One of the often overlooked challenges churches are facing during this digital switch is the challenge of simply being themselves.
Although the digital world is one of the most timely and helpful resources to churches everywhere, it can be difficult to translate your identity as a church to the web. Worship, preaching, and community are completely different online and we have had to learn to adapt to this new way of “doing church.”
But how do you practically “be yourself” as a church while still maintaining an excellent online church experience?
With this significant digital switch in churches comes a poison that is not just reserved for physical gathering places: the poison of comparison. Comparison is one of those things we aren’t always purposefully fixating upon but can often creep its way into the mind and attitudes of leaders in the church and community members the same.
We see Church X down the road with their gigantic budget, flashing lights, and epic stage designs… and we compare. We compare our worship style, our preaching methodologies, our building foyers, and even our cafes.
Comparison comes in sneakily and often pops up in the little things too. We compare our family to the Jones’ up the block. We compare our cars, our jobs, our finances, and so much more. And when it comes to online, there is a whole other world of comparison. We compare our live streams, social media strategy, video content, number of views, and so on. But as the famed Teddy Roosevelt once said “comparison is a thief of joy.”
Comparison makes you focus so much on what you don’t have that you forget to be thankful for what you do have. Furthermore, the Bible hones in on the dangers of comparison and the turmoil it brings to our souls. Paul the Apostle writes in his second letter to the Corinthians “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Paul’s sentiment is loud and clear - it is not wise to compare yourself to others.
But Paul also provides an anecdote to the comparison trap. He states in Philippians 4:11-12: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
The way that we can fight comparison is through being content in the things we have.
Maybe your church doesn’t have the best cafe in the world, but it has a killer kid’s ministry.
Maybe your worship team is small, but your greeters are out of this world.
When we are content in what we have we don’t feel the need to prove ourselves and be better than anyone else we can be content in what we have and overcome comparison.
In our current society, there are more and more people who are no longer attending churches. This could be due to a myriad of reasons, but the fact remains that in order to reach the lost and the unchurched, we need to be willing to change our method. What better way to push us into the necessity of changing our methods than a global pandemic?
In all seriousness, the idea of changing the method can be frightening to churches. They may make the mistake of thinking that altering the way they do things will water-down or distract from the message.
This does not mean bending to every whim of culture and philosophy, but it does mean leveraging the good in our culture to reach those who are immersed in it.
What does this look like? It may mean updating your style of music or investing resources into a fantastic website (PMF Creative can really help you on this end with their custom-made church websites). In addition to these things, changing the method to reach the unchurched means being real.
People want authenticity and transparency - they are sick and tired of sales pitches and showmanship. Studies show that attractional churches are on the downslope, but churches with a focus on relationships and true moments are growing. People care far more about genuine relationships and real encounters with God than they do the hype.
So in the changing of your methods, do so with a focus on transparency in mind. In the midst of it all, stay true to your mission as a church (and the Church as a whole) and aim to reach those who are desperate for hope.
The truth is, not every church is the same (shocker, right!?) We all have differing individual missions, target audiences, styles, and more. We are all a part of the Body of Christ and we all exist for a distinct, and equally important, purpose.
Paul speaks to the idea of the Body in 1 Corinthians 12. He talks about the fact that each body part has significance although they each serve a different purpose. He hones in on the reality that one body part shouldn’t strive to be like another part, but they should do what they do (and only they can do) and also be thankful for the functionality of the other parts. This is what the Body of Christ is!
Each church has their own capabilities and this is something we often forget when we try to do too much or live up to the abilities of other churches. Imagine all the time we could spend sharpening our skills rather than trying to do what everyone else is doing!
Along the same lines of focusing on your church’s unique abilities, you should also focus on what works for your community. This is extremely important, especially in our digitally-saturated church experience.
With every organization, you have to analyze your target audience and your mission before taking practical actions. The same goes for your church.
You don’t want to start using TikTok if no one in your target audience is on TikTok.
You don’t want to only use Facebook if you’re trying to reach millennials.
You don’t want to use a particular social media platform or method just because you think you should.
Focusing on what works for your specific community is vital when making decisions in marketing, social media, communication, and more. Although you cannot cater to the needs of every single person in your church, honing in on what your community responds to and what they typically consume will help guide you in the decision making process.
Churches are communities, not businesses. Although there is a high importance for financial health in the church for it to thrive, we do not exist to sell hype, but to share hope.
In this time, many big companies are running business as usual without regard for our current climate. But they are missing the point.
The members of your community don’t need sales pitches, they need the anchor of hope that Jesus is. It can be all too easy to get so lost in the sea of online content as a church, so we must strive even more to not sell our “church brand” but to serve people and serve them well.
When you serve others, through practical and spiritual needs, you are staying true to the mission of the church. Not only this, but you are most like Jesus when you serve.
In the midst of this all, serving your community and its overall mission should be a major focus. Most of all, the Church-wide mission of sharing the Good News of Jesus with the world should be our top priority.
It is all too tempting to fall into the comparison trap and lose your distinct identity as a church in our digitally-saturated culture. But when you choose to serve others, focus on your community, and stay true to your mission, you can truly be your authentic self.
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?