Churches everywhere have experimented, implemented, and expanded online worship in multiple ways. No one is doing it the way we did in March a year ago. Now we are wondering how we will do it when the pandemic gets under control. The vaccine has given us hope that this may happen before summer and even a glimmer of hope that it will be even sooner.
How might we use online/digital tools to grow into being more effective? I think there are two important learnings about digital outreach.
- There will be an important place for digital worship and outreach from now on in churches that are effectively carrying out the mission. We have learned this is a dynamic tool we were underusing.
- There is still no substitute for in-person worship and connections. If we thought that, we now know that the Church cannot be the Church in fullness without in-person human interaction.
An idea to consider as we prepare for what is next when in-person is back without the impact of COVID-19: What might Hybrid worship look like…. a digital/in-person relationship in our work?
In-person worship and groups: Think of these as the place to worship, make disciples, and create community. I believe clarity here as to the purpose of in-person activities will be very important as we reach out to what will absolutely be a new world.
Online/digital worship and groups: Think of these in terms of evangelism. Suppose we define and shape online worship and outreach as evangelism, reaching people. In that case, we are not already reaching, inviting people to take the next step into person connections and growing discipleship; it can help us be intentional in our work.
If we are committed to making disciples (which this last year has shown us we have not done very well), we must take what we have learned and apply it in new ways.
- In-person: primarily for making disciples, worshipping God, and building community.
- Online/digital: primarily for evangelism and reaching people we are not already reaching.
We all know we cannot do it like we were doing it before. This is not a bad thing considering most of our churches were not doing it very well anyway. We must move into building an on-purpose church; on-purpose worship, on-purpose discipleship, on-purpose evangelism, and on-purpose mission. The future of our Church will not be recovering dropouts; it will be reaching new people. It will be new people who change the world.
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth