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How to ‘Be the Church’ Online During Covid-19 Pandemic

Right now our churches are in crisis mode. What happens when we can’t meet on Sunday morning? With the daily influx of new information about the coronavirus, many churches are scrambling to figure out what to do about having church.

This is a time for us to remember that we don’t “have church” but that we “are the church,” and the church can be wherever the people are gathered—even online.

How to do that has been the main topic this week on the Church Communications Facebook Group I founded that serves as a resource on marketing and communication strategies for over 23,000 church leaders. 

Here are some tips for “being the church” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Have a System for Clear Communication

Do not start communication until you have a plan in place about what the church will do moving forward. It’s ok to over-communicate, but be sure to be concise. Let people know exactly what’s going on at your church and with your people.

As the situation evolves, your church will need to have one clear communication channel moving forward. Whatever system you use, be sure to be consistent with where you broadcast your announcements. 

If your church already uses email, use email. I would encourage you to think mobile-first in whatever communication strategy you decide to use. Texting is a great way to communicate with your congregation quickly and it’s extremely effective—texting open and response rates are as high as 98% (Source: Tap Into The Marketing Power of SMS).

It’ll be important to cite governmental organizations like the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or trusted medical experts, such as Johns Hopkins University. When communicating on social media or email, stay away from sharing sources that are opinion-based, political or controversial. 

Make a Plan for Sunday Morning—Online

If your church isn’t already doing online ministry, this is a great time to start! The church isn’t a building or a place, it’s a group of people meeting to worship God, and we can do that online. Here are a couple of easy ways to get started:

  1. Church Online Platform—A free service provided by Life.Church is a great platform for recreating the Sunday morning service online. Link: https://churchonlineplatform.com/ You will also need a streaming provider if you use this service such as Youtube Live, Vimeo Live, PikselFaith, or ChurchStreaming.tv. 
  2. Facebook Pages and Groups—You can also stream for free on your Facebook page or group. You do not need an additional service for encoding your video stream to Facebook. We recommend creating a group for your church and linking it to your page. (More about that below.) The Church Communications Facebook Group is the official channel for communication between Facebook and churches needing help using their platform.

OBS is a great free software for streaming from your computer. But no matter what capabilities you have, it’s ok to stream from your phone—whatever works! The importance is that you communicate with your congregation.

Make a Plan for Tithing

If your church doesn’t already have online giving, now is a good time to start. There are many amazing giving providers that would love to help you get started online: Pushpay, Tithe.ly, and Rebel Give are just a few. Remind people that this isn’t about increasing giving, but about continuing ministry functions and supporting mission work during this critical time.

Make a Plan to Create Community Online

The easiest way to start a community online is by using a Facebook group. Most everyone in your congregation is familiar with Facebook and has an account. If you already have a Facebook page, link that page to your new group.

Nona Jones, head of faith-based partnerships for Facebook, said, “If you think of your Facebook presence like a house, your Page is your front porch, Facebook Live is you opening the front door, and Facebook Groups is you inviting people into your living room for a conversation.” (Nona also presented an official plan from Facebook on how to get your church online exclusively in our group, you can see that via this link after you join.)

Invite members of your church to join your new group. Post about it on your page. Send an email or text to your congregation. Figure out ways to get your congregation into this group so you can re-create the Sunday morning experience online.

After you get the people into the group, start asking questions. “How can we be praying for you?” “What are you doing during the quarantine?” “Are there any needs we can assist with?” and let your congregation help meet those needs and pray for others. 

You will also need to create some boundaries, rules, and expectations in your group. I recommend you go live in your group as soon as possible to lay down some ground rules about what this group is and what it can and cannot be used for – for example, this isn’t a group for spam or business inquiries, but it is for prayer, bible study, questions about the community, etc.

What about equipment?

Many have asked in the ChurchCommunications.com Facebook Group, “What if we don’t have the equipment?” You don’t need fancy equipment to go live on your Facebook Page or in your group, you just need your phone. You do; however, need licensing for worship music. If that’s the case, I recommend you reach out to Christian Copyright Solutions.

“What if we have fancy equipment?” Is there a way you can schedule for other churches and civic leaders in the area to come in and broadcast from it? Create the means for others to safely use the equipment. It’s time for us to help our neighbors, and that includes other local churches with fewer resources. 

How do I create engagement?

Your social media channels aren’t just for you to “broadcast” your sermon and worship service, but figure out ways that your church can create active participants in the online worship experience. Don’t say, “We’re broadcasting our church…” You ARE the church! Instead say, “Come participate in church this morning online at…” Create spaces online where people can comment. Call the people viewing out BY NAME. Pray with them by name. Worship with them. Increase participation by asking questions during your live stream. Do real-time live polls. This is a whole new way to engage your congregation.

Reach your community!

Finally, don’t only create a group for your church, but create groups for your neighborhoods and friends. Create places online where you can connect with people near you and keep up to date with ACTUAL, FACTUAL information. Are there any sick people in your neighborhood? Ask them online! Keep a check on your neighbors, and love your neighbors as Christ has called us to do.

If you or your church have questions about how to get started streaming online, please join our Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/churchcomm/ or visit our website http://churchcommunications.com as we bring more media coverage and information.

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