The Call of the Church Today – “On-site” or “Online”?

onsite or online

The last three years have seen most churches push into digital and online ministry sooner than they would have expected. As you well know, for a time it was the only option really available to us for some of our ministries. At the time, some suggested that the crisis only hastened the inevitable move from physical to digital ministry. But, I would suggest – and I expect most of you would agree – that a church cannot really fulfill the full calling of God without a physical presence and ministry. Bill talked last week about the community of faith, and I want to push deeper into that by suggesting the need for churches to intentionally create cultures of warm and welcoming presence in our churches as a key part of that community of faith. While there is much that can be done and accomplished digitally, for the vast majority of our communities their fullest expression requires incarnation – a physical presence and experience.

We are now in a time when most churches are evaluating how best to move forward into this new chapter of ministry. Leaders are wrestling with what ministries to re-activate. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been saying that we need to assess our ministries through the filters of vision and mission. Tradition, historical practises and programs, and especially “loud voices” should not be the sole driving factor in how we do ministry. We are in a new chapter with new opportunities as well as new challenges and limitations – all to be assessed and engaged from a perspective of vision.

In addition to prioritizing ministries that best fit vision, leaders have to steward limited resources (financial, people, facilities, etc), even as they sort out who is actually a part of their church family. Into this discussion we add the question of the place for online ministry with its opportunities, expectations, and limitations.

Let me suggest that church leaders address this last question by first spending time reflecting on the essential role of the personal, physically gathered, ministry of the church. A part of the strength and calling of the church is found in the personal interaction, engagement, and shared experience for the family of God. Additionally, a safe, engaging, personal community is something many people are missing, and looking for. More than ever, the full experience of the Church family has something the world needs.

I am not suggesting that you do not leverage online ministries. Online ministries provide us some great opportunities. While we should use “online” for it does best, we must also embrace “in person activities” for what they do best. Online can deliver information and content really well. It can help people get a picture of your church to inform their decision on whether or not to visit. It can even offer a measure of the relational component of the church – but not all of it.

People are unlikely to feel the warmth of your fellowship online.

So, friends, do not miss the opportunities afforded by online and digital technology. Keep pushing and asking what it can help you with. But be sure to intentionally consider what it does not do as well as “in person” engagement, and give appropriate attention, resources, and priority to those activities – especially the building of community through relationship. Work hard to make your church a warm welcoming environment. Start by modelling that as leaders. It can be hard work; it is easier to just focus on those we are already comfortable with. But our calling is so much bigger than that.

All churches, whether large or small, need to intentionally work hard to make people feel welcome. Most of the churches I talk to are seeing new people come – what a great opportunity that is. Let us not miss the calling to be warm welcoming communities, it is an essential part of our calling. Bill’s word to us is appropriate, and it is up to us to make that community of faith welcoming to all people. We must not miss this unique moment of opportunity. For that, you will need a strong “on-site” culture of warmth and welcome, for which “on-line” is a partner, but never a substitute.

Terry Kaufman
EFCC Leadership Catalyst