Online church has been around for about 10 years. It’s no longer the sole domain of giga-churches. Churches of all sizes are venturing online to reach people exactly where they are…which is increasingly outside of a church building.
Here are 7 current trends for online church.
Trend #1: Live Experiences Are Still The Most Effective Format For Online Church
Having volunteers present and ready to welcome visitors to chat, pray for people in real time, moderate discussions, and help people take next steps in their faith is what makes live online worship experiences engaging.
I attended a webinar last week on a topic that interested me, only to find that it was empty and the video was pre-recorded. No one was chatting, not even the guy who made the video was in the room. I left within a couple minutes.
That doesn’t mean live experiences are the only thing that works.
Trend #2: Simulated Live Experiences Are Also Effective, But They Should Be Treated Fundamentally Differently
The upside of a sim-live online experience is that they open up many opportunities to engage with people who can’t make it to a live experience.
The greatest opportunity here is to provide online worship experiences that are scheduled for prime times in other countries/timezones. Pair this strategy with multilingual support and you’ll have a killer opportunity to reach people outside your locale.
Trend #3: There Are More Platforms For Online Church Than Ever Before
When I worked at LifeChurch.tv as the Digerati Captain, I led the teams that built live.lifechurch.tv and the Church Online Platform (and YouVersion, ChurchMetrics, et al). At the time, the Church Online Platform was revolutionary and one-of-a-kind.
Now there are a number of excellent platforms upon which a church could launch an effective online church experience. Here’s a short list that took about 90 seconds to put together:
(The last two aren’t specific to online church, but could easily be implemented as an online church tool.)
Trend #4: There Isn’t One Right Way To Do Online Church
If you look around the online church landscape, you’ll certainly see some common best practices. For example, rolling a video of your entire service is typically more effective at increasing engagement instead of just rolling the sermon.
But you’ll also see so many different variations of online church being successful. Some are more socially plugged in. Others are siloed. Many are only running sim-live services while others are spending tons of resources to produce live experiences almost exclusively.
Trend #5: Well-Trained Volunteers Are The Backbone Of A Successful Online Church Experience
As I mentioned in trend #1, your online church will live and die on the participation of your volunteers. A volunteer team that can introduce visitors to the space and community will win people quickly.
But chat isn’t the only space volunteers can provide value. Consider building teams that:
- focus on social media between experiences
- follow up with new visitors who leave an email
- make and send Next Step packets to people who take a step of faith
- train new volunteers
- write blog posts and create other traffic-driving content
- write code that support the streaming/chat platform
- design graphics especially for the online church experience
Trend #6: The Best Online Church Experiences Are More Than A Single Event
They are backed by a strong, ongoing community either on a social platform (like a Facebook Page/Group), a proprietary hangout spot (like a blog or forum), supported by a great email communication campaign, or all of the above.
Inbound marketing and marketing automation techniques can extend the reach and influence of an online church experience. Consider implementing simple-but-powerful tools like SharpSpring, Hubspot, or even JumpLead.
Trend #7: Buying Traffic On-The-Cheap Is A Great Way To Evangelize
Running inexpensive ads on Twitter, Facebook, and Google can drive targeted traffic during live or sim-live experiences. Time your ad campaigns to run during your stickiest experiences to ensure the best ROI on the ad spend.
Get creative with your ad spend, too. Don’t only target people who are looking for an online church. Target people who are looking for prayer or Bible teaching online. I’ve seen good results with targeting people looking for nefarious things like pornography, but your results may vary.
As you look around at churches who are experiencing success in their online church, you’ll find many of these trends ring true. But trends should never be misconstrued as commands. Every successful online church is accustomed to experimentation as their modus operandi. Get acquainted with trying and failing until you find the right setup for your team.