Top Learnings from the Church Online Summit, May 13-15, 2020
The 2020 Church Online Summit addressed a topic that’s been on most of our minds this year- how should the church be forever changed by the COVID 19 pandemic? What is God teaching us through this? Before, the church was often all about the building. We boxed God in time, space, and matter – just on Sunday (or over the weekend, just in the building). During this time of captivity, we’ve learned:
- to lean on God’s promises like never before
- to pray like never before
- that in the end, all we really need is God
- that things can and will look different in the future
Through this pandemic, God uncaged himself – He told all of us, we’re not going to put him in a building. He wants to be on the move and is going to do something new. What, exactly, does that mean? Here are some insights from the top presenters from the Church Online Summit 2020.
2020 Church Online Summit Tips for Learning from COVID-19
Jason Morris, Westside Family Church
This is our new normal – all the content & programs we produce will not be for an onstage gathering in a building but for resourcing energy to a video-on-screen experience that can be used in all different types of venues. We want what we’re doing as a church to basically work in all areas, whether in person or virtual. Churches should create core content that highlights each gathering – in a home, in an auditorium, in neighborhoods – and those gatherings can be adorned with a shared meal, common experience, or anything those groups share in common. The point is that our churches need to be adaptable and flexible, and move as God moves.
Jay Kranda, Saddleback Church
Churches need to think beyond live streaming, that’s too shallow. “Church” is so much more than content – it’s community that’s proprietary to the church.
There are four pillars that are necessary to truly have “church” online, and those require us to think bigger, to throw out what we knew and start over. And churches need to be doing all four of them simultaneously. They include:
- Large corporate gatherings –Streaming on Facebook, YouTube, NetFlicks (regularly scheduled live and on-demand experiences) that have an active chat so people don’t feel alone, where they can sense that they belong and there are others with them – live and watching together. Make sure growth strategies are a part of the mix.
- Small Gatherings – House-to-house (digital small groups or microsites) where people can go deep into relationship with each other, where they confess sins, and just do life together. This is the return to the early history of Church – we’re supposed to be around other people to become more like Jesus because they challenge us and help us on the journey. This can take many forms:
- Medium gatherings ala Zoom to encourage folks to come together to pray, listen to midweek messages, enjoy games together or worship/sing songs.
- Small groups (3-12 people) that have specific content to discuss (i.e., bible studies, reaction to weekly message from Pastor) where they can go deep into conversations and build strong family relationships, just do life together – celebrate together, may even vacation together.
- One-on-one Connections –Timothy & Paul type mentoring where people help each other with big decisions, pain/healing; really the good, the bad & the ugly. Start with your core leaders and encourage them to do it with their core followers and go from there. Fan the flame by showing how it can be done with online tools, video calls, etc.
- Self-Guided Experiences – On-demand content people can do at their pace on their schedule, curated resources for people to go deep into other areas, also great for training and for completing on boarding requirements.
The beauty in this approach is that you’re also reaching people with differing learning styles. Live streaming or church online isn’t “church;” we need to be doing so much more than that – preaching, teaching, engaging, and facilitating people doing life in deeper way.
Brady Shearer, Pro Church Tools
Hosting services is not our mission — it’s just one way of doing our mission. Consider what type of content you’re putting out there:
- How does it help you fulfill your mission?
- Don’t just duplicate your in-person experience. Context should drive the way we communicate.
- Change the way you preach – how do we think creatively to present message differently online? Ask yourself, what is my desired outcome for a person who consumes this piece of content?
- The biggest change will be a return to “being the church,” rather than a program-centric model of ministry. We’ve been given an opportunity to get rid of what wasn’t working before, try new things, focus on core basics that are central to achieving our mission
2020 Church Online Summit Tips for Thriving in Digital Spaces
Brandon Cox, Grace Hills Church
Online is here to stay, and the platform is different than in person. So, how should we present messages to an online audience? Here are a few tips for doing better online:
- Pray over the message and pray over those who will tune in
- “God before I preach this, please burden me with the needs of my listeners, their hurt, their pain, their brokenness, their fears …”
- When you can’t see your audience, you tend to focus on the message itself and you lose the connection between your content and the people to whom you’re presenting it.
- Greet people with authenticity, not an apology
- Change the pace of your message as you preach it
- Whether you shorten the message or not is not the issue; it’s whether you hold their attention
- Double your physical animation while speaking to hold people’s attention. Purposely move your body and hands more – err on side of too much. The same applies to smiling and facial expressions.
- Preach through the camera, not to it
- Be intentional about sharing your emotions—they’ll remember how you made them feel, not what you said
- You want your audience to feel the message
- Let them see your emotion, if a word moves you let that show
- Make an urgent appeal to an audience of one. In every message, there is one person you want to move God
- By end of message you want to move the will of listener toward God – obedience, salvation, reaching out, giving, serving (call to action)
- When it comes time to make that appeal, narrow your focus to that one person who is close to making that decision to take the step – heart to heart with compassion with understanding that they can do this – not just giving content to feel good but you’re calling to action and a step of faith.
Nils Smith, Dunham & Company
So, how exactly do you integrate social media into your online church strategy? Keep in mind that church is people coming together and growing together in getting closer to Christ – it’s all about community. Social media makes that more possible. Think of your Facebook page as your front porch and Facebook groups as your community. Don’t use it as a microphone where you only post messages about what you’ll be doing in the building or somewhere else. The reality is, this is a place to build community in ways we never could inside a building.
Understand that social media is constantly changing, so you need to adapt and in essence, build the plane while it’s in the air. For now, these are the appropriate parts of Social Media content:
- At least 50% of content should be inspirational in nature – no call to action, just something the follower would see when it comes in news feed; no agenda other than to minister to them directly (message, worship, meet specific needs you are aware of in the community)
- Maximum of 25% informational – call to action, sign up here, etc.; only what “need to know” but don’t overdo with information, much like “announcements” live – you’ll be discounted because content is not engaging
- Last 20% — conversations, celebrations & connections
We all agree we have a Biblical mandate to welcome the newcomer and stranger to our church online, but what does that mean?
Start by changing your perspective – online, we’re not welcoming them to our church, they are allowing us to come into their home. The invitation is theirs, and that’s a sacred thing. Let that sink in for a moment. We have an opportunity to get beyond the four walls of our church and reach the community, the outermost parts of the world without leaving our physical locations. It is truly an amazing time that we live in.
How can we make them feel at home in their own home while engaging with us online?
- Be as relational as possible – its all about engaging them in conversation so that you can go deeper.
- Be authentic and genuine – it is a very big deal for someone to give you their attention, especially for 60 minutes
- Make them feel seen and loved (ala Avatar – “I see you”) . Do they know you see them, that you care and you’re trying to make a connection with them?
Phil Cooke, Cooke Media Group
When we learn to speak the language of media, then we really have the ability to impact the world.
Right now, the Church is producing more media than Hollywood, and this isn’t the first time that’s happened. When movies first came to be, churches were doing more movie-making than professional entertainment organizations. In the early 1920s, church movie nights were a regular event on Saturday nights. So, the Church in this season is once again coming into its own as offering content of value to those seeking meaningful engagement.
For church communications people, recognize that your calling to engage people through media is just as important as your Pastor’s calling – and it truly is ministry. It’s time to step up and lean into that calling. Learn how to adapt your church “services” to be in front of a camera, in much the same way books are adapted to movie screenplays. Top insights:
- Make your live stream easy to find
- Adapt the way we film it – don’t keep cameras where they were before (in back of auditorium) – don’t need wide shot; need to be where the emotion and power of the speaker/person on camera is – no side shots, need to make eye shot
- Don’t blindly follow the rules or “how you’ve always done it.” Instead, be creative and don’t rely exclusively on analytics or org charts when deciding whether or not to post content
Jeff Reed, TheChurch.Digital
Church, here’s our reality:
- The Church in 2020 cannot be about a product being made for consumption.
- The Church in 2020 cannot be about an environment meant to complete an item on a checklist (or fill out a contact card)
- The Church in 2020 must be about people, and God’s desire to give them purpose through disciple-making
What if our church wasn’t defined by a single man (or woman) on-stage preaching the word? What if, instead, the church was defined by its ability to disciple and evangelize, empowering the Gospel on people, training them to share. What if the movement of your church wasn’t defined by the butts in seats of the one hour on Sunday, but God used those butts (not in seats) during the other 167 hours during the week?
We need to figure out what that balance is between digital and physical, how we can live “phygitally” – a combination of digital and physical together. Here are some insights to help you get started:
- Engagement is a two-way conversation
- People will connect to community before they connect with Christ, especially online
- Engage relationally and have conversations – that’s what will lead to life change
- Remember: You can create a stronger movement with twelve disciples than 1,200 consumers…
Stephanie Williams O’Brien, Mill City Church
When COVID shut down her church building, Pastor Stephanie turned to new ways to build community without the building and came up with Digital Living Rooms & Neighborhoods. They asked, “How can we join the Spirit through these scattered homes, digitally?”
They took a map of their community and separated it into digital neighborhoods, then broke those neighborhoods down into 3-5 digital living rooms where they invited people to come, connect and go deeper. People in their congregation discovered they had neighbors attending and started meeting via Zoom before, during and after the worship services. That mushroomed into members inviting physical neighbors to join the fun and a revolution began. Here’s how they organized it:
- A neighborhood coordinator was assigned to coordinate and invite
- Hosts within those neighborhoods were assigned to engage smaller group of neighbors
- Day of events created online by the church (i.e., online worship services)
- 9 am prayer gathering before worship service via Zoom
- 10 am worship service (Facebook live)
- 11 am digital neighborhood—join in through Zoom
- 11:10 am break out into digital living rooms provide questions to choose from to facilitate discussions
- 11:30-40 a.m. – group back together, for prayer (with prompts from church for city and other needs) and to say goodbyes
- Organic connections happen from those relationship-building experiences
- Has provided access to physical neighborhoods while the church is scattered
- What’s clear:
- The Holy Spirit is leading the scattered church, as in the book of Acts
- This experiment leads us away from dependency on a physical building and large group gathering
- Leaders are eager to step into something new – we’ve been in reactive mode for so long they’re excited about becoming active
- Community is more hopeful because they can see a time in the near future where some can gather safely
- People are starting to pray about ways they can invite friends and neighbors who are spiritually curious
- No matter what happens, connecting folks geographically is going to bolster support for each other – when people connect with geographic neighbors, they are bolstered to love their neighbors and reach out for Christ
This experiment has allowed Mill City Church to continue being the church right where they are even if where they are is not what they expected it to be. For more information:
2020 Church Online Summit Tips on the Future of Church Online
Tyler Sansom, First Capitol Christian Church/Church Anywhere
Church Anywhere started as a new approach to ministry before the COVID crisis hit, and they’ve successfully moved online attenders to offline in-person ministry opportunities. This microsite approach has meant they baptize more people at their Church Anywhere locations than they ever did at their one large church location. The microsite model is new, but it is far more scalable than any multisite plan church – for example, you can create a new site for $600 and do so quickly.
These are the practical tips you need to grow your online attenders to offline members:
- Relationship trumps technology every time. Life change flows from relationship. When figuring out how to start, keep the main thing the main thing – leading people to Christ and making disciples.
- For the microsite model to work, you need to shift your measurement focus from attendance to engagement. People attending a microsite won’t be attending a main campus, ever. If microsite is successful, your main campus attendance will most likely go down. Don’t focus on butts in seats, but on relationships with Christ.
- Structure, structure, structure. House church movements tend to be organic, but when shifting from a main building to microsite strategy, understand that rarely happens organically. You will need staff to pour into both online and microsite people. Sit down and think about how it will bring people from online to offline – plan and structure; it doesn’t happen by chance. Analyze your church DNA and create an infrastructure around that.
- Relinquish control and empower others. Key to success has been empowering passionate volunteers to truly lead – they are microsite pastors and become missionaries to areas where they’re passionate – trailer parks, homeless areas, youth centers, prisons.
As you embark on this unusual strategy, remember – don’t put God in a box. Allow Him to blow your mind. Go out, be the Church, use all the technology you can and be the Church.
If you are looking to grow your church, here are some insights into the only strategy you’ll ever need, and it starts with prayer. God wants our churches to grow – He’s passionate about the lost and reaching people, more that we can ever be. He knows the eternal consequences for not growing His church. All it takes is people who are willing to take action.
You need to think about what people in your community want/need, not what we want them to know. Realize that making a decision to go to church for the first time is one of the most daunting tasks ever. Trust is what will help people make the decision to show up for the first time. Build trust in three stages: Know, like and trust.
- Know – this is the “cold” market, strangers to you and your church
- Like – the “warm” market, you’ve become friends/acquaintances
- Trust – the “hot” market, true family
It all starts with content – and fortunately, churches are content machines. Get that content out beyond the four walls of the church building in a two-step system online:
- Post pillar content (sermons & value driven content)
- Post 3+ minutes videos – on Instagram valued higher content
- Snippets from Sunday message
- Encouragement, comfort, edification of church members/leaders
- Address community needs
- Retarget Content: only invite people (show ads) who have already expressed interested in your content – watched at least 25% of video (warm audiences)
- Invite people who already know who you are to church offline or online
- Facebook ads a great tool – can create a custom audience based off of activity on line
To connect: @alejandroreys on all Social Media platforms
Jason Caston, The iChurch Method
Don’t supplant traditional church services with online or digital services, supplement them – if someone can’t be there in person, provide a way for them to be there virtually. And keep in mind, that across multiple platforms, everyone should have the same “experience.” Your branding, what your church is known for and makes you different, should be evident across all those platforms.
Think of your digital platform as your Internet church campus. To be successful today, you need to be innovative and engaging. In the future, you’ll need to be more immersive, augmented with virtual reality experiences where there’s a digital layer over the virtual (think Pokemon Go). This might mean your Pastor may be preaching message and as he or she is doing that, the digital viewer is seeing what is being talked about happening right next to them (Last Supper, feeding the 5,000). It’s a virtual reality experience immersed in virtual world.
Sound too futuristic? Consider this, Artificial Intelligence is already immersed in our everyday experiences, we just don’t even realize it. For example, your Google search results are tailored to you as are all other social media newsfeeds so you have a customized experience every time you interact. We need to do same with church experience – individualized to each person’s needs.
A few examples of what the “church of the future” could look like:
Internet TV: Any church can get on this right now; unlike regular TV you can know who specifically is on your site, how long they watch, what makes them interact and what do they care about.
Ecommerce: Churches are just starting to get involved in this (give online, text to give, Apps), but we can build on this as the marketplace changes how the general public gives money for certain things (for example, Crypto for good, Viso, Apple & Google Pay). Be looking at digital currency now about what it may look like in the future. When you see these things take off, figure out how you can use these new methods to minister.
Through Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, churches can repurpose content to spread out over the whole week and get it into people hands through:
- Smart Glasses – blur lines between digital & reality
- Smart Devices – the younger generation is used to talking to devices and having something specific happen
- Smart Cars – self-driving cars will create riders focusing on their devices. People can be fully immersed in your content while they are driving around
The messages we have will always be important and effective. The Gospel will always be important, but methods of delivering messages will continually change.
With so many amazing speakers at the 2020 Church Online Summit, it was hard to narrow down this list to only 12 speakers. We hope this recap blessed, encouraged, and inspired you!
Did you attend the 2020 Church Online Summit? What were your main takeaways? We’d love to hear them!