power of generosity.
The global pandemic has had profound impacts on everyone’s lives, but some offered a silver lining. Turning to digital solutions within the church was vital but became more than just a placeholder while congregations waited for the day they could return to in-person services. Looking ahead, these positive impacts are likely here to stay and will help shape the future of the Church.
Molly Matthews is the Chief Customer Officer, overseeing the Customer Success team at Pushpay, a leading SaaS company in Redmond, Washington. She’s been with the company for more than four years and has been a huge asset in helping develop and maintain a smooth customer experience. Matthews considers the customer at the heart of every decision and is responsible for creating seamless touch points across the customer journey — from sales, to onboarding, support and more.
Beyond Pushpay, she has gained valuable experience that has contributed to her professional success. For seven years, Matthews was the director of K-12 Education for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon, where she was responsible for leading successful programs for Native American Youth & Families. In addition, she owned her own change management consulting business for more than four years, where she focused on helping businesses navigate change and accelerate growth.
Matthews has a heart for serving, and a special passion for investing time in the future of today’s youth. She has volunteered with Young Life for more than 20 years and has led in many capacities, including as a board member, youth leader, event manager and more. She is a graduate from the University of Oregon, where she studied international studies and sociology. Molly currently lives in the greater Seattle area with her husband and two daughters.