Turning online attendance to deeper engagement
From a discussion with Mal Fletcher
Mal Fletcher, a social futurist, recently spoke in an online session with church leaders organised by Everything. In the discussion he was asked, "Many of us have found we've had a lot more people viewing online than we had attending on a Sunday prior to lockdown. So whilst we've had a lot of engagement, engaging viewers to disciples is a skill that for many of us are somewhat floundering at at this point in time. We're not quite sure how to do that. Thoughts and comments?". His response was as follows:
I think the most important thing is to keep in the back of our minds, the idea that the transition from cyber church to real church is not necessarily a smooth or fluid one for most people.
Most people who see us online have gone there looking for answers or are just curious during this period, looking for hope perhaps. They have not gone to that session with the idea that "I would like to go to a physical church today, but I can't.". So we have to go into this question with the understanding that we must transition people gradually from one to the other.
For many people, it's not going to be as simple as saying, "We've done digital church. Now we can gather again. So please come along to our physical church.". We will find probably 80% of those people will never come straight into physical church. So I'm suggesting to pastors something like this:
Firstly, if we start off with our digital services live streamed or prerecorded, which is what many churches do now, then the next stage beyond that might be that we invite people from that service to a digital Q&A. This is where, after the service, one hour after this service, you can go to Zoom. Here's the link. And you're going to be part of a group of people who can ask the preacher or the pastor, any question you like about what he or she said today. That's very attractive by the way, Q&A is hugely attractive to people as we know, especially in this age.
Secondly, move then from Q&A into perhaps an Alpha style general introduction to faith. So if you came along to the Q&A, maybe you'd like to explore Christianity a bit more.
Thirdly, go from that into an online connect group. Same thing we do when we come together physically, but we're doing it online. Then they might be ready for a face-to-face connect group or in time, offline weekly services. At least that gives the opportunity for someone to say that the church did everything it could. It gave me every opportunity to move from being a cyber follower or just an interested party online to a really engaged, discipled Christian.
It's so important we just don't assume, make a false assumption that people, because they're watching us online are particularly interested in what we offer on Sunday in a physical church.
I've even advocated, in further answer to that question, that we actually think about continuing the prerecording of our Sunday sermons for the digital, with a couple of acoustic songs, no big production numbers. Continue to put that out every week, in addition to streamed live services from a building for weekly services. Why? We don't want to lose the people who see themselves as cyber viewers. "I came in for this. I like this. Why did you take that away from me? I'm not quite there yet, but I'm still interested.".
It has benefits for the preacher because rehearsing what you say is always a good move, before you present it live. But also I think it raises up new technicians in the church - young people who are have enormous technological gifts and haven't been able to use them. There's not a lot of extra work if you choose to do this. I'm just saying, recognise the audience. It's not the same audience you speak to on a Sunday. It's a different audience with a different set of needs.
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