Over the last decade or so, online ministry has given churches the unique ability to reach people far beyond their four walls. When done well, church online has the capacity to grow your attendance, strengthen your giving, and increase your impact in a world that is desperate for Jesus.
With all major shifts in the church world, there can be a bit of a learning curve. You may have found yourself wondering how to do a virtual church service, what social media and web tools you should utilize, and how to reach people without an in-person encounter.
While these questions are valid, there is a bigger question that must first be answered before you start thinking about the logistics of online ministry.
What exactly are the best practices for online ministry?
The term “catfish” is used to describe someone whose online identity is quite different from their real-life identity. These people deceive others by projecting a false narrative of who they truly are through a perfect online persona. So they will post a flawless profile photo and smooth-talk when in reality they are painfully awkward and the farthest thing from a supermodel.
If we’re not careful, churches can unintentionally “catfish” their online audience and portray an image that is far from the truth.
The best way to avoid “catfishing" your target audience is by upholding authenticity.
Being authentic, especially online, can be extremely difficult when you are trying to represent your true self to a digital world. Tack onto this the trap of comparison and living up to standards in church culture and you can have a very hard time letting your church’s identity shine through.
In order to overcome these obstacles, you need to fully understand what makes up your church’s identity. What are your values, your beliefs, and your mission?
When you live and breathe the mission of your church community (which is ultimately the mission of Christ - to seek and save the lost) it becomes much more natural to let your true character shine through.
The bonus? People value authenticity. Younger generations especially will see right through a phony persona and will call you out on it without a second guess. People are over perfection and a flawless aesthetic - they want the real thing.
Culture is one of the terms that we often throw around but can be difficult to explain. All we know for sure is that if the culture of a place or organization is bad, we know it. Good culture ties in with good mission - when you understand your mission, values, and beliefs and they are followed diligently, your culture will benefit. But if you lack passion for the mission, act in selfishness, and have toxic behaviors, culture will suffer.
Like a plant, culture needs to be planted, watered, and tended to. A gorgeous, healthy, bountiful strawberry plant won’t grow in toxic soil. Likewise, your culture won’t flourish in a toxic environment either.
Cultivating a healthy culture online can be a challenge because issues in culture can be more difficult to detect. However, it is still vital to tend to the culture of your church, even online.
Just as you would in person, check in on the members of your community. In order to prevent unhealthy culture down the road in your online ministry experience, take time to check-in with your congregation (especially your leaders) to see how they are doing mentally and spiritually.
Although culture issues can be a huge challenge, it is so comforting to remember that “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” - 1 Corinthians 3:7.
There is a gigantic false viewpoint that has surrounded the Internet: online relationships just aren't real. Many people have claimed this notion and others since the very beginning of the World Wide Web.
While some of these arguments may be true in part (especially in a catfishing scenario), the Internet is not some sort of toxic wasteland where real community goes to die.
The Internet has actually opened up a brand new way for people to communicate and experience community unlike any other.
Think about some of the ways we’ve connected digitally these past 20 years:
Technology has afforded us to have a voice without even speaking a word. For many people, the digital realm has given them an opportunity to express themselves without the hindrance of social anxiety, fear of sharing their opinion, and more.
Community is not absent from the digital world - it is woven into its very fabric. Just as you would in your physical church service, you can still put a huge emphasis on the value and practices of community within online ministry.
We all use filters online when posting to Instagram and other image-based sites and social media platforms. While there are a ton of places to get the best filters, like VSCO and Lightroom, there is one filter you should use on every piece of content you put out online: the filter of love.
The best thing you can do, above all else, is to be light to a dark world and to point people to Jesus and His great love. There is no greater calling for the church than to share the Good News of Jesus and to live our lives in light of His love!
Love lifts people up
Love ultimately points people to Jesus
There is so much darkness in our world today and the Internet is no exception to housing this darkness. The online world is full of stories of fear, hatred, negativity, and bleak despair.
But we are called to be light-bearers in a dark world!
We are compelled to show the world who Jesus is and what He has accomplished for humanity. The Church shouldn’t be just another voice of hate and fear - we should be a voice of love and hope.
When conducting ministry online, everything we do must be rooted and grounded in the love of God. Every word we speak, every sermon we preach, every video or graphic or post we share must be saturated with the love of Jesus Christ. Our digital teams should be extremely conscious of the motivation behind every ounce of content they create and put out. That means no argumentative attitudes, no selfishness, and no hate.
Love must be our filter.
When it comes down to it, the mission of the church doesn’t change whether it is online or in-person. Although our method may be a bit different online, the message - to show the world the love of Jesus - remains the same!
The church is at a decline in this post-pandemic era. How can you overcome this emergency in your church?
Community is greater than competition every single time. How can you emphasize community in your church?