Turning Online Viewers into Jesus Followers
It’s possible that there are people listening in on our online services who never make themselves known. How can we engage with them to bring them to Christ?
It’s Sunday morning (post-Covid!) and the worship service at church is well underway. You stand up to open God’s word and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ – and notice someone you don’t recognise standing at the back, listening in.
After the service, you try to find them to speak more but they are nowhere to be seen. You pray that the Lord might use the preached Word in their heart but there’s little more you can do.
Maybe you’ve experienced this in your ministry before. But as we continue to minister online during the pandemic - and beyond - it’s possible this is happening every week.
Hosting sermons, services, and other church videos online means it’s easier than ever for someone seeking to listen in to what your church is doing. It’s less scary for a first-timer than actually attending a service, and they can watch in their pyjamas on the sofa if need be.
However, online church doesn’t necessarily make it easier to take the first step towards finding out more about the gospel. In fact, it’s easier now to blend into the background.
You can watch sermons on YouTube but neglect to get in touch to find out more. You can like a video on Facebook or Instagram but fail to comment or ask to find out more. You could even join on Zoom but only listen, with your video turned off, and leave quickly afterwards.
These are your digital lurkers.
May I urge you to make every effort to engage with your digital lurkers to bring them from online viewing to physical fellowship and, Lord willing, into the kingdom of God.
How to engage with digital lurkers
Here are some ways, as digital church ministry continues during lockdown and into the post-Covid world, you can think about engaging with those watching online who you don’t yet know.
Persuade them to self-disclose
Suggest often what the next step should be for someone who is searching, or who has already taken steps towards faith.
Encourage those watching your video to get in touch in order to find out more. Explain why the Christian life can’t be lived solo but is enhanced and developed in community. Make an effort to be welcoming and approachable to those who might not have connected with the church yet.
This needs to be done ‘from the front’. However that might look online, this repeated request for people to self-disclose will be most effective when it’s given from the leaders of the church.
This also means you might need to consider introducing yourself in a fuller way or include testimonies or interviews with others serving publicly to help digital lurkers feel like they know you already.
Help them to self-disclose
Helping people self-disclose will include some planning: what is the best way for someone new to the church to find out more?
Explain what to do through speech during the service/video, as a graphic on the screen that appears during the video or at the end, or simply include it in the video description. The aim is to help someone move from being an anonymous onlooker to someone getting to know the church.
It could involve a landing page on your website (with a short and easy to follow URL like yourchurch.org/contact) with some questions to help them explain where they are. It could be a direct message through WhatsApp or a social media platform. Or is there a Zoom meeting they could join?
It would be wise to consider setting up a team in the church who are ready and able to respond to anyone getting in touch in this way, rather than letting it fall on the church leaders every time.
Connect in person
Possibly the most important step is bringing that conversation from the online world to the offline world, making the relationship tangible and real.
A one-to-one meeting might be appropriate, or a group setting might be more suitable. This could follow up the conversation online and allow a more organic discussion where questions could be asked and answered.
Whilst in lockdown, Government guidance should be applied of course, but in the post-Covid world this could be a walk in the park, a meeting in a coffee shop, or at the church building. Whatever would make them most comfortable.
Prepare courses for seekers to explore
There are great courses available to help bring people on through their journey to faith, designed for different parts of the journey. For example, Christianity Explored Ministries has their Christianity Explored course, but also a Life Explored course for early seekers, and a Discipleship Explored course for those further down the line.
Although these courses might be more effective in person, many will be used to this kind of course online through Zoom or another video conference service. Taking the course online (after the initial in-person meet up) could help overcome barriers of location and time before a commitment to faith and church life is made.
Consider how this might work best in your own context: don’t miss this opportunity to connect with those who are looking in. May God use this season of digital church ministry powerfully for his glory!