2. ONLINE CHURCH WILL EVOLVE TO BECOME A FRONT DOOR AND SIDE DOOR, NOT A BACK DOOR
There’s an ongoing debate about how much church you can do ‘online.’
Laura Turner wrote a helpful piece recently for the New York Times in which she argued that online church isn’t the same as in-person church. Laura cited this blog and we had a short but great chat via email about her piece. Largely, I agree with Laura, and as a local church leader, I really appreciate her viewpoint.
I think what can be missing from the discussion about the online church is that too often our conversation is binary. Church online is good or bad. Wise or dumb. A cop-out or great.
Here’s what I think the future holds for online church. In the near future, online church will become almost exclusively a front door and side door, not a back door.
In the early days of online church, the Internet functioned as a back door. Consumer-oriented, disengaged or lazy Christians headed for the back door and traded the drive and the traffic for the comfort of a warm bed or the convenience of a treadmill or commute. If your primary disposition toward church was to consume content, online just gave you a far easier way.
But those Christians are an endangered species. We’re a decade+ into church online and they’ve drifted off into the background, and honestly for the most part, into Kingdom-irrelevance. You can’t change the world if your only connection with the Kingdom is through your earbuds.
That group has become consumers, not contributors. And you can’t build the future of the church on them. Mission requires engagement movement. So the back door people are history.
Ditto with the casual observers who consume and never contribute. There’s no future there, so move along, people.
The future of church online is not with the Internet as a back door. The future of the church is the Internet as a front door and side door.
Church online will become a front door for the curious, the skeptic and the interested. It will be the first stop for almost everyone, and a temporary resting place for people who are a little too afraid to jump in until they muster the courage to jump in through physical attendance.
What we’re seeing at Connexus where I serve is that almost everyone who attends for the first time has engaged online for weeks, months or upward of a year. They see online as the new front door, which it is.
It’s also a side door to Christians who travel or who can’t be there on a given Sunday. In that respect, it boosts engagement because it keeps people connected. They never miss a Sunday or a moment because of the seamless slip between digital and analog that our lives have become (I write more about that here).
But wait, you say…what if they don’t come back as much in person? Well, then that’s not a side door or front door issue, that’s a consumer who’s using online as a back door, and as we’ve already seen, there’s no future in that.
I’ll write more about this issue later this month, but in the meantime, think about how you can position your church to see the Internet as a front door for new people and a side door for engaged members. Forget the back door. It’s irrelevant.
3. CHURCHES AND ORGANIZATIONS WILL BEGIN STAFFING ONLINE LIKE IT WAS A REAL THING
Although for the reasons outlined above, most churches are beginning to realize that online church is a very real thing, unless you’re a very large, multi-site megachurch, you probably don’t staff your church as though it is.
Until now, most churches (even churches over 1,000) cultivate their online presence by tacking it onto the job description of someone in the creative department. As in Here, you go run social, please. And oh, can you get these sermons uploaded? And then once every five years, the church allocates X number of dollars to hire someone to redo their website hoping that will fix the problem for another half-decade.
The problem? The vast majority of churches spend 99 percent of their staffing dollars on in-person gatherings.
Increasingly, this will be the year many churches realize you can’t have a massive impact online when you spend 1 percent of your staffing resources on it.
So why does this matter?
Well, as outlined in trends #1 and #2 above, the Internet is the venue in which the entire community you are trying to reach lives. If you want to reach them there, spending 1 percent of your resources on it is likely not the smartest strategy.
I know this is about as basic as it gets but look around you. Do you know of any church near you that’s spending 30 percent of its resources to reach people online?
Didn’t think so.
And we wonder why we don’t see more direct results from online outreach.