5 Reasons Church Online Might Be a Distraction to Your Church’s Vision

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On demand beats scheduled live every time.

One of the secrets of the church online movement is that most online churches have exponentially fewer viewers of live broadcasts than on-demand services. Ask a church how many people view their video for longer than five minutes on a Sunday morning and ask that same church how many downloads their podcast receives. You’ll find that the on-demand content of churches outperform live scheduled content at a rate of at least five to one, if not 10 to one.

Of course, it’s no surprise this is happening. The Internet is moving toward more time freedom and away from scheduled content. We’re used to binging content rather than waiting for new content to be released every week. In fact, “long form live video” on Facebook—the clear leader in live video—is considered five minutes long. Typically anyone trying to engage in a Facebook Live environment will warn you not to go beyond 60 to 90 seconds in a live video (whereas most online church experiences range from 60 to 90 minutes!).

These forms don’t fit the style of what’s happening in our churches. I think that trying to leverage a live format rather than an on-demand style is distracting. You already have a significant, on-demand audience downloading your podcasts, so instead of trying to develop an entirely new schedule of live content, how are you leveraging what you already have to increase numbers at your services?

Churches are “family ministries.”

Churches have consistently grown on the back of family ministries as they provide an opportunity for parents to attend with their kids. There is a well-worn path of providing excellent age-appropriate programming for both parents and children as a way to make an impact and see your church grow. As Carey Nieuwhof has said, “Very few church people are lying in bed tonight wondering how to parse a Greek verb, but they are lying awake at night wondering about their kids and how they can raise their family.”

Church online, on the other hand, is tending toward a solitary adult experience. Facebook does not allow anyone under the age of 13 to view any videos, which eliminates a significant market. Nearly half of all people who become Christ followers did so before the age of 13. So imagine a church online experience where there are no ministries available to individuals under that important age! For the most part, churches haven’t figured out how to develop church online where the family attends together. These experiences are solitary, lonely ones rather than shared experiences for the entire family.

Just as it would be strange to have a church where there was no kids’ ministry, church online seems to be saying it’s OK for you to come by yourself. This is a distraction from the purpose of developing community and connection within our churches. Your church needs to continue to invest in and understand how you can attract families to attend your church together. Families in your area are looking for a church like yours. The question is, how are you developing ministries that ultimately draw them closer together within the community of your church?

We are a gathered community.

The word “church” literally means gathering. I’m waiting for the day when virtual reality replaces the act of gathering physically. In the same way that Second Life rose and fell from popularity, I’m still waiting (in vain) for Oculus Rift or other virtual reality environments to offer the same experience as gathering together.

I’ve even seen attempts to do communion or baptisms online. In fact, I’ve been a part of crafting some of those experiences. The truth? They fall flat compared to the live equivalents. There is something about the gathered body of Christ worshipping in the same room that transcends. In a western world with such an emphasis and focus on the individual, church online offers the opposite of what it means to be a community.

Church online focuses on people being separate from each other, whereas the physical church focuses on the literal gathering. You could invest a significant amount of time, effort and energy figuring out how on earth to have an online gathering in a way that is appropriate and feels connected, but it’s just a distraction. You already have people attending your church. Consider this: How are those in-person interactions maximizing the sense of togetherness and experience of something transcendent?

Years ago, Christian television featured men sitting at desks talking into microphones. What they had done was transform an old format, radio ministry, to a new medium. However, they merely replicated their radio ministry to a moving picture format. Similarly, the notion of a schedule-based video format feels like a stale representation. Yes, your church should be thinking about how people connect seven days a week with your ministry. I do believe that you should leverage social media as a way to stay in front of people consistently, but I also encourage you to examine how others in the medium connect with their audiences and build a community around those connections.

What you won’t see are scheduled, live videos once a week where you feel as if you are sitting in an audience. You experience much more intimate and interactive approaches. If:Gathering is paving the way on this point. Jennie Allen and her visionary leadership of this group hint toward what the future of church online will look like. This organization is a collection of live events, apps for your phone, books, videos and incredible social media all working to see people grow closer to Jesus, which is the ultimate goal of all this connection. I think the future of online engagement as a church will look more like If:Gathering than what we tend to see in the church online world today.

Finally, I believe that it is right to wonder how we can use digital platforms for engagement; however, church online itself is not the answer. It’s asking the right question and it’s pointing in the right direction, but I don’t think it’s the answer. It’s a stage between knowing there’s a problem of connection and needing to figure out how to best resolve it.

Who do you think is using online tools, social media, live video and other ways of connecting online to build true community and move people closer to Christ? I’d love to hear your response below.

This article originally appeared here.

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Rich Birch
Rich serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. He blogs at UnSeminary.com and is a sought after speaker and consultant on multisite, pastoral productivity and communications.

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