I am reading a lot of articles, posts and blogs about how churches are reaching more people now than they did when actual humans were sitting in their pews. Our on-line numbers are way up as well. I truly rejoice that so many people are joining us via the internet but we must be careful not to confuse a short window of opportunity for a long-term win.
Why are churches doing so well?
We have a temporary lack of competition.
At Christ Church (during regular time), worship attendance faces three fierce competitors every Sunday.
1. Kid Traveling Sports and Activities When I was a kid, we played about ten ball games a summer. On a weeknight. At the city park. As we got older, we traveled to near-by towns to play but never went anywhere overnight to participate in weekend tournaments. No one I knew could have afforded it anyway. This is a whole new world and many “church families” are out of town several weekends a year.
2. Weekend Get-a-Ways As people get more affluent, they travel more often. Young couples are seeing the world before they start their families. “Empty nest” working couples have a weekend place they get to as often as they can and retired couples may spend months a year in an exotic location. Others have traded the traditional two week vacation for six weekends away.
3. Professional and College Sports I live near St. Louis and the Cardinals are king. Many in our congregation attend games religiously, an increasing number of our retired folks have volunteer jobs at the ball park and many travel to catch weekend “away” series. When the Cardinals play a noon game, I have people out of church. You get the idea.
Due to the national response to the COVID-19 virus; all of these competing factors are suddenly out of play. I would argue that churches who have the resources to help the hurting, offer quality worship experiences and reach out to students and children are better equipped than the competition to draw temporarily home-bound people. There is no way to “stream” kid sports games or competitions that are not happening. People are staying home on weekends (and weekdays) and professional sports are not being played. Many people are actually looking for something to do! After losing ground for decades, churches are again commanding the market share for the Sunday morning time slot but this will not last.
What churches have right now is an opportunity to strengthen their position once a “new normal” returns in a few weeks and the competition is back in play.
Best Case Scenarios for Churches (once normal time returns)
1. Sports families will attend church more often on “off” weekends and tune into church on-line when they are traveling. Inviting other families to “watch” church becomes a new form of evangelism.
2. Those returning to week-end get-a-ways will tune into church on-line from the lake, mountains, beach or desert and perhaps invite some friends to watch with them.
3. Professional sports fans will access additional on-site worship times that may include Sunday evening or “catch up” on missed services over the internet.
4. On-line groups and Bible studies will continue and include people from around the country and world.
5. Churches will keep the technological ground they have gained and realize people are going to access on-site and on-line ministries interchangeably.
6. Congregants will shift to reoccurring on-line giving so ministry is supported whether people worship on-site or not.
7. Churches will recognize that on-line ministry is “real” ministry.
In my state of Illinois, we are going to be restricted from worship until at least May 30. I am preparing for the possibility that large worship services won’t be in play until the end of June. This is not good news but it does offer a window of opportunity. For the duration of this time, I expect on-line viewership to remain strong, people to get into the “habit” of tuning in each week and that we will continue to reach new people.
We currently have the opportunity to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, add value to the lives of people in a difficult time and reach people for worship with very little competition. However, we should not confuse a narrow window of opportunity with a long-term win.
BIG FINISH: My advice is to keep improving both the quality and quantity of your on-line content and realize it will be a vital part of your “new normal.”