What Churches Need to Do Church Online Well

What do churches need to do church online well? Read on to learn what Jay Kranda, online pastor at Saddleback Church, has to say about this timely topic.

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A couple of months ago, I wanted to buy stock in Pinterest. I had never bought anything from the stock market. I didn’t know much about the process. I poked around on Google a bit and eventually stumbled upon Robinhood, an investment app I recognized from podcast ads.

Robinhood targets millennials who have some extra coin lying around and who want to get in on the stock market without much risk. It’s simple, clean, and designed for novices.

What’s key about the whole experience, though, is the self-service approach. I could sign up and get going all on my own, no strings attached. I didn’t want to jump on a call with a stockbroker. I didn’t want to navigate a website. I wanted to jump in headfirst and quickly and continually monitor the whole thing by addictively loading the app every thirty minutes. Robinhood allowed me to do what I wanted to do with very little friction—and no gatekeepers.

Tear down the gates

The marketplace has been experiencing this digital IKEA’ing for the past 10 years. People want to try out your product, subscription, community, or idea without talking with anyone and having to make long-term commitments. We want 30 days free with no credit card upfront.

It’s the same for potential attendees of your church. Like it or not, many in your community want to try out your church before making themselves known and being locked in. They want a low-commitment trial stage. Live streaming your worship service, offering online small groups, and having digital classes—these all provide gateless entry into your church for the digitally saturated generation.

Don’t take it personally, but adjust to the market. Capitalize on the opportunities of your new front door by stewarding this digital moment wisely.

And that starts with leadership.

Invest in digital

When it comes to this shift in behavior, the most pressing need for churches right now is to have someone overseeing the digital experience. You could call this person a pastor or empowered volunteer, or you can suit up yourself. It’s not about hiring someone, per se. It’s about getting a warm body to focus on the problems and opportunities online for your congregation and community.

What if our church is small?

The size of your church is not that relevant. Are you a smaller church with limited resources? Fire up a digital expert already in your flock. Pick the business owner who has the most killer social presence. Businesses in your city have been forced to figure out digital to survive, and they have the scars to prove it. Meanwhile, churches have lagged by relying too much on their in-person experience. COVID is the jolt waking everyone up to the need for digital done well. So find someone who’s been doing digital well, and ask for their help and leadership.

What does the online pastor do?

As I said, it’s not about the size of your church; it’s about the size of your vision. So let’s talk about how to position your newly appointed online pastor (I hope you have someone in mind already).

Focus on hierarchy, not integration

Digital will continue to grow as a vital part of your church. Online isn’t a siloed ministry, but an essential dogma. In your organizational flowchart, draw dotted lines from the online pastor to every ministry in your church. Your online pastor doesn’t need to be over everything, nor should they be. Instead, position them as a digital consultant for teams.

What does this look like in practice?

The online pastor helps the whole staff think about the digital side of their ministries and programs, without having all the responsibility. They should have a seat at the table in all relevant discussions so that the digital experience is seamless. Think of the role as 50 percent digital concierge, 50 percent strategist. Whether paid or unpaid, it is crucial that the online pastor has a feedback loop going with someone at a high level at your church.

Remember, your community and congregation value online more than ever. You need to invest in digital with time and resources. If you can open your wallet for your building, you can open it for online.

How do we measure success online?

Saying you’re all about online is great, but metrics need to be in place to see if anything is working. Create a digital dashboard that you review every Monday morning. And make the report short and sweet. I’ve seen too many metric reports that are like a small ebook nobody cares about reading.

Instead, pick metrics you can measure and influence. The three metrics you need to identify digitally are:

  • Reached
  • First step
  • Committed

Reached

This metric is how many people see your online service via live streaming or on-demand plays on Facebook, YouTube, and your website. Keep an eye on the “views” for this number, which is easy to find on all platforms.

First Step

This metric highlights how many viewers took the initial step from your online service into your community. This metric will be an aggregate number. Total up how many people messaged you on your social platforms, texted you, emailed in, and completed a digital form on your website. I’m not sure how you encourage people to respond while watching your online service, but the call to action (CTA) during the service is important. People only do what’s communicated.

For example, if you pray a prayer of faith after the message, you might ask your online viewers to text a five-digit number that spells JESUS or to email an easy-to-remember address so they can receive next steps. Add up the total texts and emails for that week to get your First Step metric.

Committed

This metric is your more in-depth engagement number. Pick a metric that represents what it means to move people into your church’s discipleship pathway. For example, you could use signups for a membership class or an entry-level discipleship class. It could be those who got into a new Bible study or small group that week. Identify the metric that best aligns with your church’s model of ministry. As with the First Step metric, the Committed metric will most likely be an aggregate number.

Once you have all your metrics, start reporting weekly on your digital dashboard. You’ll begin to notice trends and correlations when you try things out in your online service. You might recognize that you had a thousand views on Facebook (Reached) but that only three people contacted the church (First Step). Why did only a few people respond in the service? Well, maybe you didn’t encourage people to text or email. Your church online pastor can ensure that the data gets reported and that changes are made to increase whatever metrics are lagging.

clickable image for tools to help churches do church online well with Faithlife Live STream

Beyond the live stream

Digital is not limited to your weekly online service. Email blasts, social media posts, digital ads, and your video quality are significant, and they’re all part of your church’s digital ecosystem. Like a skilled concierge, your online pastor should see how each part relates to the whole, creating a positive, cohesive experience.

Don’t limit your online pastor’s influence—unleash it. Let them speak into how many emails you send out in a month, the types of posts going up on Facebook and Instagram, your Google Ad word choices, and the lengths of your YouTube videos. Your church’s digital reputation is on many different platforms, and all are important, so put everything on the table for your online pastor to improve.

We are at a strange point in history. The internet is fully maturing. The ’60s were the birthing stage, the ’80s childhood, the 2000s adolescence, and now, in 2020, we have reached adulthood. Kids are learning over Zoom and swaths of adults are working from home. Even my 80-year-old grandma jumped on a video call the other day.

Your church can’t ignore digital anymore, and I hope a practical church online plan has started to form in your mind from this article. I believe your in-person church experience is even more meaningful, but it’s more important than ever that your physical and online experiences flow together. Your online pastor can help smooth out the edges and fill the gaps.

I’m not sure how the future will unfold, but I can envision more people planting churches using digital-first launches. More websites and apps will become a one-stop-shop to engage with your church. You’ll start a class in person, finish it on your Apple TV, and send your pastor a question within the app. No more pencils and pews for everything. Hybrid events will become the norm. I’m excited about your church’s highly digital and super personal face-to-face church experience.

Who at your church popped into your mind to become your online pastor or digital volunteer? Set up a Zoom call with them today. Paint the vision of what is possible, then get out of the way. Let’s see what your church does to reach those Pinterest-buying millennials like me.

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Jay Kranda is the online pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. He oversees an online community with online small groups and home groups around the globe, coauthored the free ebook State of the Online Church, and writes regularly at JayKranda.com. He is addicted to NBA basketball and cold brew coffee, is married to Jody, and has two boys and one girl. 

This post was originally published in the November issue of Ministry Team magazine.

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This post was written by a Faithlife guest author. Faithlife, maker of Logos Bible Software and the world's first integrated ministry platform, is committed to using technology to equip the Church to grow in the light of the Bible.

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