Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist, Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
You might be tempted to think that we will return to normal in a few weeks or a few months. We will return to normal, but it will be a new normal. – Chuck Scroggins
In the weeks since COVID-19 shut down churches across America and the world, I’ve seen an unprecedented amount of creativity and innovation from churches and ministry leaders. What was previously considered impossible or unimportant has become both possible and important overnight. For many, such as the physically disabled and those unable to attend church in person for other reasons, these changes are welcome and long-anticipated accommodations— accommodations that should have been offered when the technology first became available. Our hesitancy to embrace change left many behind and isolated long before COVID-19. It’s unfortunate that it took a pandemic to motivate the Church to embrace digital technologies, but here we are.
Change is not only possible but also necessary. Now, we must figure out together what the “new Church” will look like. When the dust settles, society will return to a new normal with new habits and expectations. The changes we make now will set us up for success or failure in the years to come.
First and foremost, online church must be different. It can’t be just a streamed program of a few people in an otherwise empty sanctuary. Church is not a program or a building, it’s a faith community sharing their relationship with God and taking action to improve the well-being of others. We must consider the experience of the individuals participating and think empathically about what they expect and need.
Beyond meeting the spiritual needs of church members, digital technologies can be used to mobilize a congregation for community and service in the digital space. What starts in the digital space is not necessarily nor ultimately confined to the digital space. These tools and technologies can create impact in the real world and be leveraged to meet the real physical needs of the community. We can still be the hands of Christ reaching out to help others in their need; it will just be in a way that is different from what we’re currently comfortable with.
We must think creatively about how the “church experience” can be translated to the digital space. This will take the creativity and innovation of everyone, experimenting and trying new things to figure out what works best. It will be different for each congregation and community. We are now in a period of rapid development, innovation, and customization. It’s an exciting time, and I am personally energized seeing God working through His church during this time of change.
This also means that our choice of our “home” church is no longer restricted by physical location. Churches that adapt well will draw members from everywhere to their online church experience. The barriers to entry that once prevented people from attending in person have been stripped away. Those who were previously at a disadvantage are now on equal footing with the rest of the community. When COVID-19 is all over, the structures we are now implementing should stay in place to continue to reach those we’ve previously left behind. Besides, we know the scriptures: this may be only the beginning of such troubles. There will be more pestilence and an ongoing need for digital technology. We must stop thinking of this as a temporary shift and realize technology’s long-term potential.
You may be asking: How can we build community online? How can we make online church special? What are the best practices for online church?
As we continue to adapt and modify our worship and service experiences to address these questions, here are 15 “best practices” to consider:
We want our church to come back stronger and more unified from this experience. Normally, we talk about how digital technologies are a powerful means to scale up traditional ministry and evangelism, but COVID-19 has pushed the need for digital technology to become our priority. We’ve created and curated several resources we think you will find useful to help migrate your worship service and help you build an online community for your church. Visit SDAdata.org/goingdigitalcovid19 to get started.
Click here to learn more about digital evangelism and discipleship.