The church has become decentralized. It is not focused on the church building any longer. Many pastors have expressed joy when reopening their buildings and sadness at the lack of attendance. Also, church isn’t focused on the 11:00 hour anymore as people engage with the church digitally at the times that fit their lifestyle. The new conveniences of the decentralized church have helped parishioners have an “any day faith”. On any day at any time, church members can watch, rewatch, engage, and make contributions to the church. If you don’t believe me, look at the number of online viewers your church had on Sunday. Then look at the number of online views for the same service on Wednesday and Friday. I can guarantee you will see an increase.
But how do we become deliberately effective in this decentralized church experience? Here are 7 ways to increase your effectiveness.
- You must play by their rules. There are unspoken rules of engagement online. It’s not acceptable to judge people for their actions and lifestyles, so pastors and churches need to observe. If you see photos and videos of your members engaging in questionable actions, you can’t call them out, make negative comments or put them on blast. If you do, they will un-friend and un-follow you in a heartbeat. Don’t tag them in your posts either. People want to choose how they present themselves online.
- You must know your place in their lives. You’re a guest in their private world. You’re their pastor but you don’t have the same social authority they have online. Think about it, if you pastor a church of 300 but your member has 500 followers online, they have more influence than you. If you have not built a relationship where you have personal power (not positional power) to speak into their lives, your words carry little weight.
- You must participate in the conversation. Celebrate with people when they share photos of their children on the first day of school. Wish them happy birthday. Pray for them when they express their griefs. Encourage them when they’re down. Chime in when they ask the world a question. Be a friend in their lives and a force for good. Be a benefit and not a nuisance. Over time you will build personal power and they will seek you out individually for life’s issues.
- You must clarify our message. TL:DR means “too long, didn’t read”. Twitter has trained a generation to communicate in 140 characters or less. As a result, people don’t typically read long posts on social media. That means it’s vital to thoughtfully and prayerfully condense and clarify your messaging to gain some traction. Advanced theological jargon will get lost on translation. Paragraph long church visions and 6 sentence church purposes won’t reach this generation. Neither will 45 minute to 1 hour long sermons. Clarify your message to make it digestible to your audience.
- You must scatter your content. Repetition is the key to engagement. Which means showing up repeatedly in their time lines and feeds is the best way to get your message across. Post a scripture or quote on Monday. Maybe share a meme on Wednesday. Ask a question on Thursday. Share a 3 minute live video on Saturday. When you engage this way, you will begin to increase your presence in their lives and wet their appetites for what’s coming on Sunday.
- You must encourage engagement. Currently, streaming platforms and social media do not tell you who’s watching and engaging. To work around this, encourage your people to like, share, and comment. Encourage them to “Amen” and comment when they hear something good. Then you can go back and see who commented and learn what ministered to them. It’s also a good idea to assign someone to reply on behalf of the church by liking the member’s comments. This assigned media ministry person can also put the sermon points and scripture references in the comments to help increase the engagement.
- Keep an open mind. The decentralized church is hybrid, material, virtual, and experiential. Those who fail to open their minds will squander the benefits of decentralization. Today, our members have greater access to the church and the word of God than ever before. They don’t have to wait for Sunday to get a word to help them in life. They can go back and binge watch services like they binge watch Netflix. They can tithe while on vacation or on a random Tuesday night. They can invite their friends and loved ones to attend church with them virtually. And people can now virtually join themselves to the church. Which means those who watch every week and give every week, though you may not have ever met them are members of your decentralized church. When you open your mind to the reality and stretch your mind to see the possibilities, you will know that the future of your church is brighter than it has ever been before.