By Tom Crites
Strike up the theme song, meet George Jetson (da-da-da, de-da-da-da). Life in the 2060s, according to George Jetson, is exhausting and difficult. He must endure a laborious work week consisting of one hour of work, two days a week, turning his computer on and off. He is met daily with the inconveniences of having to decide what to download for dinner and walking the dog on the treadmill. And the space traffic… This is the second of a couple of articles discussing what I have called “Jetson Church.”
Church life has been changing for the last decade or so. I believe that the pandemic expedited many of the changes that were steadily coming. Online ministries were ramped up during the shutdown. Online giving, podcasts, and digital small groups became the norms quickly. Many of these changes will remain; let’s continue our conversation about what we will (or should) retain for future ministry possibilities?
In a previous article, I presented the idea of clarification of the use of our online service streams. Consider this related second observation; Our digital connections should be leveraged for the best impact. Here are a couple of things we must get a handle on. First, unchurched people do not watch online services. As a matter of fact, 88% said they would not consider watching a service and 73% said they are not interested in any type of invitation to watch a streamed service or any online faith event. So, if your church is making online connections with lots of unchurched folks, you are the exception not the rule. I need to talk to you to see what we can learn and share. But for the rest of us, should we stop inviting lost friends and family to watch? We should never stop. Just realize, it is highly unlikely a lost person will watch a stream of our services or events.
Churched people, on the other hand, feel more comfortable watching and engaging online with other churched people. In fact, 41% of churchgoers say they are open to participating in an online group or class. This is where a leader may be able to leverage online ministry for greater impact. Online courses for growth and development make sense. Consider the classes and groups offered online as primarily educational, kind of like an academy. Think about offering online options for stay at homes moms that may not be able to attend or would prefer not to attend an onsite, face-to-face Bible study. Senior adults, shut-ins, college kids away from home, members in the military may benefit from the opportunity to stay connected. Offer leader training, topical discussions, doctrinal studies online. Leaders can train members how to share the gospel, how to identify prospects, how to invite friends and neighbors to in-person services. Student pastors can teach students, parents, and lay leaders how to answer tough questions they may encounter. There are numerous possibilities.
People in small groups and Sunday school classes that are teacher centric, lecture driven types would probably do ok online too. People in small groups and Sunday school classes that have more of a group dynamic, communal feel may struggle finding a comfort zone online. I suggest classes structured in the more relational model offering an online option for members traveling or ill, but to communicate that the best option is face-to-face regular attendance.
Research shows that when the interaction requires even closer, deeper relationships where a participant may need to feel safe to interact, participants demand face-to-face experiences. Pastors considering small support groups, group counseling or other small groups requiring personal spiritual conversations should keep in person meetings priority.
Unlike George Jetson, we work many hours several days a week. Pastors often testify to the midnight phone call from the family of a sick or dying loved one. There are only so many hours in the week, so we must make the most of every one of them. Maintaining the online opportunities presented during the pandemic will help with time management. But, every leaders should evaluate online connection points to make sure they are leveraged for the greatest impact.