Your Answer to a Dreaded Question About Your Church

Your Answer to a Dreaded Question About Your Church

It’s a dreaded question.

It’s tough for any organization to answer. It’s particularly difficult for churches. 

What does your church do?

Most of us who grew up in the church just stare back in disbelief. We ponder many questions about the church. How do we serve more effectively? How do we reach more people? Who should lead churches? We rarely ask ourselves, “What does our church do?”

So invariably we don’t have an answer when asked—at least one that clearly communicates with those we want to reach. Maybe we respond with something full of Christian jargon.

  • We worship Jesus. 
  • We preach the Bible.
  • We reach the lost.

Those all may be correct statements (and I hope they are), but they’ll make someone who doesn’t go to church regularly scratch their heads in confusion. 

Or maybe we go into a long diatribe that explains every facet of our church strategy.

Many unchurched people today have little background in the church. According to Barna Research, the percentage of people who call themselves atheists, agnostics, or of no religion, has doubled in the last two decades. Those numbers have been particularly abrupt among Generation Z. Words like lost, gospel, and saved mean nothing to people who have no history with the church—or even worse, they mean something different from what they mean to us.

Plus, you simply don’t have 25 minutes to explain what your church does. Most people won’t listen (really listen) that long, even if they’re trapped at a dinner party with you. 

To respond to this very important question from the people in your community, you need to reach into the business world for a tool that’s proving effective in helping businesses engage customers. 

You need a one-liner.

The Answer You’re Looking For

So what’s a one-liner?

Marketing guru Donald Miller defines it like this in his book, Marketing Made Simple: “A concise statement you can use to clearly explain what you offer.”

It’s basically your church’s elevator speech.

Miller calls it the most powerful tool in any organization’s toolbox because you can use it to make people curious about you. “A one-liner makes people lean in rather than tune out at a cocktail party,” he writes.

Anyone who has ever tried to explain what their church does at a party can appreciate the value of a one-liner. 

When you first hear Miller’s definition, it might tempt you to think you’ve already got a one-liner. It’s called your mission statement.

But you’d be wrong. 

Yes, you still need a mission statement. Your mission statement communicates to your church family what you’re all about. It keeps everyone on the same page. But you can’t use the same language with the church as you do to people outside of the church. Plus, even the best mission statements don’t necessarily make someone lean into them. 

Your mission statement is centered on your church.

Your one-liner is centered on the people you’re trying to reach.

It looks like a subtle change, but it’s transformational when it comes to engaging the people your church wants to reach. Unchurched people don’t care about your church. They don’t particularly care about what you think God wants you to do. They don’t really even care about what God wants them to do. They care about themselves. 

Most people don’t check out your church because of your cool mission statement. They check out your church because they believe you can help solve a problem in their life.

That’s at the heart of what a one-liner is. It tells people who don’t go to your church how your church will solve a significant problem in their life. 

Why Your Church Needs a One-Liner

As Miller says, your one-liner is the most powerful tool you have at your disposal to communicate about your church. It’s the starting point of any other marketing need you have. 

Here’s why:

  • You’ll simplify your communication. Simple and clear communication always wins. Today people are hit with loads of marketing messages every time they check their email, log on to social media, and turn on the television. They won’t pay attention to what your church says if it’s too complicated. A one-liner puts the most important content about your church in one or two simple sentences.
  • You’ll enable others to share your story. For churches, this may be one of the best values of developing a one-liner. As you share your one-liner in different places, your congregation will begin to remember it. When it’s time for them to invite friends and family to visit your church, they can share in a way that’s inviting and speaks to the needs of the community. Because your one-liner is short, your congregation will always be prepared to answer the questions, “What does your church do?
  • You’ll become more united. A good one-liner puts everyone on the same page about what you do. Likely your church solves lots of problems, but your one-liner will provide clarity about the one problem that’s absolutely essential for your church to solve. Ideally, this should make its way through every piece of your church—from your age-based ministries to your missions team to your first impressions team, etc. Whenever there is a question of priorities, you can come back to your church’s one-liner. This is what we say we do.
  • You’ll condition people to think about the people you’re trying to reach. Many of the people in your church probably give little thought to the people you’re trying to reach. You may try to clarify the need for your congregation to be involved in evangelism and to invite people to your church, but it’s always a tough proposition. A one-liner will remind people about the real needs that people who aren’t engaged in your church have.

How You Create a One-Liner

The effective one-liner tells a clear and compelling story about your church in just two sentences or less. Like any other story, your one-liner needs a hero. 

Your story’s hero isn’t your church. It isn’t even Jesus. For your story to engage the people you want to reach, you have to put them in the hero slot. 

At its simplest point, every good story has a hero who wants something but faces an obstacle to getting it. The story describes how the hero overcomes the obstacle to get what he or she wants and ultimately how reaching this goal impacts the hero’s life. Your one-liner works the same but at a micro-level.

Your one-liner has three parts. 

Problem – Nothing is more important to define clearly from your hero’s perspective than the problem. Nothing is more difficult either. Once you define the problem, everything else falls into place.

Solution – If you describe the problem clearly (and it resonates with those you’re sharing it with), you’ll create a sense of anticipation for the solution. You’ll have pricked a pain point, and they will want to alleviate that pain. Your church is then in the perfect position to provide the solution.

Success – Finally, you need to give people a glimpse into how your solution will make their lives better. This part provides the real emotional punch to your one-liner. The person you’re trying to reach has been likely trying to solve this problem for years. They’ve attempted other solutions and failed. You’re giving them hope.

How to Use Your New One-Liner

Your new one-liner will be the most used part of your church’s marketing collateral. Because it’s short and simple, you’ll find places to use it everywhere. Here are a few examples:

  • Sermons – You’ll want to sprinkle most of your sermons with your one-liner, particularly early on. Your pulpit is the steering wheel that moves your church. If you want people to learn the one-liner, say it often in your sermon. You may even want to preach through your one-liner regularly during a series of sermons.
  • Business cards – Putting your one-liner on the back of your business cards will put what your church does in front of countless people. How many times have you looked at a business card months after you received it and wondered why in the world you have it? A one-liner will remind people why your church exists.
  • Website “About” section – Your about section is one of the first places on your website people will visit when they’re considering attending your church. Make your one-liner the first sentences of your church’s description.
  • Membership class collateral – If your church has a membership class, there is no better place to go through your one-liner. Print it in any handouts you provide for participants. Make sure everyone knows the one-liner before they leave. Have participants repeat it with you several times. 

These use cases are just the beginning. Brainstorm with your team different ways you can use your new one-liner. Most importantly, say it often to one another and to people you engage in the community.

You can also join our Church Fuel Members for our upcoming LAB in September, where we’ll be working alongside a Storybrand Guide to craft our own one-liners. He’ll not only guide you through the process but put your one-liner to the test in our cohort style workshops.

You should never be at a loss of words again when you’re asked what your church does.

6 Small Church Live Stream Improvements That Make a Big Difference

6 Small Church Live Stream Improvements That Make a Big Difference

I said that I would never buy an air fryer.

I didn’t need more kitchen gadgets, and I especially didn’t need a large one taking up counter space. But the COVID-19 season changed that.

Similarly, even the churches that weren’t interested in introducing an online service option found themselves doing just that during COVID-19.

What seemed to be a frivolous investment before turned out to be a welcomed tool that makes better ministry possible right now (and in my air fryer case, better fries).

But after months and months of live streaming, pastors started reporting a drop in online service attendance around June. Only 42% of practicing Christians reported that they had listened to or watched a sermon online during a four-week period.

So, while online services continue to be the norm for many churches, people are less engaged. It’s time to revisit (or create) your church live stream strategy.

When we think about improving the live stream, our minds often go to spending thousands of dollars to upgrade the equipment.

But it’s not about the gear. It’s about engagement. Especially now.

As Carey Nieuwhof put it, “Just because the novelty of online church is wearing off for people doesn't mean there isn't great long-term potential for online church in a world in which everyone you want to reach is online.”

There are steps you can take to rebuild live stream engagement for your church. These small changes can make a big difference.

#1 – Add a host

If your live stream goes right into music at the beginning of service and switches straight from music to sermon, consider adding a host.

This person can add a personal element, helping to pull online attenders in and make feel welcome. Not only can they serve as the friendly face that begins and ends the service, but they can provide context as the live stream transitions from one part of the service to another.

#2 – Leverage countdown slides

The countdown slides that help everyone know how soon service is going to start can also do so much more.

Use those countdown slides to encourage connection:

  • Follow us on social media!
  • Have a question about how to get connected? Email ______.
  • Send us your prayer request
  • Join a virtual small group today—just follow this link!

Together Church, where Church Fuel ministry coach Dr. Robbie Foreman is Senior Pastor, is a great example. They use their countdown slides to encourage people to submit a prayer request, tell them how to find the church on social media, and show instructions for giving online.

#3 – Create an engagement team

If your church has full-time staff, they most likely have their plates full with just making sure that Sunday service happens.

But volunteers can easily step in to help with the engagement piece of online service.

When I was on staff at a church, I had my hands full with typical communications tasks. I recruited a team of volunteers to post Instagram stories live on Sundays, reply to social media comments, and cover events.

An engagement team can improve your church’s live stream by being available to chat, pray, and answer questions. Their active presence in the chat section of the live stream can make it feel more lively and interactive for guests.

If you’re a Church Fuel member, check the Resource Library for our Online Service Moderator Guidelines. This resource outlines what engagement team members/online service moderators should do, best practices for engaging, and example comments and questions to spark interaction.

#4 – Facilitate conversations

If you ask most people who are burnt out on live streams and Zoom calls what they miss the most, their answer will probably be “other people.”

We took our times of hanging out in the church lobby to chat after service for granted.

But until those times return for your church, help people connect online. For example, Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, GA sets up a Zoom call every Sunday for church members who want to see familiar faces while they watch the service online. People can log in to the Zoom call a few minutes before service and stay on after to interact.

Providing spaces for “virtual lobby talk” can make people more excited about having church online. They can watch the live stream and connect with the people they miss.

“The Apostle Paul used the technology of his day (letter writing) to connect people with God and to grow the church,” said Dave Adamson. “We’re called to do the same thing—use the technology of our day to help grow the church and connect people with God.”

#5 – Call people out

When the live stream process becomes routine, it can start to become mundane. It’s easy to eventually forget that those are people and not just viewer numbers behind the screen.

Let people know that you remember them. Tell people you’re happy to “see” them on the live stream. Share personal news and stories.

This is the same principle that says people are more likely to stick around at a church if they get involved—making friends, volunteering, joining a small group, etc. If people feel seen and known on a live stream, they’re more inclined to log on.

Thank Sharon for sharing the live stream with her grandma in Indiana. Congratulate Jack and Jill on their recent engagement. Ask everyone to wish Bill a happy birthday. Don’t let your live stream continue to be “business as usual” Sunday after Sunday—bring people in.

#6 – Ask for feedback

If the live stream attendance is dropping and those who do watch aren’t engaging or sharing it with friends and family, the reasons might be deeper than screen fatigue.

The best way to know what could improve the live stream experience for your people is to ask them. Better yet, ask an outsider who isn’t a part of your church (or even a non-believer) to evaluate your live stream and give their honest feedback. They can point out shortcomings that might be turning people off and highlight issues that aren’t easily seen from the inside.

Church Fuel members, you’ll find an Online Service Evaluation Form in the Resource Library to help with this.

The live stream may be new terrority for a lot of churches because of COVID-19, but it’s an excellent tool to help even more people connect with the church.

As Kenny Jahng, a church communications expert who helps organizations create content that drives engagement explained in our Rebound course: “You now have an audience that's captivated, curious, and conversive, and those are the three magic ingredients.”

Make a few small changes to improve the live stream experience and they will add up to build a stronger, more engaged online audience for your church.

Take the Next Step

Looking for ways to reach more people in your community and invite them to church? In The Senior Pastor's Guide to Reaching More People, you'll find practical and actionable tools that you can use to reach more people inside and outside of your church.

Free Download

The Senior Pastor's Guide to Reaching More People
 

6 Reopening Communication Tips for Church Leaders

6 Reopening Communication Tips for Church Leaders

No matter which feed you open, where it’s Facebook, Twitter, or even your own thread of text messages, you’ll see plenty of opinions about reopening churches for in-person worship after COVID-19 lockdowns.

But in a sea of noise, it’s wise for church leaders to focus on communicating to the audience entrusted to them…their congregation.

You can serve your people well by communicating with clarity—in this season and always. Here are our six tips for communicating about reopening.

#1 – Give A Simple Answer

We believe that the decision to reopen is a big one. But there’s no doubt that your congregation has questions about which decision the church is leaning toward, and the pastor’s inbox is likely evidence of that.

If your church has made the decision to reopen, communicate that to the congregation even if you have to say, “Details are coming soon, but we wanted you to know where we stand because we know that you have questions.” This helps people know what’s happening and why even if they’re not planning to return to the building any time soon.

In his book, Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley wrote: “My enemy is not uncertainty. It is not even my responsibility to remove the uncertainty. It is my responsibility to bring clarity into the midst of the uncertainty.”

Sometimes the answer is “I don’t know” or “Not yet” but there are ways to communicate this reality that provides some clarity and relieves people’s anxiety.

#2 – Use Internal and External Communication

When communicating through a crisis, one important principle to remember is to keep it concise.

There’s a lot that goes into making the decision to reopen and many things that could go wrong, but the congregation doesn’t need to know the brand of thermometer the church will use to check temperatures at the door or the level of disagreement the church elders had about the cost of hand sanitizer stations.

You want to communicate the facts concisely with the most relevant details in external communication (to the congregation and media). And right now, it’s even wise to share the cleaning policies that no one cared about before. But internal communication is the place for nitty-gritty details to guide your staff and key volunteers.

#3 – Share How to Serve

Even those who aren’t in a hurry to come back to in-person services are seeing the anguish around them and looking to their church asking, “How can we help?”

Give the people what they’re searching for—answers, hope, and ways to serve. There might be a place for them on the church’s reopening task force to help make the decision. Or families with urgent needs for groceries or childcare that they can help meet.

As the logistics of reopening become clearer, new volunteer positions will likely emerge. Share these with your congregation and give them an easy way to sign up.  

#4 – Remember the Vulnerable

In all of your reopening communication, give a nod to vulnerable populations who are advised to stay home.

Let them know they’re not forgotten. Share the options available to help them stay connected (online services and virtual small groups, for example). Make them feel noticed and cared for.

#5 – Have a PR Plan

We can’t always control the angles that media outlets use to report a story.

But even if you don’t care what the media thinks of your church’s decision to reopen, it’s wise to care for your congregation and community’s perception by having a public relations (PR) plan in place.

Don’t allow the fear of unknown responses from the public to stop you from planning.

Nona Jones once put it this way: “Fear is an invitation to prepare. Fear is not paralytic.”

It doesn’t have to be long and detailed but prepare your response.

Know what to say when asked how church leadership reached the decision to reopen and what the safety measures are. Designate one person to respond to inquiries from the public (typically a Communications Director or Executive Pastor).

A PR strategy is helpful for churches all the time, but it’s especially valuable now. It’s not submitting to public opinion. It’s an opportunity to clearly communicate responsibility, concern for the community, and God’s love to those who are confused, hopeless, and hurting.

#6 – Confirm What Has and Hasn’t Changed

With the term “unprecedented” and the phrase “new normal” floating around all the time, most people are longing for normalcy and seeking hope for the future.

It’s true that there’s a new normal that we’re all getting adjusted to and it’s important to be honest about that.

But Hebrews 13:8 is also true.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Matthew 16:18 is still true.

…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

So, when you communicate about reopening, confirm what has changed. Maybe you’ll be wearing masks for a while, closing some hallways, and canceling some events.

But communicate what hasn’t changed, too. Clarity is comforting and your congregation will appreciate the hope-filled reminder.

Take the Next Step

Not sure what to say in communication to your congregation right now? We created these free, pre-written emails to give you a starting place and help in determining what your church needs to know right now.

You can customize the messages for your church context and use them as a guideline for what to say in emails, on the website, or in social media posts.

Free Download

5 Reopening Email Templates
 
Announcing Our New Partnership and Course

Announcing Our New Partnership and Course

We’re all about helping churches grow. It’s why we create practical courses, actionable resources, and have a team of coaches ready to help church leaders through any struggle they face.

It’s also why we’re thrilled to announce a new partnership.

Gloo is an organization that brings powerful tools to help you know your community, congregation, and online audiences.

We’ve been using their Insights tool for a while, and it’s some powerful stuff. It goes way beyond demographics and reports. And there’s Journey Studio – a new discipleship and growth path builder. Right away, we knew that our churches could use this to help people grow in their faith. 

Both of these tools will really help your church. And I can’t wait to show them to you in the coming months.

But we’ve released something you can use right now. And it’s 100% free. 

We worked with Gloo to create a brand new, premium course called Data Fueled Church. Normally, we sell these courses or make them only available to members, but because of this partnership, we want to give it to you.

This course isn’t about being data-driven. Because let’s be honest…you’re not supposed to be driven by numbers; you should be led by the Spirit.

But being informed is part of being a good steward. Knowing the numbers should help you make good ministry decisions. That’s the heart behind this course. 

Like all of our courses, this one has practical video teaching and resources to help you take action. 

There’s no cost to enroll.

12 New Digital Ministry Lessons for Every Leader

12 New Digital Ministry Lessons for Every Leader

Covid has been like a mission trip.

We thought we were going on a short-term trip to a place that felt foreign.

We got there, and had to immediately learn some new languages and methods.

Turns out, this is becoming more like a long-term mission assignment. And since arriving in this digital Babylon (credit to David Kinnaman), we have been reaching people we never thought possible. It has actually led us to a stronger, more relevant and durable way of doing ministry with analog tools, digital tools, and everything in between.

For many leaders, the conversation around technology in ministry is relatively new.  And not always welcome. Consider three postures that a leader might take when facing the possibility of innovation in the local church:

    • Some leaders get excited at the thought of trying something new.
    • Some leaders will try something new if they must (a good pandemic always helps).
    • Some leaders will refuse to adjust methods no matter the circumstance.

Each leader has followers who take a similar posture, which usually enhances the confirmation bias of the leader. This makes it difficult to form a measured, objective opinion about how and whether to adopt the new method. All three postures can produce benefit or harm if taken to an extreme.

It's about change, not technology.

The debate about technology’s role in the church has ranged from wineskins and a torn curtain to pipe organs, radio, and streaming video. With each advance, church leaders have had to grapple not only with the new medium, but also with the implications on power, ministry, and trust.

In many ways Christianity owes its global spread to the work of people powered by technology. In fact, a sense of curiosity among Spirit-led pioneers of the past led us to adopt innovative technology for the work of the church. The implications were often positive, though often not fully anticipated. Consider:

    • The printing press enabled not just Scripture distribution, but also increased literacy rates and changing roles in the church. It also changed the understanding of “prophets, priests, and kings,” which eventually led to full-scale reformation.
    • Broadcast technology allows God’s Word to transcend borders, even into closed countries. It also enabled the rise of large-scale revival, and personality-driven ministry. This made possible the rise of the megachurch in the late 20th century.
    • The combination of streaming media, video conferencing, and data-informed ministry made ministry possible during the Covid-19 pandemic. Quite literally, it was the lifeline that kept churches connected and, in some cases, made the decision between survival or closure.

Leaders who recognize the possibility of the moment are the ones who can smartly make new technology a tactic in their ministry strategy.

Are we in an awakening?

We are in a watershed moment for the Church.  In a recent interview, James Emery White (pastor at Mecklenburg Community Church) shared this with me: “I think the pandemic may have just saved the church in many ways. It got us out of a Sunday/weekend-centric approach. It forced us online and into social media, it also made us open to change, being creative when we were not creative before, and open to innovation. It also got us back down to raw mission–what is our mission?  You add all of that up, and it is dangerously close to an awakening.”

Here are 12 key trends that have emerged so far this year. I believe every leader needs to critically evaluate whether these are true in each local context, and if so… how to respond.

1. Attendance is Officially Dead

By most estimates, the average family attended church between 1.2 and 1.7 times each month in 2019. The reasons for this vary, but it really messed with attendance numbers. Do you have average weekly attendance of 500?  That could really mean you are reaching as many as 750 or 1000 people, just not all on the same week. Sporadic attendance patterns also make engagement models tough.

So, we had a problem with regular attendance. Then Covid hit.

Our buildings shut down, so attendance crashed to zero right? Well in many cases, pastors actually watched digital engagement increase at the very moment that physical attendance became impossible.

Then we entered phases of the numbers dilemma:

  1. Tuning in: Digital viewership soared (we think)
  2. Church surfing: many people viewed sermons, devotionals, music, and content from more than one source
  3. Re-opening surprise: as churches opened their doors again, only 35% of people came back
  4. Habit change: it's looking like many folks will permanently opt for a more digital (or at least hybrid) model for engaging with the church.

What does “attendance” even mean anymore? Counting people in a blended physical/digital environment is challenging. Churches desperately need new ways to not just get an accurate number, but to know who they're reaching.

At Gloo, we've been talking to a number of churches about this problem, and they've helped us develop some early solutions such as the new Insights+ suite of tools. It's now possible for any pastor to know how many people are interacting with the church online, and to see the human side of the numbers. What are the demographics? How are marriages and relationships? What are the deepest spiritual needs in the communities I serve?

Rather than counting attendance, churches should start counting engagements and outcomes in the people they serve.

2. People (yes, even older ones) will learn technology if they have a good reason

Here's something that shocked us at my church during the quarantine. We had the highest level of Zoom participation in our Boomer groups and older. And although these folks were all-too-glad to get back to face-to-face fellowship, they've now seen that technology can work, and can help them maintain connection with people.

More broadly, according to a new Barna study, millennials have actually been more likely to stop engaging with church during Covid, compared to Boomers and Elders.

Pastors should consider technology-based solutions for effective ministry for the whole church, not just for the younger generations. Your middle and older generations may actually thank you for it.

3. Kids still need age-appropriate ways to learn and engage

What has been one of the most stressful parts of quarantine? For parents, it's trying to juggle daily responsibilities while keeping kids occupied.

What has been one of the biggest impediments to engaging with church, including watching the weekend streaming service? It's the fact that kids don't like it. And for those churches who have been doing virtual kids' ministry, many have been trying to combine several grades together so they can all watch together. This can result in a watered-down or too-young programming that the older kids will tune out.

Try thinking more strategically about engaging kids online, such as:

    • For middle and high-school students, schedule your digital programming sometime other than Sunday morning. They likely aren't awake anyway.
    • Segment younger elementary from older elementary.  Fourth grade is probably a good cutoff; the older kids will likely lose interest in the songs and message if it feels like they're targeting the little kids.
    • Kids crave community and like to learn when it's fun.  Try using various online tools such as YouVersion plans (groups can read together), Journey Studio to develop age-appropriate growth plans with a facilitator, or other learning tools like Kahoot for live quizzes on the material.
    • Since you're not spending money on snacks and stage props, invest in some tangible books, curriculum, swag, or other items you can physically send to every kid's home.  They'll be excited to get mail and much more likely to tune in digitally when they have the materials you sent.
    • Don’t forget the kids without phones and tablets. Some of them might be able to watch a YouTube video on a computer or complete a hands-on study lesson and then send it to a friend.

4. Our buildings and budgets need to change

Leaders may never get a better opportunity to scrutinize every budget line. As you consider re-opening and adding back programs, ask:

“What does this enable us to do?”

“Does this help us accomplish our mission?”

“How can we measure the success of this program?”

“What should this program look like if we want to serve both our physical and digital communities?”

“Is our church the best one to create or own this program, or should we curate/partner with the work of another organization?”

Every dollar you free up from old, outdated programs is a dollar you can now invest in reaching people in ways that are culturally relevant, measurable, and effective.

5. There is hope for the exhausted pastor

This year has probably been the hardest leadership environment we've seen.  Here are just some of the heavy, mind-crushing decisions that pastors have been asked to make:

    • Should I close my building?
    • How do I set up streaming?
    • Should I re-open my building?
    • How can I address racial equality in a way that is helpful?
    • Should we close again?
    • What if our government imposes rules on us that violate scripture?

At every turn, many leaders approached these decisions with a rigorous, careful process that included many voices and data.  Yet some pastors resorted to an isolated, gut-feel decision-making process that left them wondering (maybe deep down) if they were making the right call.  This is exhausting.

Healthy leaders are a prerequisite to a healthy organization. Operating for an extended period has taught us that using data to make decisions is very freeing. You'll never have 100% of the information to make any decision. But when you have more of the information you need:

    • Your decisions will consider a wider range of factors
    • You will reduce your blind spots
    • You will be better able to defend your decision to critics (you'll always have at least one)
    • You can stop guessing

The best tool of the Covid season, from my perspective, has been church-specific assessments. Asking your people for input on everything from face masks to job loss and financial disruption to protesting racial injustice has helped thousands of churches know their people better so they could make more informed decisions. And Gloo offers a wide range of these assessments for free.

Every church should be in the habit of checking in with people both physically and online; it's one of the easiest ways to take the burden off the shoulders of a pastor and let the Holy Spirit, wise counsel, and objective data guide the decision.

6. Knowing people has never been easier

There's no replacement for face-to-face. But does that mean digital is impersonal? Quite the opposite. Here's what one pastor told me in April:

“I was a critic of digital ministry until we were forced to switch. I'm completely converted. The quality and depth of the conversations I'm having with people online is incredible. Never have I been able go so personal, so quickly as I am right now. People are willing to share very personal things with me that they would never talk about in our building.”

Not only can personal interactions be surprisingly intimate online, but it's also now possible to know more than ever before about your community, and your engaged audiences (whether online or physically present). Churches are using macro-level information to learn things such as:

    • What are the demographics of the communities I serve?
    • Are the marriages in my church healthier now, compared to a year ago?
    • How many people are visiting our website for a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd week in a row?
    • What are the spiritual postures of people in different neighborhoods nearby?

These questions and many more can be answered and can lead to incredible ministry opportunities. Churches can attract, get, keep, grow, and multiply people more effectively now than in any prior time period.

7. Digital is diverse in every way

You don't need a big budget to leverage digital tools. In fact, congregations from the inner city to the suburbs are finding creative ways to reach more people than ever before. What's working? It's not slick production, fancy lights or multi-camera setups. Those are nice-to-haves.

What reaches people is authenticity.

A pastor recording a 3-minute honest comment on a smartphone can touch people in places where a 30-minute sermon cannot.

Further, digital pathways provide the means for any congregation to reach any individual–crossing the lines of ethnicity, community and social station.

Pastor Samuel Rodriguez told me, “The digital platform is multi-ethnic. It's not like there are groups left behind. It's multi-ethnic, multi-generational, and it becomes our primary faucet for disseminating the Gospel.”

8. Digital is both gathered and scattered, and it's neither

Is small group still small group when it's over video? Does virtual prayer still count? Can a person grow spiritually in a community that interacts through screens?

Hang in there, I'm not saying that Matthew 18:20 is irrelevant. But what if “where two or three are gathered” could extend to new definitions of “gathered?”  Could God still move through pixels?

Things you can only do in person:

    • Face to face fellowship
    • Corporate worship
    • Community care and outreach
    • Local ministry

Things you can only do online:

    • Streaming
    • Targeted communication
    • Personalization
    • Data-informed leadership
    • Measuring growth over time

Things can actually be better with a blend of analog and digital:

    • Worship
    • Bible teaching
    • Prayer
    • Evangelism
    • Giving
    • Groups
    • Leader Development

9. People may not be looking for church, but they are looking for answers.

There are 5 core areas of human flourishing, and our world is disrupted in all of them.

    • Spiritual
    • Relationships
    • Finances
    • Vocation
    • Health

Research on Google Trends reveals that each of these topics has experienced spikes in traffic since March 2020 (health and money are the leaders). If your church is preaching scripture, then you have something to offer your community in all of these areas! The question is, will you be able to reach these people in new ways?

Reaching people through an area of their lives with acute need (see the list above) can lead to gospel conversations, spiritual formation, and deeper discipleship opportunities. This applies in person, and it applies online. This is your moment to think about how to be a more externally focused church.

10. The fields are ripe

Is the world hurting right now? You bet. Is your community in need of gospel-centered love, restoration, teaching, and truth? Absolutely. Are they finding it in church buildings? Not so much.

The gospel message is not tied to any one delivery mechanism, and regardless of medium, it never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). As many are hearing the groans of a broken world in need of a savior, the gospel message is more needed now than ever. And people are responding online!

Terry Storch, Digerati Pastor at Life.Church, shared a breathtaking statistic with me after our first all-digital Easter. Across the thousands of churches that interact with the Church Online Platform that his team manages, they saw 75,000 people indicate a first-time decision (online) to accept Jesus Christ as savior on Easter alone. Praise God for the technology to reach people who need to hear the Good News.

We must hold each other accountable to evangelize. Not later, but right now. By any means available to us.

If your church is solely using its online presence as a content delivery channel for existing members, you are missing the bigger opportunity to reach and win souls. Whether it's neighborhood evangelism, Google ad campaigns, or any form of social media outreach, there are countless creative ways that you and your congregation can reach people right now.

11. New technology makes discipleship more accessible and measurable

There are rich and effective tools available to draw each person forward on their spiritual journey. One of our core tenets that Gloo acknowledges is that relationships catalyze growth. Intimate, life-on-life discipleship often involves in-person connections (as it should), but we can leverage additional tools in the process. Not just as an alternative, but to enrich the personal connection!

Have you ever used a personal trainer or a nutritional coach? These relationships work. Using a trainer/coach helps me reach my goal because I am combining a relationship with the right steps, and we can measure the result. Your discipling process might look slightly different but should mirror this sequence for the most part.

Effective discipleship ministries are leveraging tools to equip their people to disciple each other effectively. These might include:

    • Bible app
    • Videos, books, and resources from networks, denominations, or other movements
    • Discipleship apps such as One 2 One, LifeCoach, or Blue Book/Green Book
    • A comprehensive growth step delivery platform such as the Gloo Journey Studio, which lets you create a custom plan for any person or group, deliver it in the context of a discipling relationship, and measure the results

12. Waiting for the other shoe to drop is a bad strategy

The church has adopted new tools before—with significant consequences. Consider things we take for granted now such as printed Bibles, musical instruments, buildings with climate control, websites, online giving, and live streaming.

Every leader has a choice on whether to keep pushing forward. Sometimes that means doing the same thing for a while. Sometimes that means trying new things. I get it.

We're tired of disruption. Tired of pivots. Tired of hearing about the “new normal.”  But a big reason we're tired is that we're in uncharted territory, and it's hard to keep guessing at what's coming next.

Change involves curiosity. Sacrifice. And often, getting outside your comfort zone.

Don’t wait for the world to throw your church another curveball. You can be more prepared for what’s next if you continually seek ways to reach people no matter the landscape. The future of the local church will be shaped by how we handle the digital opportunity now.

Brad Hill is a senior executive leader at Gloo. Based in Boulder, CO, Gloo is a technology company built on a passion for personal growth and transforming lives. By connecting an innovative suite of products and resources for church leaders, Gloo supports a trusted platform that helps church leaders know and move every person they serve. You can learn more at gloo.us.

Take the Next Step

Data Fueled Church is a free, on-demand course that combines best practices and real-church examples, giving you a better understanding of how churches can use data, insights, and analytics to make better ministry decisions. This course is not overly technical. Instead, it focuses on practical applications for ministry, leadership, and reaching people.

Don’t Make These 8 Reopening Mistakes

Don’t Make These 8 Reopening Mistakes

Every pastor is thinking about the future. Every pastor is considering what reopening will look like. With each thought comes countless questions. 

When we will re-open? How will we re-open? Will people come back? Will our church ever look the same? 

And the truth is that no one really knows the answers. While that may not sound reassuring, know that you are not alone, and everyone is in a constant state of adjusting and adapting.

As our team has talked to pastors across the country, we’ve noticed a few crucial differences between the churches that are forming solid plans and the churches whose plans are falling apart. 

As you continue to formulate the next steps for this next phase, make sure that you avoid these 8 reopening mistakes.

#1 – Thinking everyone is going to come back.  

Re-opening will be too late for some and too early for others.

Churches are reporting anywhere from 25% to 60% of previous attendance. It’s safe to assume that you will have a sizable amount of people who won’t be comfortable returning to an in-person experience, no matter the measures you put in place.

“Remember it’s summer. People are scared and just cause they didn’t come on Sunday doesn’t mean you are a failure.” – Jarad Houser, Senior Pastor, Shorewood Church of God

#2 – Not listening to your people.  

The best way to understand the needs of your church is to understand the needs of your people. Want to know if they’ll return? Ask them. Want to know what will make them feel safe? Ask them.

The opinions of one loud person are not always reflective of the congregation or community.  Don’t fall into “some guy syndrome,” where some guy said something, and assume it’s a shared majority opinion. 

Follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, your team, and the whole church.

You won’t get unanimous answers, but you’ll gain an understanding of the majority. 

Return to Church Check-In from Gloo is a helpful (free) resource that does all the work for you. 

#3 – Not recruiting new volunteers.  

Recruiting new volunteers may not seem like an obvious strategy. If you expect to have members not return to an in-person service, you should also expect to have volunteers not volunteer at an in-person service.  

Reassign volunteers from other ministries that may not be operating at their full capacity (or at all) and recruit new volunteers to fill the gap.

#4 – Failing to develop a comprehensive communication plan.  

Solid plans have to include a clear communication plan, and this includes contingencies. One of our church fuel members made a list of 3 things to consider:

  1. Known knowns: Things that we do know are happening and how things are going to be around our church moving forward.
  2. Known Unknowns:  Things we know we need to learn more about.  It's not 100% clear, but we are working on trying to understand it.
  3. Unknown Unknowns:  Things that might happen, but we don't know.  Things that we haven't even considered.  Things that could happen that would change how we do something pretty fast.

#5 – Leaving behind your online audience.  

People have formed new habits and new expectations that are not going away just because places are opening up. This is the new blended.  

Even if we open our physical doors, we cannot close our digital ones.  Keep creating content for your online church. This is an opportunity to continue to reach people, no matter where they live.

#6 – Not having a contingency plan.  

No one knows what next week will look like, let alone the next several months.

We have to be prepared for all scenarios and adjust our expectations to adapt to each one. If re-opening is your next step, make sure you don’t place all your eggs in this basket.

There are a lot of unknowns but not being prepared is a difficult blow.  Consider what your plan is if/when a member tests positive. Who will be responsible for contact tracing? What if a volunteer tests positive? What will your messaging be? How will your services change in those scenarios? 

You’ll likely have to answer these questions eventually.  Asking them now will help prevent panic, and perhaps lead to different decisions as you decide what reopening will look like.

#7 – Forgetting your own needs.

Not only are you having to manage the needs and health of yourself and your family, but you’re also managing the needs and health of your church. That can be a lot of weight to carry, and making sure that you are taking care of yourself can not be understated.

Connect with God. Connect with friends. Create healthy systems to manage the rest. 

#8 – Being defensive or judgmental.  

Every church and every member will have their own choices and their own reasons. Your job is not to decide for them, or unnecessarily emulate them. Your job is to lead your church. The church down the street or across the country doesn’t know your people like you do, nor do you know theirs.. Be confident in your leadership, and what wisdom and love look like for you and your people. And leave it at that.

For more resources, check out our REBOUND course. It’s designed to help your church bounce back and move forward.

Take the Next Step

The Senior Pastor’s Guide to Reopening is a free ebook that helps church leaders ask the right questions and make a wise, strategic decision about reopening for in-person services. It includes examples from real churches, practical tips for creating plans, and important safety, sanitation, and communication topics to consider.

Free Download

The Senior Pastor's Guide to Reopening