Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the subsequent stay-at-home ordinances transformed how churches minister to their congregations and teach people how to know, show, and share the gospel of Jesus. Churches transitioned their ministries from in-person to online: worship services moved from the sanctuary to online streaming through YouTube, Facebook, and the Church Online Platform (or maybe a combination of them), and small groups shifted from gathering in person to meeting online through services such as Zoom.
As some cities and states begin opening up and allowing people to shop, dine in, and meet for worship, some churches might be tempted to revert back to the way things were before COVID-19 and abandon or radically pare down their online ministry. I would caution against that.
Instead, I want to offer four reasons why churches should continue—and grow—their online ministry.
1. The local church’s congregation has expanded
It’s extremely unlikely that before COVID-19 a church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, would be able to reach people in Japan, Germany, and South Africa through typical ministry methodologies. However, thanks to adopting online services, churches of all sizes are now reaching people around he world.
Churches are no longer merely local bodies reaching their local communities; they are local bodies reaching the global community.
A church should never forsake its own local congregation and its own local community, but it should also recognize that it’s reach now goes far beyond its geographical location. The congregation is no longer just those sitting in the pews; it’s also those sitting in front of their laptops, tablets, and phones.
2. People now expect services to be online
If something happens often enough, we expect it to continue. When it doesn’t, we often feel let down or even neglected.
People now expect churches to stream their services, or at least the sermon. Since churches began using online platforms to broadcast their services, the growing audience has become accustomed to it. Even more, people now expect online services.
If a church abandons the online streaming they’ve been doing for weeks or months simply because in-person services have resumed, their online congregation might feel neglected and abandoned. Instead, churches should continue ministering to their online congregants and even consider ways of growing their online ministry.
3. Online ministry will be vital to future growth
This is truer now than before COVID-19. Because people now expect churches to be online—and because churches now have a larger, global audience—online ministry will be a vital tool for future church growth.
Growing on online ministry is more than just uploading videos to YouTube or Vimeo and uploading random images to Facebook or Instagram. Doing online ministry means finding ways to reach an audience using online technologies. This includes investing in a modern website, learning about the online congregation, and understanding how social media works.
As we move forward beyond COVID-19, churches must begin formulating strategies to reach the online mission field, especially if the church wishes to engage with younger generations such as Generation Z. No longer can we view a local church’s ministry as Sunday services in a sanctuary and weekday community service. Local church ministry is now 24/7 and includes an online community spread across the country and around the globe.
4. Online ministry can be cost-effective
Some churches might fear the cost of online ministry. They may look at the seemingly high-end productions and websites of other ministries or larger churches and think that online ministry is beyond their financial or technical capabilities.
That is not necessarily true.
Online ministry can be quite cost-effective, and is cheaper than expanding or constructing a physical building. Website hosting can be as low as a few dollars per month, depending on who you use (I use MediaServe). Furthermore, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook are free (unless you pay to “promote” or advertise your content).
When it comes to developing a website, you can either hire a company to build one for you or you can do it yourself. Hiring a professional developer or firm is the more expensive option, though it can result in a well-developed, highly customized, modern website. The cost for a professionally-developed website will likely range from a few thousand dollars to over one-hundred thousand dollars depending on how extensive a site you desire.
However, that does not mean you can’t build a high-quality, modern website on your own.
With some time, patience, and a desire to learn, you can build your own site using WordPress, a good theme like Astra or OceanWP, and a quality page builder like Elementor (my site uses OceanWP and Elementor). There are many resources online (especially on YouTube) that walk you through how to create your own website. I recommend watching Ferdy Korpershoek and WPCrafter to start because they explain how to use the resources I mentioned in a way that anyone should be able to understand.
For streaming, you can use YouTube and Facebook, or if you want to create a custom URL such as watch.mychurch.org, you can use the Church Online Platform (they are free to use).
If you’re interested in video editing, Adobe Premier Pro is an excellent choice, though it has a large learning curve if you’ve never before done any video editing, and it’s not free. However, there are more entry-level (and even free) alternatives such as Adobe Premiere Elements (entry level for Adobe Premiere), Lightworks (free), and iMovie (free, but Mac only). Here’s a longer list of free video editing software you can check out.
Online ministry doesn’t require investing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to create engaging online content to help people grow in Christ. While it can be expensive, ministering to your online congregation requires a passion for knowing, showing, and sharing the gospel, a willingness to learn, and a desire to reach people online.
Ministry changed thanks to COVID-19, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders. Small groups transitioned from in-person gatherings to virtual meetings and worship services shifted online. As a result, churches developed both a local and an online congregation, people became accustomed to online services, and online ministry became part of the new norm.
As life begins to resemble something close to its pre-coronavirus status, churches may be tempted to return to business and ministry as usual, cutting back or even abandoning their online congregation. Doing so, however, is not advised. Local churches now have a larger congregation and people expect online ministry to continue.
Churches must find ways not only to maintain their current online ministry, but to expand it. Leaders must discover new ways to minister both to their online and in-person congregations.
Jesus said we are to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20). This means helping people know, show, and share the gospel of Jesus. He also said we’re to reach people locally, regionally, and globally with the gospel of Jesus (Acts 1:8). This means churches must be actively engaged with in-person ministry and online ministry both now and far into the future.