Coronavirus, what a pivotal moment this has been for the church. Here’s 3 thoughts on post coronavirus & evangelism.
The big questions I like to ask of leaders each week are……How will outreach and evangelism look post COVID-19? What will church and leaders do differently? What have we learnt from this time of isolation?
Each week I speak with different church leaders and pastors across our nation and my mindset is always evangelism. I am always listening to try and understand what leaders are thinking at this time and how they see the future of outreach post COVID-19.
Recently I had the opportunity to take an online seminar with Partners In Ministry who released their recent findings on how churches coped in the first 8 weeks of social isolation. Their findings were consistent with what I have been hearing from leaders across the country in many respects and contribute to my thoughts here.
There have been two major responses to COVID-19 from church leaders. The first is that the situation is seen as an inconvenience and the future is one that is looking forward to getting back to things as they were. The second response is that this has been a convenient nudge from the Lord and the future is one that is looking forward to a new way of doing church and outreach.
Tim Hanna, ex CEO of Compassion Australia recently referred to these two paradigms as Interruption versus Disruption. I was fortunate enough to attend a webinar where Tim was speaking. Disruption is viewed as something the Lord is using so that churches can examine and rethink the effectiveness of what they are doing. Interruption is seen as a time to pause and then simply resume at some stage.
As I discuss outreach and evangelism with believers, the idea of a convenient disruption from Jesus is the majority thinking. This convenient disruption has led people down an unforeseen path, resulting in exciting and new ideas for the future.
Post Coronavirus & Evangelism 3 Thoughts
1. Faith Explorers are Very Open to Digital Options
Ninety percent of churches in Australia pivoted quickly to the new online world that COVID served up. This research and more has recently been released by Partner In Ministry. A great many churches have been surprised by the amount of people that have visited their online services. In many cases the numbers have been greater than attendance when churches could physically gather.
Did many Aussies start attending church online because of the crisis and the panic it produced in their hearts? Did more people start attending church online because congregation members saw the panic and fear and were moved to invite people along? Or did people start attending online because there were simply more opportunities to investigate faith as thousands of churches started to digitally broadcast?
Most people believe it’s a combination of the three BUT the last two seem to have most influence.
For me, I was that someone who reached out more to those around me when the pandemic hit. There was a greater openness in the hearts of those in my community. And secondly, there was now so much great online content that I could easily refer my friends too.
An example of this. At Easter time Karl Faase from Olive Tree Media released a short video on one of Australia’s sporting heroes. I knew that sport would reach my neighbors as they were all sports fanatics. The clip was short, well produced and had a simple gospel message. I shared this with several neighbours.
The feedback was very positive. These neighbors have never said yes to coming to my church before but they were very happy to watch this online content and give their feedback. This story, my story of giving a digital option to my neighbours has been told hundreds of times over during the pandemic.
I’m thankful that Olive Tree Media pivoted in this moment to make the content accessible.
2. Digital Outreach Must Stay
Having experienced the overwhelming response that congregation members have had to sharing their faith online (however that looks), leaders have concluded that digital outreach must stay.
Nicky Gumbel from Alpha during COVID-19 was reported to say that he has never seen such an opportune time for the gospel in his time. He and his team pivoted in the moment and marketed Alpha Online that has seen stunning results. Melinda Dwight the national director of Alpha Australia has been delighted with the outcome of reaching thousands more for Jesus in Australia.
City on a Hill in Melbourne has seen hundreds of people register for Alpha online, this is way above what they would have experienced with Alpha face to face. Yes, it answered the dilemma of people not being able to gather physically but it also allowed people to access Alpha with new levels of anonymity. It made room for those who are time poor; who can’t physically get to a building and other scenario.
Is it the best way to run Alpha? Well, the numbers of people engaging would certainly point that way. I will leave that up to you to argue through.
My point is that most leaders were surprised at the positive responses and results of digital outreach. Most leaders I have spoken with are surprised by this outcome and are now convinced that digital outreach must stay. This has most definitely been a divine nudge from the Lord.
People are not saying that digital outreach is all they are going to do but they are saying that it will be a significant part of what they now do.
3. Online Church Services Need to Consider the New Audience
It’s amazing what you hear when you ask the right questions. Two of the questions I’ve asked believers and church leaders lately are …why did you invite your neighbour to online church and why didn’t you invite?
Here’s the biggest responses. “My friend, neighbour would really get something out of this”, or “That service would never relate to my friends”. Interesting responses, right?
Richard and Helen Kobakian from LifeHouse Church are passionate about making online church services that are relevant for what I call, ‘faith explorers’. I interviewed them both separately on The Win Win Evangelism Podcast and this value came out both times. Make sure to listen to those episodes.
Many church leaders that already had an online church service before COVID have expressed that the online service they offer does not cater for the new audience. The new online faith explorers.
Church leaders concur that an online service must be a part of their offerings going forward but these services cannot be just a cut and paste of what they do in their building. People are sitting behind a computer screen or more likely behind their phone screen. Something a little more intimate and engaging needs to be considered. Content, timings and the question of worship all needs reconsidering.
Yes, it will more than likely mean that human and financial resources will need to be deployed differently. It will be interesting to see what churches come up with.
There is so much more to be said around this topic right now, I’ll leave that for another time…