By Raymund Ferrer
As worship becomes increasingly more virtual, it’s important that a church can offer a hybrid experience that continues to connect church members — whether they’re down the street or across the world.
Many churches are grappling with this change — online vs traditional in-person experiences. As church attendance continues to decline, leaders are wondering if they’ve lost their momentum, or if they’re remaining relevant with younger generations of church go-ers. When in fact, maybe the answer is that online and hybrid models of ministry actually allow churches to reach and engage with more people. It’s a matter of flipping the narrative, and having a better understanding of what ‘community’ means to your congregation.
In fact, Crossroads Church recently conducted research on Gen Zs and their perceptions of online church, and the findings were fascinating. Data shows that our Gen Z population is still highly engaged with the concept of God and faith, but their needs are different. It might seem like their needs are disappearing, when in actuality they’re evolving. They still want to be part of a community, but their version of it is very different from the traditional church model. And they’re not just looking for access to videos and sermons — they want to be a part of the online community churches provide.
So, whether it’s live streaming worship services, connecting with the congregation through social media, or sharing church updates through your website or church app, your church can find ways to bring a personal touch to your communications that will help people from all generations feel engaged.
Here are some strategies that have been effective for some of the customers we work with at Pushpay:
1. Train church members on new technology and make new offerings clear
When new online offerings are made available, it’s important to ensure that all church members have the opportunity to learn how to access them to maximize engagement and a feeling of community. Offering a kickoff meeting to go over the basics of any technology the church will be using is a great first start. Don’t assume every member understands the technology you might be implementing!
2. Make virtual interactions conversational
Whether it’s the pastor mentioning online viewers by name during a live stream service, or giving virtual attendees a platform to share their stories during an online or hybrid event, finding ways to bring church members into the conversation is critical. When churches provide online tools and services, it’s easy for communication to become one-sided, so directly addressing online participants, adding a comment function for live stream events, or providing the pastor’s email address for feedback can make church members feel heard and valued.
3. Re-evaluate technology regularly
Pushpay’s recent State of Church Technology report indicates that 93 percent of churches believe that technology plays a critical role in helping them achieve their mission. Yet, 43 percent of churches say they only re-evaluate their technology stack ‘when the needs arise.’
Proactive planning is critical. Set a timeline for when you’ll re-evaluate the hybrid options you’re providing your church members. This not only allows church leaders to see if new, more effective technology has become available, it also provides time to review feedback from church members and identify what initiatives are popular, and which aren’t making a positive impact.
4. Create experiences for online-only members
With advances in technology, your congregation might now include families who have moved away from your church but still engage online or people who have never attended your church but feel connected from far away. To foster this connection, it’s important to cater to your members who are engaging virtually. This can be done by giving your online community a name or hosting online-only events especially for them.
5. Be responsive and available online
Ensure you have a team in place to manage online correspondence – including your email accounts, website contact form, and social media pages. Providing prompt, thoughtful responses builds trust in your online platforms and helps grow the impact of your church.
Having a well-thought-out and effective online presence and virtual offerings is a key way to grow your church and form deeper relationships with church members. As a growing number of churchgoers engage in a hybrid worship model, providing services like social media communications, an easy-to-use church app, and live stream worship options are increasingly valuable to members.
Raymund Ferrer is Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Pushpay.