In today’s fast-paced digital world, having a strong online presence is essential for any church looking to engage with its members and reach out to new audiences. With the pandemic forcing many churches to shift their services online, optimizing your online service and making it as effective as possible is more critical than ever.
In this blog, I explore 10 proven strategies that can help you TRIPLE your online service’s effectiveness, attract new members, and better engage with your existing community. Whether you’re a small church or a large congregation, these tips will help you improve your online service, increase your reach, and ultimately grow your ministry.
So, if you’re ready to take your church’s online presence to the next level, let’s dive in and explore these 10 strategies in more detail.
1. Start on time!
The average online viewer’s attention span continues to drop. Some studies have shown that online viewer engagement is now around 8 seconds.
If there’s one message that TikTok, Facebook and Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts teach people, it’s GET TO THE POINT!
Pastor – do not start your service with scrolling announcements, etc. Begin the stream when you begin the service.
Yes, you can have a “countdown,” but it needs to be 2 minutes or less, and the content should be geared toward outsiders, not insiders. Think of the countdown as a preview of your church’s culture.
2. Welcome the online audience.
If you want your online audience to feel welcome, you must welcome them!
And no, just getting up to the front and saying, “Welcome, everybody!” is not the same.
You need to look into the lens and tell your online audience, “We’re so glad you chose to be with us online today!”
PS: Resist the urge to “inform them how much better it would be if they came in person.” Shame is not a motivator.
3. Engage the online audience for the entire service!
For every single person on the platform that engages with the in-person audience (Worship Leader, Speaking Pastor, Corporate Prayer, etc.), remind them to engage the online audience as well.
Treat the online audience as “the balcony.” They are not voyeurs; they’re just sitting in a different section of your gathering. Look at them through the lens.
On that note, camera shots should be as close as possible. The online audience shouldn’t feel like they’re fifty yards away squinting to try and see the person on the stage. The closer the shot, the more engaged the viewer.
BTW: Don’t just welcome the online audience, be sure to speak to them at the end of the service.
4. Ensure every step of engagement is digitally doable!
For every single item that you use to engage the in-person crowd, ensure there’s a digital equivalent.
- Message Notes.
- Connect Card / Prayer Requests.
- Registration / Sign-ups.
Anything you hand to a person in the room deliver digitally as well.
Create digital delivery for all of your discipleship classes (Membership class, Small Group videos, Life Development, etc.) YES, I know this will take a huge amount of time and effort, but I’m pretty sure digital isn’t going away, so get started today.
5. Tighten your service flow.
NOTHING will cause an unchurched viewer to click away from your service faster than a sloppy service element.
I know you’ll think this feels “carnal,” but I’ll say it anyway. If you care about reaching the lost through your online service, you must treat it like a live television broadcast, not like a RING camera mounted in the room.
That means you need to work on the quality of your service.
Dead airtime is one of the most observed quality killers I’ve seen repeatedly on church live streams.
Dead airtime refers to TRANSITIONS—the “dead air” between elements. Plan your transitions as carefully as you plan your elements!
- What happens as soon as the stream starts?
- What happens before and after every song? (Watching the worship team change instruments? Talk to each other?)
- What happens before and after the Welcome? (Is the online audience staring at an empty pulpit?)
- What happens before and after the announcements? (How long are we waiting until the next element happens?)
- What happens before and after the message?
You get the picture.
Nothing will ensure that the online viewer clicks out of the stream faster than waiting two minutes for deacon Joe to walk from the pew to the microphone to lead a prayer.
Eliminate ALL DEAD AIRTIME. Keep the audience engaged.
PRO TIP: Watch church live streams that are doing it well and take notes!
6. Eliminate all insider language.
Speaking of announcements, please, for the love of the lost, STOP using insider terms.
Do not say things like, “If you want to know more about this event, see Mary in the back after the service.”
Exactly how will the online viewer do that, and for that matter, WHO’S MARY???
One of the easiest ways to cut out 90% of this kind of insider language is to cut out every announcement that’s not applicable to every single person in the audience both in-person and online. Learn to use other channels – email, text, social media groups, etc.
7. Use the free media channels available right now: YouTube and Facebook.
The span of reach through Facebook and YouTube is not millions; it’s billions. YES, they are secular companies that regularly restrict content, but their platforms are still your biggest outreach channel for the unchurched.
Curate your content so you are not streaming copyrighted content to the best of your ability. This is what causes them to shut down your feed. Yes, it’s a bit of a guessing game, but do the best you can not to poke the bear.
BTW: Don’t just upload services; GO LIVE! Live services are watched far more than on-demand services.
8. Update your Website and Social Media Accounts
Assuming someone catches one of your services (even if they only watched a little) if they want to learn more about your church, their next step is to check you out through your website and/or social media accounts.
Let me offer you two tips for your digital footprint:
- Curate your content for the OUTSIDER, not the INSIDER. Too many churches use their website and social media accounts for their own people, posting events and pictures of the annual crab feast, etc. Treat your website and social media accounts as Public Relations tools that help outsiders learn about who you are and what you’re like. They want to know the essentials. See What Every Church Website Needs: 12 Church Website Musts for more ideas. Use private groups for your INSIDERS.
- Keep it attractively real. Use real pictures, not stock photos, and hire a graphic designer to build the site and make it look relevant. Sites should be updated at least every 5 years in order to stay fresh.
9. Ask your members to share the service (or portions) with their friends and family.
Investing in a quality online experience DOES NOT reduce IN-PERSON attendance; it INCREASES it!
Your online service is THE MOST POWERFUL INVITATIONAL TOOL you can equip your people to use.
That means it’s worth doing all you can to produce the highest quality online service you can afford.
When you put in the hard work, your people will get to work…INVITING their friends to check you out online before they check you out in person.
We’ve discovered that around 70-80% of our first-time guests watched us online before visiting us in-person, sometimes for months!
Friend, you simply cannot afford to bury your head in the sand and hope the internet will go away or that everyone will just “come back to church.”
10. Invest money in this ministry.
You might be feeling discouraged, thinking, “Man, I just can’t compete with those big churches with their big budgets. We can’t afford all that technology. Besides, who would run it?”
Let me just say a few words to you.
First, remember, you are not in competition with other churches. Your church has a unique footprint in the kingdom, and God has a unique mission for you. There are people only you can reach!
You only despair whenever you compare.
Don’t compare your church to anyone else. Jesus established your church, and He wants to use it for His glory. You have the same mission as every other church: reach the lost at any cost.
Second, don’t try to transform all your technology in one year. Decide to eat this elephant one year at a time. Put it in the budget and make incremental changes. Remember, your church doesn’t have expenses, only investments. Investing in your online ministry is a wise investment.
Third, you have all the resources you need to do everything God is calling your church to do right now. People are your greatest resource, and I have found that God strategically calls just the right person at the right time whenever I cast a compelling vision. If the only initiatives you ever launch are based on the people and resources you already have, then where does God come in?
Friend, I believe COVID did the church a huge favor. It forced all of us to take seriously one of the most powerful communication tools in the history of the world!
I beg you not to slip back into business as usual and treat your online ministry as an unwanted stepchild. Embrace the potential and strategically use your online service as an evangelistic growth engine. I promise you it’s worth it!