By Stephanie Leathe
It’s easy to watch church online. Actually getting viewers to engage…that’s the hard part.
As a culture, with the abundance of resources and content at our fingertips, we have become gifted consumers. It is incredibly easy to access anything and everything from recipes to virtual museum tours.
In the last 18 months, churches all over the world have added an online expression or even switched entirely to online platforms. Most online church services are structured like classic in-person church services, but with a string of comments, likes, and emojis flooding into the livestream.
While getting online is relatively simple, many of us are still left struggling with this question: “How do I actually build a relationship with the people on the other side of the screen?”
Here’s the Problem
Online attendees can easily watch, but the only way to engage is through chat. They may join your church online week after week but struggle to make a personal connection with anyone else online.
Conversely, church staff and volunteers often feel like they’re talking into the void. They may do a great job keeping that chat busy, but unless someone comments or reaches out, they have no idea who is on the other side of the screen.
So, What Does True Online Engagement Look Like?
Imagine online church services and events that effectively encourage people to move from anonymous to known and known to connected to at least one other person.
This kind of consistent engagement is what churches are able to do on platforms like Altar Live, which is an all-in-one video conference and live stream platform.
Here are three churches that are changing up their online gatherings to increase engagement.
Hosting Midweek Services
There is no “right way” to hold an online church service. Many churches are mixing it up and trying new ways to engage with their community.
Crossway Baptist in Victoria, Australia, hosts midweek, Wednesday night services as an local expression of their community. Each week, the Crossway South East campus gathers online for their mid-week service. While each week plays out a little differently, the goal is engagement first.
The platform allows Crossway to kick off their midweek services with a time for fellowship, mingling, and even games by sending attendees to breakout rooms and tables to connect.
As for the service, Crossway has been experimenting with a mix of sermons and interviews with special guests to tell their testimony and how God is working in their life. During the service, they hold a live Q&A in the chat to make people feel like they are in the room and a part of the service.
Holding Prayer After a Service
A community coming together in prayer creates unity and connection. It makes a congregation realize they are a part of something much bigger than themselves. Making time for prayer in an online church service is just as impactful as praying together in-person.
Symphony Church in Boston, Massachusetts, has successfully launched three different campuses: in-person, home churches, and online.
Their virtual congregation watches the main livestream together where congregants are able to pick a seat and engage in watch parties with other people in their row. After the service, the entire congregation moves to the lobby on the platform for group prayer, socializing, and forming new relationships.
Facilitating Intentional Conversation Online
It can be daunting to enter a new social situation. What should I do? Who should I sit with? What is expected? Even entering online events, we still have the same hesitations and fears. Church leaders see this, and some have begun to solve this issue.
While half of the congregation meets in person, The Table UMC in Sacramento, California, has created a seamless Sunday service by having a host team that actively welcomes, connects with, and facilitates newcomers and regular attendees throughout their events.
When a newcomer joins The Table UMC’s Sunday service, their fabulous host team proactively takes initiative by sending the attendee private messages to make them feel welcome and comfortable with using the platform.
The Table UMC’s host team also encourages engagement and connection by posting discussion questions and polls in the chat that turn into table conversation topics after the service.
The Future of Online Church Is Relationship
The future of online engagement is not number of views, but number of relationships. We cannot be limited to text-based chat when it comes to creating a flourishing community. The goal must be to make the anonymous known and feel a part of the conversation and community.
Stephanie Leathe co-founded Altar Live to help faith communities not just survive, but thrive in the changing technological landscape. Altar Live is an online church platform designed for faith communities to stream and host interactive and engaging events and services, www.altarlive.com.