When churches had to move online due to COVID-19, they had to quickly adjust their standard communications. Communication in church settings was traditionally limited to verbal announcements, paper bulletins, and slides before and after services. Some had added communications through email or social media, and others had hosted online services for years. But many had been slower to embrace these methods. Moving online meant communications had to become more strategic, since people were no longer in front of you on a Sunday. But technology also provided unexpected opportunities. A lot of churches that pivoted to online services found they were able to reach people they wouldn’t otherwise. For churches that weren’t already doing online services, it was a pleasant surprise in an otherwise scary time in our world.
For those hoping everything will go back to normal, it doesn’t appear that will happen anytime soon. Churches that have reopened their doors are already finding out not everyone is immediately returning—whether it’s for health reasons, lack of children’s ministry, or they enjoy worshiping God in their pajamas from their couch. Because of this, many churches that are regathering in person will continue to offer online services in addition to in-person gatherings.
But how do you keep people connected in a digital setting? You will probably have to vary the way you communicate and provide information to them. You have to be intentional while not going overboard with your communications. Here are some suggestions.
A Warm Welcome
Create a sense of warmth and inclusion by welcoming everyone to your online services. Warmly connecting with people through what is often perceived as a cold screen isn’t as hard as it may seem. Just because a person is watching someone on a screen doesn’t mean they don’t interact during digital communications. Our church has been doing some video messages at our campuses for years, and even though people are watching someone on a screen, they will still smile when they are greeted, nod at points they agree with, say “Amen,” and laugh at jokes.
You also don’t need to pretend the service is happening in person. If you’re speaking to an empty room, you could choose to acknowledge it and let everyone know you wish they were there with you.
Livestreaming And Social Media
If you are livestreaming, make sure you respond to people’s comments and questions during your online services, assuming the platform you use allows for that. Various social media options are great for this, as well as software such as Church Online Platform. Leaders can invite people to join their small group and post links right in the comments. This real-time interaction will help keep your congregation engaged, and they will know you are not just playing a recorded video and walking away for the next hour or so.
Being present on social media can also help you build community throughout the week. You may want to consider adding a short daily devotion to your church communication if you don’t already do one. Your presence during the week will affirm that the church is more than a Sunday experience.
Having content available for people to come back to later is also important. Those who join you during a livestream service don’t tell the whole story. If Netflix has taught us anything, it’s clear that people like on-demand content. They may listen to your messages or watch your YouTube videos weeks, months, or even years later.
Connecting People To Each Other
Chances are you have communicated the importance of small groups in your church because they help create deeper relationships with others. But do those communications include digital groups? Online small groups, using Zoom or Messenger Rooms, for example, are a great way for people to connect with each other in pockets of community. Although some people would return right away to regular small groups, not everyone will. Online and hybrid options allow for connections in various settings.
Digital groups can create ways to accommodate those who may not be able to meet in someone else’s house. Someone in a wheelchair could attend an online group when a house is not accessible to them. Those with pet allergies can be part of an online group when they wouldn’t be able to attend in person. Group members may even meet others in an online small group they wouldn’t otherwise, such as someone in another state or country.
Consider how you can help connect people with needs to those who can help. Having a place on your church website for people to sign up if they need something or sign up if they are able to offer assistance is a good place to start. Meeting some of the needs may be more difficult, particularly if someone isn’t in your geographical area, but it’s not impossible. You could try reaching out to other churches that could help or even partner with a church in another city.
Share Prayer Requests
Some people may share their prayer requests with the church and prefer that their information remains private. But others may appreciate their community praying for them as a whole. If someone chooses to share their prayer request with the rest of the congregation, you can send an email asking them to pray. Or if people have opted in, you could send a bulk text message to everyone on the prayer team or chain. Although they would all receive the same message, you are connecting people in the church to pray for one another.
Church Communication Best Practices
Methods may vary depending on your context, but the best practices for church communications follow an underlying principle: make it personal. Keeping communications as personal as possible is key, especially when connecting with your congregation digitally. It may not always be easy, regardless of church size, but the more you can make someone’s experience personal, the more likely they will connect to your church and remain connected.
Making Communication Personal
- Sharing updates and information is generally done in bulk form, but you can still keep it personal by responding to everyone who replies to your message. That could be as simple as saying “Great to hear from you” if you use email. You could also use bulk texting, and when someone replies, you can respond to each message individually, right in Aplos. A short, simple message back will mean a lot, yet it takes very little time and effort.
- A website is intended to provide information broadly, but you can still do some things to keep it more personal. Invite your website visitors to self-identify using a contact form, email address, or phone number. Someone may have come to your church website to listen to a message, but knowing they can contact you at any time—and that a person will respond—makes a difference.
- Pay attention to people’s preferred methods of communication, if they have stated a preference. To you, a phone call may seem like the most personal way of communicating, but that may be considered an annoyance by someone who would rather receive an email or text from the church.
- Take notes for following up with people later, preferably in whatever church management software you use. If someone mentions their mom has been sick and isn’t doing well, having those notes in front of you will help you remember to ask how she’s doing the next time you communicate with them.
The Future Of The Church
God’s not done yet.
It appears the future of the church will be both in person and online in the future, rather than one or the other. Going digital meant churches were no longer limited by geography, which allowed them to create connections all over. People in the military, or who have other jobs where they cannot attend somewhere consistently, were able to attend online. Those who aimed to learn from leaders of different races or ethnicities were able to hear messages from pastors who don’t live near them. But churches will continue to assemble in person as well.
The world has changed, but God is going to use His church to do some amazing things in it. How will your church participate?
If you have other ideas for how churches can keep people connected in a digital world, let us know in the comments.