THE R.E.A.L WAY TO DO ONLINE MINISTRY IN A STREAMING WORLD
Salt 18, “The Creative Conference for the Church,” met last week in Nashville, Tennessee, and Joey Santos and I were privileged to attend and lead a workshop. Our title: “Creating a Digital Campus: A New Strategy for Creating a Streaming Church.”
In another post I’ll write about the personal joy of attending SALT. This week I’ll highlight what Joey and I told those who heard us.
Visitors to our sites have come from 60 countries and more than 40 states. We’re averaging 650 attendees at our two Sunday services, and they have given more than $80,000 to Christ’s Church in just the first year. (By the way, we don’t count a person unless he or she stays with us for at least 20 minutes. And, unlike some churches, who assume that two are watching for every one person logged on, we count only one attendee per log-on unless that person specifically tells us more are watching.)
We have house churches across the country attending with us faithfully. We baptized a former Hindu who attends from his home in California. Joshua Baah-Binney, our missionary to Ghana, has started five house campuses in that country.
Why is this working? I’ve chosen the acronym REAL to suggest some answers.
The social media explosion shows us that technology can facilitate real engagement. This is what we’re experiencing with what we’re offering online.
Because we host chat rooms during our online worship services, we involve attendees who leave comments and ask questions throughout each service. I chat with several of them every Sunday before and after I’ve preached. (One woman from Oklahoma sent me a video of her daughter dancing and singing along with our worship team—she knew every word!)
This strategy allows us to engage with the attendees, not just give them something to watch. We welcome them, online and from the platform on Sunday mornings. Our online hosts lead them in worship through Communion and offering.
I often call some of our online visitors by name as I begin my sermon. This Sunday I included a fireman watching from his station. Before the service was over, he sent a chat: “Hey, thanks for the firehouse shout-out in the second service. It made us feel like we belonged.”
Through the week we offer the chat experience on every platform every minute of every day.
Joey spent a few hours from his office with a policeman in Malaysia who logged into our chatroom at 1:00 a.m. his time. Because of our online presence, he found help with his questions for meaning and struggle to survive.
Not long ago we spoke online with a Pakistani pastor seeking encouragement in the midst of the severe persecution he’s facing.
We offer an online Bible study (currently they’re studying Colossians), an online Rooted class (our discipleship pathway experience) , and an online Foundations class. We’ve discovered that online attendees get very real very quickly. The conversations are often heavy and always helpful. One attendee, struggling now in a dysfunctional congregation, is honest online about frustrations she could never express to anyone in her church. One attendee of our Bible study is a truck driver whose schedule prevents him from coming to church. Technology allows him to share with our group, even from the cab of his truck!
This Saturday a lady from northern Ohio is driving down to be baptized in our building. She made the decision as a result of attending our online worship. She has a family member who refuses to attend the online worship and refuses to step foot in a church building. But he’s coming with her to witness her baptism. This would never have happened if we weren’t serving online.
This is the first and the final point in every discussion about creative outreach. I told those attending our SALT workshop, “If your leaders don’t buy in and go all in, this will never be successful. Your senior minister must be committed to the strategy. Your elders must be behind your staff encouraging them to go and to do.”
The apostle Paul wrote, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). We know there is a vast population in our world that won’t go first to a church building for answers to their problems. We’re showing them Jesus through our streaming, digital church.
How is your congregation using digital technology to help you obey the Great Commission? Leave your experiences in the Comments section below.