The coronavirus has made it unsafe for many churches to meet on Sunday mornings. Now what?
Many organizations see this as a time to batten down the hatches and hope everything returns to normal when this is over. But for churches, crisis is an opportunity to grow.
We have understood that we are supposed to minister to our communities outside of Sunday services. But now we are only able to minister outside of Sundays. We are entering a new normal—and for all we know, the old normal may be gone for good. Churches that quickly and tastefully adapt to online ministry will survive and flourish. Churches that don’t will languish.
For churches, crisis is an opportunity to grow.
There is no one-to-one equivalent of the Sunday morning experience. But there are tactics you can use to stay engaged with both your congregation and your community—and even grow your church during quarantine.
In order for your church to grow during this time, you need to do three things:
- Stay connected with the people you already know. These are your members and semi-regular attendees. They should have no reason to wonder, “Wait—is my church still a thing?”
- Build relationships with your community. People are going to be more hungry for connection than ever. Take this downtime to connect with leaders in your community: people you can serve and encourage.
- Expose your church to new parts of the community. Unchurched people in your area are going to need love and care—you have an opportunity to be a source of that during hard times. You are auditioning for the role of these people’s first church.
There are many creative ways to accomplish these goals. Below is a list of five tactics that any church can start using to grow right now for free.
1. Answer FAQs on your blog
If you are in church leadership, you have been on the receiving end of hundreds, maybe thousands of questions. Questions after sermons. Questions during premarital counseling. Questions before baptism. Questions at the altar. Questions at funerals. Questions about how Christians in your community should respond to COVID-19.
Everyone has questions for people in ministry. Now you have a chance to write your answers down by publishing them on your church blog.
You can start by making a list on a pad and paper. What questions do people new to the church tend to ask? What questions should your members be ready to answer if their friends ask them?
Think about the questions you are almost tired of answering. Now is your chance to put some solid time into crafting responses to them. And the next time someone asks, you can say, “Oh! That’s a smart question—I actually wrote something on this. May I text you a link to read it?”
Why this works:
- You give both your future self and your entire congregation a definitive resource on the topic. Nobody needs to reinvent the wheel.
- Since you are answering frequently asked questions, you will be giving your congregation something they can share on social media—especially if it is on a topic that their unchurched friends are curious about too.
- By publishing answers, you can bring more traffic in from search engines. People Google things when they are curious—and your church’s website can provide answers.
2. Make yourselves visible with stories and live video
If you want to stay engaged with your community, you need to show up where they are.
Lots of people are home all day for the first time in a long time—many of them are going to be isolated from their friends and extended families. This means your congregation is going to be spending even more time on social media apps to see what their friends are up to.
Your church should be there for them too.
If your church does not already have Facebook and Instagram accounts, now is the time to set those up. (If your congregation is active on Snapchat, get on there too!) Posting encouraging stories, funny photos and videos, and uplifting Scripture to your Facebook and Instagram stories is a great way to show up where your people are.
If you want to stay engaged with your community, show up where they are.
Live video is always elevated in your congregation’s feeds, so consider hosting a few videos during times most people are online. Livecasting a home concert from your worship leader can be a great place to start!
The trick here is to be engaging, not preachy or promotional. Encourage your viewers. Be genuine. Give the world a tour of the pastor’s home office. Most people don’t know what a pastor does during the week (aside from sermon prep)—now is a chance to show what the rest of your ministry looks like.
3. Experiment with TikTok
Lots of churches have been wondering whether they should be on TikTok. Now is a great time to give it a try. If you have a staff member (or members!) who are especially good with memes and youth culture, this can be a fun way to share humor and encouragement with your local community.
TikTok tends to promote content to users in your local area first—which is perfect for churches. And if you are not sure what kind of content to post, you can always start with brief video summaries of your FAQ blog posts.
4. Become the local LinkedIn pastor
Local businesses are going through a very hard time right now. Many small business owners are facing both the grim possibility of bankruptcy and the weight of laying off employees. Nonprofits will be busier than ever trying to meet the growing needs in your area. Beyond this, you have a great deal of extroverted corporate workers who now have to work in isolation.
There is a world of people who may not have a church but need a pastor right now. And they are on LinkedIn.
Update your profile and start building connections with local businesspeople, nonprofit leaders, and other community influencers. Offer to buy them a (remote) cup of coffee and learn about their business and vision. Find ways to support and serve them. You can start with the owners of your staff’s favorite lunch spots!
Think of this as a time to get more acquainted with the various jobs that happen behind the scenes. You will make some new friends and valuable connections, but you will also gain a wealth of material for sermon examples and anecdotes for when you return to sermons as usual.
And remember to post!
LinkedIn is not just about growing a network. This social platform rewards users who consistently post valuable thoughts as updates. You can do this too—in fact, pastors have wisdom that can help almost everyone on LinkedIn right now.
- People are stressed about the change in their working routine (or employment altogether). Share words of comfort.
- People are dealing with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Share words of joy.
- People are dealing with conflicts and misunderstandings that arise from this new home/work situation. Share words of wisdom.
5. Record and publish video conversations
If you want to engage your existing congregation, you need to talk to people.
If you want to build connections, you need to talk to people.
If you want to expose your church to the community, you need to talk to people.
But what if you turned your conversations with people into even more engagement, connection, and exposure?
That is the power of recorded video calls. It gives you the chance to not just have an impactful conversation, but also to share that conversation with others for weeks (or years) afterward.
If you are visiting with a congregation member and they mention something that you think would minister to others, ask them if they would mind doing a recorded interview video about that topic. If you are meeting with a local business owner, ask if you can talk up their business on a recorded video call and share it with your congregation. If you are meeting with a nonprofit leader, ask if you can record an interview with them about the problems they are solving and how people can help.
Then your church builds a library of short videos that minister to the congregation and the community.
It is very easy to do too. All you need to get started is to download a free tool that allows you to record video calls. (Zoom’s free plan would work perfectly for most churches.)
This crisis is an opportunity to grow
You may not be able to meet as a church in person for a while. But that does not mean your church has to stop growing. Using free tools available to anyone and a little creative thinking, you can turn this into a season of learning new forms of outreach and engagement.
Your church will emerge from quarantine even stronger—maybe with more friends in the community than you had before.