How Broadcasting Church Services Live Can Grow Your Physical Congregation

By Jeff Reed

Your online church service is an incredible opportunity to connect with new people! According to Lifeway, some first time guests will watch your online service up to five times before they actually come to the building! But what are people looking for when they’re watching your church service livestream? What elements are people looking for in your online broadcasts? What functionality or connectivity do they want to see? This is the heart behind Part 3 of The Digitally Resilient Church.

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An online event series, The Digitally Resilient Church, helps churches discover the purpose behind livestreaming services. More than just creating content to feed a consumeristic mindset, in Part 1, we discussed how these church services can help us connect with new people digitally. In Part 2, we explored what discipleship looks like digitally and the role of engagement in discipleship. Now, in Part 3, we’ll be exploring the “front-door” phenomenon, where people will watch online services to learn more about your church, its culture, and its community.

Contributing to our conversation will be Greg Atkinson, First Impressions guru. Greg is no stranger to church first impressions, or digital ministry as Greg was one of the “OGs” (original gangsters) of digital ministry way back before it was cool! As a result, Greg is perfectly positioned to help us address and unpack a series of questions. Gabe Ramon is also joining the convo. Greg Ramon has been a vital part of Resi for years (any Living As One fans out there?) Gabe has spoken into Customer Success and Support at Resi, and knows how Resi has done an incredible job helping churches connect with first-time guests.

So, what are we going to be talking about during Part 3 of The Digitally Resilient Church? That’s a great question.

#1: What are first-time guests looking for in your online church broadcast?

When first-time guests watch your online service, what are they looking for? Culture plays a big part! What clothes are you wearing? What is the ethnicity and demographics of people represented on stage and in the audience? Theologically, where does the lead communicator align? What does worship sound and feel like? Keep in mind that the “in-person” audience is likely far more forgiving than your front-door visitor who is attending the online service for evaluation.

The online broadcast is where people are exposed to the culture of your church. Does your church resonate with them? Is there enough for the person to explore at a deeper level? Remember, each time a front-door attendee visits your online broadcast is another opportunity for them to appreciate your church. 

Hot tip for those curious: your chat room can speak volumes about your church. It may say as much about your church culture as your musical worship or teaching. Yes, lousy theology or music presentations can spoil a high-quality church broadcast. However, an uninformed, judgmental volunteer in the chat room, making a misguided statement, can turn an online church broadcast into a hot zone of controversy. Prepping your chat volunteers is paramount! Things like basic information on the church, a list of upcoming events with links to sign up, or email addresses of the pastors for more detailed follow-up. Just like you would inform your guest services volunteer team at your church, equip your chat host volunteers to engage happily and often.

And, during the message… remember that it’s better to ask questions than make statements. How does that story apply to your life? What do you think of when you hear that scripture? Can you relate to the biblical character here? Open-ended, simple questions will go a long way in pulling the front door attendee closer to building trust and eventually attending the building.

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#2: How do we get our online church broadcast in front of new local eyes?

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but if not, let me be the first to tell you… omnichannel is dead. If your knee-jerk response is, “I’m sorry to hear that. What’s omnichannel?” Don’t feel bad. I’ll explain.

Pre-Covid, omnichannel is the idea that content should be broadcasted or posted on all channels. It’s a business term from the 2010s, which found attention in the church online space in the late 2010s. You take that church service and broadcast it on every social media channel in front of every eye possible. You’ve created excellent content with the live broadcast; now it’s time to show that off in front of everyone. Unfortunately, while you think that service or that sermon readily applies to EVERYONE, it does not. 

A hard, fast rule digitally is: If you try to reach everyone, you’ll reach no one. But, in attempting to reach a specific someone, you’ll reach a lot of them. Let’s break that down, Pastor. You’re trying to preach a sermon that readily connects with a Baby Boomer, GenX, Millennial, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha, all at the same time. You’re probably saying, “Jeff, I do that every week. That’s not hard.” You’re right, but the difference here is online and digitally… you’re getting a larger audience of front-door attendees. You’re seeing more people who are not loyal to you or your church. As a result, your online audience will be far less patient with your sermon than your physical audience. Now, you’re beginning to see the challenge of digitally crafting a sermon for everyone. That amplifies as we look at musical worship. It’s not impossible, but it’s very hard to do regularly.

Covid brought about diversification on social media platforms. Facebook started as a platform for college students 25 years ago (The “Facebook” term is a nod to being a “digital yearbook.” Today, college students aren’t on Facebook… they’re barely on Instagram. But TikTok? SnapChat? They’re there in droves. I wrote a blog recently for Resi where I go into detail on the different platforms and their audiences, so check out Where Should I Stream My Online Church Services to get a better reference of where you should be streaming.

The question you should ask yourself is, who are you trying to get into your building? Is your online church broadcast a good representation of your desired audience, and then how do you get your content on platforms where your audience hangs out? Be ready: your 40-minute sermon or 70-minute worship service may have to change form factors. Shorts, Reels, TikTok… depending on who you’re trying to connect with throughout your broadcast, may not make it everywhere. Remember, omnichannel is dead. Instead, respect your audience enough to create content specific to them.

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#3: What does engagement and follow-up look like digitally?

Through Part 2 of The Digitally Resilient Church, we discussed how engagement is the first step into discipleship. However, as your church wants to build trust with front-door visitors, a proper engagement strategy utilizing church staff (and volunteers) is crucial. A well-executed digital communication strategy can help streamline the time it’ll take for that front-door attendee to build the trust needed to come to the building.
But what needs to be communicated? And how? You’ll need to come to Part 3 of The Digitally Resilient Church on Wednesday, June 26, at 1 pm Eastern. For more information or to register, check out http://resi.io/digitally-resilient.

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Jeff Reed

In 2018, Jeff stepped out of a 15-year church staffing career in production, creative, and communication to start THECHURCH.DIGITAL, a non-profit designed to help churches find their purpose through digital discipleship, mobilizing people on digital mission, and planting multiplying digital churches. He lives in Miami with his wife and two kids.

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