March 15th, 2020 was the first Sunday most churches went online for worship as the beginning news of this COVID-19 pandemic hit. For some churches online worship was something they were already deeply involved in. Others had to figure it out quick. The size of the church was not always the criteria. Some large churches had not been online before COVID-19 and some small churches were already putting an iPhone on a tripod and showing the service on Facebook Live.
As this has evolved, churches are now trying to figure out how this is going to work as in-person worship moves forward. I know some churches are in-person already, as others are still holding back, (context is everything here).
What have we learned?
We have learned and are learning how to do digital worship that is aimed directly at the person sitting in front of their phone, computer, or occasionally TV. This is very different than pre-COVID online worship where people typically watched church that was happening in a Sanctuary aimed at the in-person participants sitting in pews or chairs. I have said that online worship was just virtual seats added to an existing in present worship service. These were usually very bad seats, the cheap seats.
As in-person worship begins, we would expect churches to continue to make their in-person worship experiences available to watch online whether it is a continuation of what was before COVID or what has begun since.
Why would we give up what we have learned in having an online experience aimed directly at the person connecting at home? I would recommend that churches continue at least one digital faith community that is designed specifically for the person connecting online. This is creating or continuing an online new faith community where people connect with others who are also joining them in online worship. This service could have a specific brand, name, pastor, leadership, music, worship style, all designed to be effective and meaningful to those who are connecting digitally. We already know the preacher, music people, worship leaders, etc. must look directly at the camera (directly at the person connecting from their home). This service is designed to create a specific faith community. Yes, it would connect to the church, but people who attend would find an identity as a part of this experience and the opportunities and next steps that extend from it.
This works! One of the ways we know this... there are large multi-state churches who offer online experiences that are reaching the unchurched like never before. And it's not just the convenience, these services are aimed at the person who is checking out the Christian faith online.
The future church will of course have worship services that are in-person. Some of these services will also be available to watch online. But it will also have online worship services that are designed as an independent worship experience that are aimed only at those connecting online. People becoming a part of that faith community, participating in next steps, discipleship opportunities, mission moments, growth steps that extend from this experience. This service will be aimed more at new Christians, the unchurched, the searching, those who have never set foot on the church campus and may never come to church. The aim is to reach people we have not already reached.
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth