The Rocky Mountain American Baptist
A Newsletter of the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains
online presence ... |
If you’re wondering about this “brave new world” of an online presence, you’re not alone. Various institutions from primary schools to universities and from churches to restaurants are redefining the term “virtual.”
But, we do know that first impressions count—both in the “real” and also in the “virtual” world. For example, every institution, including even the smallest of churches, has a “front door.” At one time, the front door was literally … the front door, which granted visitors entrance into the church and offered a convenient “mingling place” such as the foyer. Today, the front door is the church’s Web site or Facebook page.
And much like the wooden or glass doors of yore, we want people to go beyond that initial veneer and to explore our church and to interact with us. Both in the “real” and “virtual” world, people have options, and if church leaders can’t “engage” them at the front door—beyond a three-second perusal of a Facebook post or picture—we risk losing the opportunity to offer a “personal touch” to the otherwise lonely domain of “high tech” social media.
So, what can church leaders do?
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Online church is now the entryway for people to both experience a church and to explore a church before ever attending in-person—when such an opportunity arises again. Even before the pandemic, online church was for the curious or skeptical individual. And so, now more than ever, churches need to think about devoting more time to cultivate an EPIC community online. An EPIC community represents “engagement,” “practices,” “invitation,” and “cultivate.” These four words are simple steps to take to have a more active online presence.
Just like an in-person guest experience, an online visitor can come into a virtual room and feel alone unless we find ways to engage them. Someone new is always “tuning into” your online worship service. Think through your first impressions at an in-person worship service, do you do the same for your online audience? If not, you should! There are two simple steps to engage your online community. First, every church should have a video stream that allows a chat room (some formats that allow this are Facebook Live and Online Church). Second, every church should have a host or greeter team for your online participants. Think about ways to not just a be a “video played” but instead, be engaging.
To have an "engaging dialogue" during the service, there are some "best and worst practices" to which you should be aware. Some of the worst practices are talking about "hot button" issues or not muting someone who is trying to start a debate that's not appropriate for the forum. Training your host or host team in this is advantageous. Coaching in how to navigate from a hot button issue back to the sermon is a great first step. Also, coaching in how to use some positive practices is ideal. First, having a variety of faces on their screen feels to the viewer a bit more engaging. You can do this through announcements, prayer, and/or the sermon. Second, having your hosts in the chat room labeled "host" and their name so people know how they are connected to the church. For example, their name would be HOST (Lauren). A third practice to encourage participation is to have engaging questions about the sermon in the chat room. This will allow people to think through what is being taught and engage in conversations. Hosts are there to be an advocate for technological issues that might occur, but their true calling is to engage with the community.
The areas of "Engage" and "Practices" are geared toward the worship service.
Now, we move beyond the worship service with Invitation and Community. After being engaging during the online service you should try to have the engagement continue by giving an invitation to the viewers. Invite them to engage in the church’s community during the next week. The invite needs to be to something that is interactive. Here are a few suggestions:
Weekly zoom call that dives deeper into the message from Sunday
Weekly or monthly “face-to-face” question and answer sessions with the pastor
Digital lectio Divina about the scripture from Sunday
Lectio Divina about the scripture from Sunday sent as a devotional
Daily or weekly question and answer posts about the sermon
Weekly devotional on an online platform
Question of the week to dialogue with one another
Weekly check-in time
Book or Podcast club about relevant topics (could be in person or online)
Table fellowship at a home (having meals together)
Service groups to sign up for to serve the community around you
Small groups (in person or online)
Worship community groups (viewing online church in small groups)
When cultivating a community, one needs to provide common experiences. Invitation to an engaging community is of great importance for common experiences to take place. Communities are built online and in person. Having a few options is important. Churches have been providing in-person gatherings for centuries, but we must cultivate a new platform to have an opportunity for online community as well. A few examples of platforms that are user friendly are Facebook Groups, Slack, Group me, and Discord.
I personally love Slack because you can have multiple channels to build purposeful communities through dialogue. Some people may feel comfortable meeting in small groups right now, but others desire to have an online community.
Cultivating options for people to feel welcomed into a community whether in person or online is a huge need for all people. Remember, we live in a time that people are so connected though social media and yet extremely lonely. This loneliness is because meaningful and deep connections are not happening. People are seeking personal connection (and through interaction with them) we can provide this engagement. Cultivating engaging communities will provide that connection. How can your church be part of the connection?