Shortly after World War I, a popular song captured an important question that is relevant again today, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?).” The concern at that time was whether American soldiers from rural areas would come back home to work the farm after they’d experienced the city life and European culture of Paris.
Today, the concern church leaders have is how the Church will come out of this experience of quarantine and social isolation. Many wonder how the “new normal” will look and what does their local church need to do to adapt.
Prior to the coronavirus and the shutdown of gatherings, most churches were already experiencing decline. Everyone knows this. But one of the most impactful trends of this decline was not that fewer people were attending church, it was that regular attendees were attending less often and that trend was accelerating. As the church shifts from streaming an in-person worship service to producing an online worship experience, will people ever come back to in-person worship as often as they once did?
The time has come for communication and connection to become a primary function of the church. Gone are the days when you can relegate the task of connecting with the neighborhood and community around you as a secondary duty of a staff member or volunteer. We can no longer assign community connection duties to the worship leader because she is “really creative.” A youth leader with a blog is not a webmaster.
When state and local governments shut down large gatherings that included church services, churches were forced to take worship online. There was no other choice. In those first weeks, hundreds of churches called us at The Provisum Group asking how they could stream their services.
Hundreds of churches with tens of thousands of parishioners in communities that collectively represented millions of undiscipled people had no experience at all with online worship. Many churches already offered streaming or podcasts of their worship services. Whatever was the case prior to closing our buildings, it is safe to say that just about every church has now become more proficient at streaming online because of this season of social isolation. But is knowing how to stream a church service the answer we will need when churches reopen?
Regardless of the outcome, one thing is for sure, “church” in America will never be the same. The Bible commands us to “go” and make disciples of all people. There is no replacement for one-on-one evangelism in relationship nor will there ever be. But “going” is also done digitally. This season of social distancing is the tipping point for the church to become experts in digital evangelism.
“Going” into all the world is done personally but also digitally,
which means this season of social distancing is the tipping point
for the church to become experts in digital evangelism.”
Nay-sayers will say, “All you need is to preach the pure Gospel of Jesus and the church will grow.” But ask yourself two questions:
- If all we have to do is preach the Gospel and God will grow the church, why did He command us to “go”?
- Do you hope that all the churches around your church become experts at connecting digitally with undiscipled people and your church does not?
At The Provisum Group, we work with churches all over the country helping them connect with the neighborhood and community around them. I have been serving the church for thirty years and I have learned that most churches do not perform these functions well, especially connecting with the neighborhood and community around them. To be put in charge of connection and communication in most churches, one does not need to know much on the subject at all. One just needs to know more than the other people in the room.
If you think I am off base here, consider the following. If you asked your children’s minister how he planned on teaching the Gospel to children, do you think he would be able to tell you off the top of his head? Do you think he could send you a lesson plan in a minute? He can do this because he knows what he is doing and has a plan. If you asked the person who cleans your floors how to run the floor buffer, do you think she could tell you off the top of her head? She probably can because she does it every week. If you asked the HVAC person “what is wrong with the furnace?” you would expect him to know. He is a professional and you paid him for that expertise.
Now, ask whoever is in charge of communicating and connecting with the community and neighborhood around you these questions:
- What is our connection strategy with the people who live around us? What are the steps? Can I see the support material? The production schedule? The budget?
- How many people visited our website last week? What is our bounce rate?
- What does SEO mean? What is our plan?
- Do we have an SSL License for our website? Why should I care?
- What is our conversion strategy for first-time visitors? How many did we have last week?
- What is the open rate for our emails? Unsubscribe rate? Spam rate? Bounce rate?
If you asked these questions, you should get an immediate answer. Why? Because these are questions first-year communication professionals could answer off the top of their heads. This is because (a) they are professionals, and (b) they work with this stuff every day. If the person you appoint over connection and communication at your church can answer these questions off the top of his head, you have the right person. If not, you don’t.
Finally, if you think you cannot afford a communication professional, consider this: If your church was located in Minnesota, had no money at all, nothing in the bank and no credit, and you needed a new furnace in January, would you find the money? Would you ask the congregation? A wealthy donor? All your church would need is a leader with the passion for the cause, the courage to ask, and faith in a good God.
The church is not going back to a pre-digital age. The front door of your church for undiscipled people is going to be your digital footprint, your website. Evangelism will have a budget and a demonstrative strategy produced and executed by professionals. We have to get good at digital evangelism and virtual church. Quit looking at communication as a bulletin and a sermon slide. See it for what it is: connection. The new “go.”