Living the Christian life and sacrificial living in Christian community is just that: a sacrifice, and it takes intentionality to live the life God has called us to live. In light of online church services becoming the norm, I think many of the things God has called us to do as a church when we gather will become naturally more difficult and even easy to stop altogether.
Below are a list of things I see as potential struggles that will affect every Christian, and therefore, every church. They’re not judgement calls, but simply an acknowledgment of how online services make the communal aspects of Christianity more difficult (so that we can be aware of them) with some practical things you can do to continue living in Christian community as we’ve been called to do.
As a final note before the list, I’m not saying that God can’t work through online services, but I am saying that I believe having online church has more drawbacks than have been acknowledged from what I’ve seen online and we need to be aware of some specific problems that they will cause and be ready to proactively fight again them in our personal lives and churches as a whole.
So, as we are required to have online services for a while, there are a few key things I think we need to be aware of:
Consumerism Christianity Could Easily Become The Norm
I’ve actually seen many posts and articles claiming that online church services will help eliminate “Consumerism Christianity” (where you simply attend a service, walk away, and don’t serve, give, or participate in any sacrificial way). However, I think we need to be on guard against consumerism Christianity becoming even more normal than it already is.
For years, pastors have warned against not just sitting in the congregation and trying to have church just be a place where you “consume” sermons and worship but one where you build community, serve, give, and exercise spiritual gifts… but in the context of online church, these natural problems will only be magnified.
It will be so much easier to simply watch services over the next 3 or so months without coming in contact with another church member or feeling obligated to do anything but spend an hour or so once a week watching a service.
And if too many previously active Christians suddenly fall into the routine of “Consumer Christianity,” this could become a massive problem once in-person services become possible again.
Online Church Can More Easily Become About “Me”
This issue is a specific off-shoot of “Consumer Christianity” where it will become very common for many Christians to stop attending the online services of their home church whenever it doesn’t fit what they like or “need” in the moment and go to other online churches. This type of online “church hopping” will also contribute to consumer Christianity specifically in the context of thinking of church as what it can do for you, instead of a body of believers you are to engage with and be a part of.
This “all about me” is easy to fall into when all church attendance options are online, because at that point there’s no other people to be serving or considering and so it’s easy to forget that you’re part of something larger than yourself and your tv; thus leading to focusing inward towards ourselves instead of upward towards Jesus.
We (As Christians) Naturally Lose Some Of Our Greatest Witness When We Gather Online Rather Than In Person
When Jesus said “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” in John 13:35, He was making it clear that being in a community of believers gives a greater Gospel Witness than being separate believers. As we have online services and are social distancing from everyone, including other believers, a lot of this witness will naturally not be present unless intentionally sought after.
Spiritual Disciplines And Accountability Could Easily Fall Away
One of the greatest aspects of gathering together is the realization that we all have problems and sin and that we’re to engage with each other to promote godliness and forgiveness in and towards each other.
We’re not meant to simply listen to sermons and sing songs, we are meant to be engaged with each other and with God, to be filled with His Spirit for the work of the ministry both inwardly towards other believers and outwardly towards the world.
But when we are online only, a lot of this will naturally stop happening, as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.
The Solution (What You And I Can Do About It)
I don’t write all of this to say that churches should still have in person services, but more to bring awareness of some of the natural problems that will come from only offering online services. Below are a few things I encourage every Christian to do during this time to help fight against the problems that online services create.
Find Ways To Serve In Your Church From A Distance
As I wrote about in my post “8 Ways You Can Live Out Your Faith In Jesus Even When You’re Stuck At Home” a great way to remember that you’re to be part of the church and not a spectator is to find ways to serve. I wrote more ideas in that post, but I encourage you to reach out to your church leadership and find where the needs are. It might be shopping for at risk families in the church, or joining the prayer team, or something else entirely.
Continue To Give And Support Your Church And Others Around You
Even in the midst of the pandemic, God desires us to put our trust in Him in all areas of our life, including our finances. By giving to your church and others in need, you will continue to put your faith in God as the first priority of your life rather than your comfort or security.
Purposefully Connect With A Few Other Christians
This is a lot easier if you already had a community or home group that you were part of before everything went online, but you can still reach out to a few people to be in online community with even if you didn’t have something beforehand.
Regardless, find a way to be intentionally connected with a group of Christians. This may be through a weekly online call, or an app like Marco Polo, the important thing is that you have a group of people you can be real with and live life with.
This group should be a place where you confess sin, ask for prayer, encourage each other with things God is teaching you, and are held accountable for the things God has put on your heart to do.
Be Intentionally In God’s Word And In Prayer
This isn’t something that’s unique to a time of social distancing and online church, but it’s something that I feel necessary to mention because it is of upmost importance to the Christian life.
We get to know God and hear from in His Word and one of the most powerful ways we engage with Him is through prayer. The importance of being in God’s Word and prayer cannot be overstated.
If you need help in these two areas, here are a couple blog posts I’ve written on the subject:
God has redeemed us from the burden of sin and death, its earned reward, and He has filled us with His Holy Spirit to live a new life that reflects Himself.
A massive part of this is living in community with Him and His Church (other Christians), so in the midst of social distancing, I encourage you to not simply watch online services, but to find ways to live out the Christian life by seeking God daily, serving others in any way you can and finding Christian community that will uplift you in prayer, encouragement and accountability and for whom you can do the same.
My life would be far simpler and easier in many ways without a wife and child, but I can assure you it would also not have near the joy. And, although most would tend to agree with me that having a spouse and kids are worth the work and complexity, let’s keep in mind that this same problems, and benefits, arise in any relationship.
One of my pastor’s favorite verses on this subject is Proverbs 14:4 which says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”
This verse reminds us that relationships bring many benefits and abundance, but with those benefits also come a dirty manger. Every relationship you have will include some type of work, sacrifice, effort, and complexity – but it’s worth it. (tweet this)
So whether you are struggling with a relationship at work, or with family, friends, church, or one of the many other areas we build relationships, don’t run away from the difficulty, but lean into it. Do the hard work, put in the effort, give yourself sacrificially. I can’t promise you that it’ll work out every time, but even the relationships that end up empty are majorly offset by the ones that prove to be the most worthy investments of your life. Let’s never miss an opportunity to love someone and build a relationship with them, because we never know what may come of it.
So yes, relationships will add work and complexity to your life, even sacrifice.
Social media is all the rage right now. Everyone is promoting themselves as an expert and there’s constant talk on how people are leaving one platform for another, what millennials are using, etc.
The fact is that Facebook still has the largest portion of market for engaged users and useful features for groups likes churches, but how do you set it up, and use it well?
Setup your account as a “page” NOT a person
It may seem confusing at first. There are groups, pages, special profiles, and personal profiles. For years many churches have setup their Facebook accounts as personal profiles – and this needs to stop. If you setup your church as a personal profile, you are violating Facebook terms and agreements and could get shutdown at any moment – and then you loose all time and history that profile has.
In addition, there are a lot of benefits to setting it up as a Facebook Page instead such as…
When you setup a Facebook page, you can invite others on Facebook to collaborate and even set a variety of permissions for each person. This means, for example, that you can have people that setup content, but can’t be published without approval from someone with higher permissions. This allows for a few people to help with managing the account without having to share passwords.
Facebook pages give you the option to setup a “call-to-action” at the top of your page such as contacting you, or visiting your website, which is a helpful way to encourage engagement.
Although Facebook is pay-to-play in many ways, one benefit of being recognized as a business is that you’ll show up in searches related to religious organizations or businesses in the area – which you obviously wouldn’t show up in if it was setup as a personal profile.
It’s specific for businesses
By setting up a page over a personal one they setup your page to look slightly different such as an ability to leave a review, or having your location displayed (which will also then give you a location tag in Instagram, which is one more helpful piece).
Utilize Facebook’s features
Now that you’ve properly setup your Facebook page, you can begin utilizing Facebook. Some of the things that make Facebook specifically useful for churches are:
The about section
Make sure that after you’ve setup your page that you keep info about your church up to date. This means your contact info, website url, address, service times, and any information you have about the church and it’s mission/vision. It’s good to update your social media information whenever there’s a big change, and also at least twice a year to make sure that your information is current.
If you have a church Facebook then you should utilize events. Facebook has become many people’s events calendar and they’ll often forget about things going on unless you remind them in as many ways as possible: including Facebook. Creating events for every service is definitely overkill, but you should create an event for any general church events, serving events, or special services.
“Pin to the top” feature
One great, and underused feature, is the ability to pin a post to the top of your feed. If there’s a specific event, video, or post that’s important for people to see first when on your page then you should pin it to the top. One that event or season is over, you can simply unpin that post and choose a new one. People post so much on social media (as should your church’s Facebook page) and so it’s great to be able to have the most prevalent information on top at all times.
Although there’s plenty you can do without paying, one of Facebook’s most useful features is being able to target people in your area with posts and advertisements about your church. There are so many advertisements pulling people, what better way to invest money than to share the Gospel and encourage people to turn to Jesus.
One of the biggest problems for businesses and churches alike on social media is that they setup an account and then never touch it again. However, it’s much more than just posting updates…
It is SOCIAL media
People don’t want to simply be talked at, but responded to. This means that if there’s a big event, you should have someone responding for your church to people’s Facebook posts on that event. You should be tagging people in photos and posts and generally just being social.
Encourage your people to share the page and content
Besides paying for your content to be seen, the greatest boost in people’s feeds is to have content that is shared. This is done by creating content that people want to share, but it’s also by simply encouraging your people to share the church’s posts with others.
NOTE: PLEASE do not encourage people to share the church’s posts by adding “please share” to the end. This looks tacky and puts a bad taste in people’s mouths because they feel more like they’re being used than engaged with.
The best way to get people engaged with your posts is to simply remind them in appropriate contexts. During team meetings, or church announcements. For example, we reminded the people who were majorly involved with our Easter service to be sharing the invite videos and posts and we saw great response.
Facebook has been pushing Live Videos for a while now to compete with Periscope and Snapchat. What this means for you is that by jumping on board with Live Videos, your page will get extra boost from Facebook’s algorithm because you’re using the features they want people to use. This is just one example, but it leads us to the last point…
Follow the trends
There’s always new features and strategies that develop in social media generally and on specific platforms so it’s important to not let your head get stuck in the sand but to continually look up and see how it’s changing: and keep up. This can take time, but it doesn’t have to suck your life away. This can be done well by simply asking people who are very involved in social media “what’s new” about once a month. It’s as simple as that.
I hope this post is helpful for you, however, never forget that information is useless without execution. So, now that you know all this, I encourage you to set up your church Facebook page and see how you can best reach and bless the people in your area.
Although this seems like it should be obvious, having old content on your website is far too common, and can be very damaging.
What is considered “old”?
When I say old content, I’m referring to past events, previous sermon series (being presented as current), and old notices or updates. Also incorrect information on the staff, location, contact information, etc. qualifies as old content too.
Whenever something happens in your church (new staff member, change in sermon series, event has passed, etc), you only have about a week of “website grace” amongst most visitors. Beyond that, and people will begin to question if you ever update it. I realize that this is unreaonsable, but this is what people have begun to expect in a world where most people update their social statusus multiple times a day.
Sadly, just as no one notices the sound guy in the back until there’s some feedback or the microphone isn’t working, everyone takes your website for granted but will quickly be critical if you do not have current information on it, and all outdated information removed.
What can you do?
Thankfully, fixing this problem can be easier than it sounds. You should be able to keep up if you take only 10 minutes every week to revisit your website and make sure that everything is current. Those 40 minutes a month will be well worth the time spent in order to make sure that people don’t have to dig though old information in order to find out what is current.
And, in addition to happy website visitors, updating your website often is one way to help boost your SEO!
The call to being a ministry leader has many facets and “job descriptions,” but the primary one by far is to lead people into a deeper relationship with Jesus in every aspect of life, which includes spiritual disciplines.
We tend to polarize over the issue of spiritual disciplines. Some emphasize them as if they are what will get you into heaven, while others believe that we shouldn’t even suggest that someone is lacking in their relationship with Jesus because they haven’t done “x”. However, there’s a healthy balance in that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus and then we are called to follow Him in faith as He leads us into right-living that reflect what He would desire for our lives.
To paraphrase what John Piper has said about fasting, by engaging in spiritual disciplines we are weakening the grip the world has on our hearts, and we are strengthening our desire for Jesus.
However, this isn’t meant to be a reminder that we need to engage in spiritual disciplines, but that we need to bring others with us. Most ministry leaders realize the benefits of spiritual disciplines, but many of us feel weird to encourage others to do the same. How ridiculous is this? If we benefit from obeying Jesus’ call to give, pray, fast, etc – shouldn’t we encourage others to do so?
Yesterday, our church encouraged everyone to fast and pray. This is something the leadership does often, and will continue to do – but why don’t we ask others to join us more often? We will all rise or sink to the expectations given to us, so why not encourage them to live life to the fullest that Jesus has told us to?
So as you, ministry leader, give, pray, fast, study, serve, and continue to surrender your life to Jesus, please do not loose the opportunity to bring someone else alongside. Let’s all ask ourselves:
Who will I pray with? Who will I serve with? Who will I fast with? Who will I keep accountable to give, study, and generally give their lives to Jesus?
Have you found a specifically great way to bring others into a lifestyle of following Jesus together? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!