A strategy for online Church – Enabling people to grow during the pandemic. 

By now most of us are coming to terms with the world that we now live in. COVID-19 has torn apart what we used to know and it has thrown us into a new normal and so as life changes, we simply cannot approach the way we run our Church services like we did pre-pandemic. We are now on an accelerated path which has forced us to innovate the way in which Church works.

Regardless of when this lockdown period finishes, we won’t just walk back into the same old life we knew prior to all of this, we will leave things behind but in the same breath, we will take new things into the future with us. 

Online Church has become a new normal for us. If we come out of lockdown and don’t bring it with us, we may well be in trouble. 

So how do we do this well? What are we aiming for? We’re about to explore these questions together. 

Before jumping in – I have to give credit to Brady Shearer of Pro Church Tools for what I am about to share with you. 

The Next Steps Ladder – A framework for a thriving, online Church 

Now by no means am I an expert on this, I’m still figuring this out as I go too, but combined with some insights from leaders I have been listening too and my own experience of working with my home Church on this exact subject, I hope to provide some clarity.

Here is the big idea that feels far too simple, yet revolutionary to the way we approach our digital presence: The Next Steps Ladder. 

The Next Steps Ladder is an easy way to understand how people connect with you and your Church online. Whether it is an individual’s first time ‘visiting’ your Church or if you are connecting with those who have been walking with you for years, this model covers it all. Here’s the most important thing, the aim of this model, is to enable people to move forward in their journey pursuing Jesus. 

The Next Steps Ladder can be broken down into four parts: 

  • Aware
  • Connect
  • Decide 
  • Commit.   

That’s it. Pretty simple right? Well, maybe… Let me break it down for you. 

Aware

This stage represents when someone come’s across you and your Church’s content for the very first time. Regardless of whether this is your online service, a media piece that you’ve pushed out onto your social channels or even something as small as an interaction with a status / tweet or instagram post. 

Due to the fact that we are now all embracing this digital future, people WILL stumble upon your content… and you should be posting content beyond Sundays by the way! 

Your only aim at this point is to get people to come back. How? Well that depends on what sort of content they have stumbled upon! 

For video, you could have an on-screen call to action asking the viewer to subscribe to your YouTube channel, Like your facebook page and so on… You wan’t people to revisit your social channels, so without sounding needy or desperate, be creative in how you ask people to keep up to date with what you are doing. 

Here’s one thing to note: In this season, if you are embracing your digital presence, you will almost certainly experience an increase in width and maybe you will see a decrease in depth of the people you are connecting with. 

This is NOT a bad thing! It means you are reaching people. There has never been a better time to try out Church. 

Someone from my home Church who tried out our online service one weekend put it this way, “This is the row behind the back row, hopefully now I can start to move forward a couple of rows”. 

That is exactly the sort of thing we should be aiming for. 

Connect

This stage represents any sort of action that someone takes when engaging with your content. Whether it be a comment, a like of a comment, an Instagram story mentioning your Church or even an old school email, any sort of interaction that shows someone is connecting with what you are doing.

This stage can happen organically without any encouragement but I wan’t to encourage you to ask for engagement. There is no shame in encouraging others to engage with your content, even live on a Sunday service! 

One leader I have seen who does this SO well is Mike Todd of Transformation Church (If you haven’t heard of Mike Todd, you NEED to go and check out his story – he recently did an interview with Carey Nieuwhof if you’re interested). 

Watching how Mike approaches digital through his preaching should be a great starting point as to how we can start encouraging those watching to engage and connect. 

Another really simple way to do this, particularly on Facebook and YouTube is during your live-streamed service have your online pastors or moderators throw a comment into the live chat asking first time visitors to like their comment. 

That sounds incredibly simple, and it is! That’s the point. 

Throughout all of this we want to create frictionless, simple ways for people to make their Next-Steps. 

Decide

This is the stage we are all aiming for. Hopefully by this point people are moving along your ladder quite nicely. 

If they’re coming back, something you are saying / doing is resonating with them. The next step is to help them move to a stage where they feel like the right thing to do is to give their life to Jesus. 

Who would have thought that we would be in a place where we are now seeing people give their lives to Jesus through a laptop screen!? 

A really simple way to do this, again if you are streaming through Facebook and YouTube is to use the ‘like our comment’ approach mentioned above. Again, it is a really easy, not so scary step to make. 

The point is that by liking that comment they are signifying to you and your team they want to make this step – That’s why the follow up process during the week is crucial. 

Sure, they can like the comment, but this is where things are still similar to pre-pandemic, people really thrive when they are in community, which brings us onto our final rung of the ladder.

Commit

Once someone has given their life to Jesus, it is crucial for us to enable them to get connected into your community. 

God designed us to live and thrive in community (yes even if you are an introvert like me). 

Again this is not so much different to what we would do in person, how do we get people to connect in with the life of the Church? 

They join a small group, they volunteer and so on… 

The people that have been with you for years also sit in this stage, as committing to the life of the Church is a continual process. 

One really great way to keep your community committed is to empower them to be their own version of a social media influencer.

Social media has become our greatest asset for outreach, and at the commit stage, hopefully people know and understand the importance of spreading the gospel. 

Empower your Church members to use the content you are producing as their own tools for their own outreach. 

Your Church is not the hero. You are not the hero. Neither are you Church members, we are all guides, it is our collective goal to use what we are producing to get people onto the Next Steps Ladder. 

Final thoughts

Use this model with a pinch of salt and adapt it to your context, what works for one Church will not work for the other and vice versa… 

It is also totally normal for people to skip steps. People may just jump straight in at the deep end, or some may take their time, so don’t make this model rigid and inflexible, allow it to become what it needs to for the individual. When planning this model out for your own context, plan it around the individual person, not a group of people. 

And finally, the most important thing here: The only metric that matters is life change. Views, engagement and interactions all matter and have their place, but they are meaningless if they don’t lead to a transformation in someone’s life.