We are seeing the trends, and they are troubling.
As churches return to in-person gatherings, they are abandoning their digital and streaming services. At the very least, they are not giving them the attention they did during the quarantine.
It’s a mistake. It’s a big mistake. Here are seven reasons why we believe strongly your church must continue to emphasize and invest in digital and streaming services.
It will grow slowly after it declines. One pastor wrote me: “We had 750 people view our online services the first week. Now it’s dropped to about five during the live streaming service. It’s really not worth our effort.” I get it. But the instant growth churches saw at the onset of the quarantine was an anomaly. Churches that are investing time and other resources in digital services are seeing slow but steady growth after the immediate declines.
It is a great alternative for those who are physically unable to attend the in-person services. Some of your members and guests are homebound. Others are out of town. The digital service becomes their only alternative. And for those of you who are arguing that digital services will be an excuse for physically able persons not to attend, we are not seeing that reality take place. At most, any losses are more than offset by gains.
It is a complement to the in-person service. Though it’s in its incipient stages, we are seeing digital services become a first step for people to come to the in-person services. They “test run” the church several weeks before they attend in-person. We are particularly seeing this trend among nominal Christians and non-Christians.
It opens the door for ministry to the community. A church is not only supposed to be in a community, it should be a ministry to the community. Your church will have much greater visibility to the community with online services than most other alternatives. I am working with one church that is investing $20 per week on Facebook ads to send the services to those in the church’s zip code. It is beginning to show fruit.
It is an incredible instrument for prayer. I am encouraged to see an increasing number of churches offer prayer lines through phone numbers and/or email addresses. A pastor recently told me that their email address (prayer@<churchname.com>) was growing in the number of prayer requests sent by the week. The church puts that email address on the lower third of the stream several times during the services.
It is truly an Acts 1:8 ministry. Church leaders and members are excited to discover their reach is beyond the community to other points in the nation and the world. The early Christians had to travel the Roman roads to get the gospel from town to town. The internet has become our Roman roads.
It can provide cohesiveness to a multi-site church. More churches are becoming multisite and multi-venue. A number of churches are beginning to open micro-sites. The streaming service can be a place for everyone to get information on what is taking place at all sites. One church takes the first five minutes of the streaming service to give a monthly update for viewing to all sites. It has become a great way for the different sites, venues, and services to all be on the same page.
I am encouraged that more churches are resuming in-person services. Don’t let that be a reason or excuse to eliminate or minimize your digital services.
Your church would miss a great opportunity for ministry, gospel witness, and unity.
This article was originally published at churchanswers.com on January 4. Thom S. Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.