By Katie Allred
Now that your church’s worship services are both online and in-person (as most are these days), how are you engaging your online visitors—or are you?
Here are four tips for making sure your online guests aren’t an afterthought but are instead welcomed and folded into the life of your church.
1. Create an online church volunteer base
Because of COVID-19, many churches are moving their volunteer base online; former door greeters are now online hosts. These online volunteers are an essential part of creating a welcoming environment through greeting people in the chat, discussing topics with them, and opening the door to the online community.
Online hosts can also help prompt conversation, answer questions, and connect people to the church’s other ministries.
These online hosts should be using their personal profiles and not the church’s, because it helps create a more intimate feel. If no one was there to “open the door” for you at church, would you feel as welcome? Having real people connect during an online worship service helps everything feel more natural.
2. Create an online church connection
An effective way to welcome the digital community is to create a buffering video preceding the service. A short two-minute video of announcements or a welcome can make a smooth transition into your service. You can either pre-record a video or have a live host welcome visitors, which is my preference because it is more personal.
Even if you do a pre-recorded video, try to have a host engage interactions live over Facebook, both before and after the service. This offers a more inclusive, intentional experience.
3. Call church online visitors to action
The idea here is to sustain engagement throughout the service. A call to action can include signing up to receive bulletins via text message or filling out a connection form.
You can also promote free resources or tools for new visitors or people who want more information from your church. For example, if you are in a series on prayer, create a list of prayer resources, and in exchange for those resources, ask for visitors’ email addresses. In marketing, this is referred to as “opt-in.”
Provide incentives for guests, rather than just saying, “If you’re new, fill out this form.”
Another great strategy is to include discussion questions during or after the sermon. Families and small groups meeting in homes can pause the service to discuss what they just learned. Providing discussion questions is critical for creating learning pathways for attendees. An effective way to promote discussion during the service is with pop-up text in the lower third of the video feed.
4. Close intentionally
As you end your service online, go over those main objectives again to review what was taught that week.
Remember, always include a call to action: What do you want the people watching to do next? You can prompt them to comment, send a message, fill out a form—there are so many ways to connect people to the church online.
No matter what you choose, make it easy. Visitors have already taken a big step in their faith journey just by tuning in, so don’t make it complicated. By creating a seamless process of welcoming, connecting, and engaging with people, you will begin to reach more people in your communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Online church isn’t going anywhere. If we choose to continue to adapt and make the online worship experience better, we will create pathways for visitors online or in person.
This post is adapted from “Creating Pathways for Visitors Online” which appeared in the February 2021 issue of Ministry Team Magazine.
Katie Allred works with nonprofits, churches, and businesses to help increase reach through websites, social media, and online marketing. She is the founder of ChurchCommunications.com, an online community for church leaders featuring a Facebook group, podcast, and website. She is also an assistant professor of marketing and software development at the University of Mobile.