How real is online church? Church leaders considering their digital outreach ask me that question all the time, and I’m glad. A local congregation should not go forward with online church until they’re happy with their response to that question.
I firmly believe the answer can be yes. Here are three ways to make your online church real.
Real Worship Experience
I know from experience that attendees at an online campus can have real encounters with God through music, prayer, and the message. Understanding the circumstances of these people will help us see how this is possible. What’s happening with them in this particular season of their lives? Why do they stay home? How can engaging online help them reconnect with God?
Don’t rush to push your online viewers to attend your physical campus. Many will eventually do this, but pressuring them may move them farther away instead of closer. Meet them where they are, offer the best worship experience possible, and let God do the rest.
Today’s culture wants community more than ever, but many start by looking at the Internet. According to research reported at marketwatch.com, the online audience is growing:
“American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media, according to a new study my market research group Nielsen. That’s up from 9 hours, 32 minutes just four year ago.”
This does not mean people don’t want to be in community, only that the places they’re going for community are changing from physical to cyber spaces. Churches should not ignore this reality but should build an online platform that encourages, facilitates, and builds community. This will require careful strategy in order to execute successfully.
The Barna research group’s book Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age underlines the key role of digital outreach:
“Digital faith interaction is becoming a standard component of most spiritual conversations. As more and more of our communication becomes digitally mediated, it is all but inevitable. So, in addition to enriching in-person faith communication, Christians also need the wisdom for making meaningful virtual connections that bear spiritual fruit.”
According to Barna, 13 percent of Millennials are likely to ask a question about faith and religion via digital interactions (compared with 51 percent who say they would likely ask such questions in person).
People can feel engaged with your church through your online campus if you build a platform that allows them to be part of who you are and what you do. Streaming your services alone will not do it. Be intentional about engagement in every aspect of your church and help your visitors to know that, regardless of their location, they belong to your church. We are the church wherever we are, and online church done with purpose and intentionality brings that statement to life.