Making the Most of a Season of Online Ministry
As churches begin to meet physically again after lockdown, how can we make the most of what we have learned in serving our churches online?
It has been difficult not being able to meet in person during this pandemic. One of the challenges for church leaders has been how churches quickly needed to learn the art of filming sermons and setting up YouTube channels.
We’ve heard lots of stories from churches who have had larger than expected numbers engaging with online services, prayer meetings and mid-week groups – praise God! Yet we have all been longing to get back to meeting in our church buildings and homes.
However, I believe this right longing shouldn’t be to go back to how things were before coronavirus but to go forward to a new way of serving our churches and reaching the communities we are in.
Making the most of every opportunity
In Paul’s teaching on wise, Christian living, he says we should “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16, NIV).
It can feel like 2020 has been a waste of a year; all those plans to have “2020 vision” down the drain thanks to the coronavirus. But although it was unexpected for us, it was certainly not a surprise for God and therefore what we have learnt and done during this season of online church doesn’t need to be a waste.
If every season is given by God (Ecclesiastes 3) we can see this time as an opportunity to grow in him and, as Paul teaches, we should make the most of it.
Here are some ways we can use what we have learnt by being moved online for God’s glory as we begin to meet again.
Hundreds of British churches have created or enhanced their online presence during the lockdown to accommodate online ministry. A few times over the past weeks we have been helping churches to subscribe to one another on YouTube to reach the magic 100 subscriber figure (this allows you to create a custom URL - ie. youtube.com/yourchurchname - and makes it easier to find your videos).
It follows that there are now also thousands of gospel-focused, God-glorifying services and messages on YouTube too.
What an opportunity, now we have learned how to do this, to continue to grow the amount of gospel video content online, making it easier for the hope of Jesus to be found on the internet!
So maybe when you are meeting in person again you could continue to film or livestream the service or sermon and upload weekly sermons to YouTube or Facebook. This would be Stage 2 or more on Adrian’s five stages.
There are a few benefits to doing this:
- It enables those who can’t attend in person (whether it’s through shielding, illness, or another reason) or those who want to listen again to benefit from the teaching;
- It helps those new to your area or new to faith get an idea of what your church is like;
- Videos of sermons can be used by your congregation for online witnessing as they share the links with their friends, neighbours, and family;
- Video is one of the best ways to reach people through social media or search engines – your video could be found by someone exploring faith and, unknowingly, be used by God to bring someone to Christ.
It’s likely that you are putting time and effort into audio recording your sermons already, which would be good to continue for those who prefer to listen. Including video recordings too would be just one step further but with many potential benefits.
Sharing the gospel
In the early stages of the pandemic, there was a real sense that people were becoming more open to the gospel as they were faced with their mortality. Evangelist Jeremy Marshall went as far as to say “this is the greatest time to evangelise in our lifetime”.
We encouraged church leaders to “look up and look out” to take opportunities to share the reason for the hope we have, and to keep evangelism central to ministry during lockdown. I also interviewed Danny from Chessington Evangelical Church to hear how their Christianity Explored courses had gone online.
So let’s take the online and digital skills we have learned during lockdown to continue to reach those around us with the gospel. This could be in the shape of online sermons to be shared or maybe it could be running a hybrid evangelism course? The first sessions could be online, to make things more accessible to non-believers, and then be brought into an in-person setting when appropriate.
Or maybe your evangelistic events could be held online – something like a webinar covering a big question followed by a Q&A?
Not only do online events take some of the pressure off in-person activities and events, but they make it less intimidating to invite friends to, or for someone new to the faith to join in with.
Although home groups and prayer meetings have not been the same and present significant challenges when held on Zoom, video calls have become a way of life for a large proportion of the population now. And there has been an unexpected phenomenon of mid-week church meetings being better attended than when they were held in person.
This could be because it is easier for people to attend (think of older folk, those who live a distance away, or for parents who need to stay home for childcare), because people can join in whilst distracted (again helpful for parents!), or because it fits into busy lifestyles better (although this must be balanced with actually being able to focus too).
I wouldn’t say they should move online exclusively, but there could be a place for holding Bible studies or prayer meetings online even when we don’t need to stay separate. For example, a prayer meeting I attended recently for a church plant had a supporter join in from California. Could you take advantage of this technology and set up a world mission prayer meeting joined by a mission partner across the world?
Not that simple
This isn’t going to easy, or even possible, for every church. Depending on your church context and the makeup of your congregation, it might not be where you think best to go.
There is a real concern that church-goers will decline after this pandemic – this may be some who were not of us (1 John 2:19) or some who decide to just stay online. We’ll be addressing this issue in another resource.
What online ministry looks like once we can meet in person is a decision for each church to make for themselves. But it would be a shame to see church YouTube channels across the country go dormant and for the inroads made online for the gospel during the coronavirus lockdown to go to be left empty.
Let’s use this time of holding our normal church ministry online and make the most of the opportunity to proclaim the gospel of Jesus to one another and to the ends of the earth.