How Online Engagement During Church Service Broadcasts Leads to Discipleship

By Jeff Reed

Woman livestreaming church service from laptop

Online engagement, for the church, is the beginning of discipleship. This may seem like a foreign concept, how dialoguing with someone online can lead to discipleship. For many, our conversations in our online service chat rooms, or even in social media, can lead to lifechange.

The Engel Scale, created back in 1975, actually details this. James Engel describes how discovering God is a journey, which more often than not takes years. The journey is a series of steps taken over some time. This is counterintuitive to how many churches look at evangelism today. While the Holy Spirit can change someone’s life instantaneously, we see people grappling with finding and following Christ slowly more often in today’s culture. Safe spaces like online church services and social media allow people to ask questions digitally. Hopefully your church is in position to respond.

The journey of the Engel scale takes time. In today’s culture someone cold to Christ will take time to develop the trust to take the steps up the Engel scale. What’s interesting is, with the Engel scale, it moves beyond evangelism into discipleship as well. Someone finding Christ is the middle point of the line. As we talked about in the Digitally Resilient Church, discipleship… the top half of the Engel scale, has huge potentially digitally. Unfortunately, many churches are not exploring that space, since they are not interested in digital discipleship. In the words of one pastor, “Jeff, I want to see people around the world get baptized because of my sermons! But discipling them? That is not my [church’s] problem.” 

Digitally pastoring is a journey of relational steps, bringing individuals closer to God

The life steps on the Engel scale, whether done before or after Christ, can be complemented digitally. The key for any church to have digital success in evangelism or discipleship is to be relational. The best online pastors are not technically savvy, or tech is not their strength. Many of the best online pastors are networkers or highly relational. Think small group director. Volunteers can run the tech, and many online pastors have learned the tech out of necessity. But the passion and heart of online ministry are in relationships.

We’ve discussed this throughout The Digitally Resilient Church Webinar Series. During Part 1, Tyler Sansom, Lead Pastor at First Capital Christian Church/Church Anywhere, talked about how he challenged his online pastor to “know” and to have relationships with 100 people online. The goal here is to build relationships with people. What I love about Tyler is that the same relationship standard is not just placed on staff working in digital ministry; essential volunteers are also held to that standard. During Part 2, Andy Reider used marriage seminars as an excuse for couples to connect with each other to build relationships digitally. Relationships are key.

The Digitally Resilient Church Webinar

Featuring Jeff Reed from THECHURCH.DIGITAL, learn to leverage your digital strategy and livestreams for maximum local reach and community impact.

RSVP now
The Digitally Resilient Church Webinar

Building a relationship starts with a thumbs-up emoji 👍

Sometimes relationships are pre-existing, and if staff and volunteers look at their existing relationships as an opportunity to share the gospel, that’s a win! But what if we looked at every person in the online service chat room, or even every like on a social media post, as an opportunity to build a relationship? That thumbs-up emoji (👍) on the Facebook post is an invitation to build a relationship. Once that relationship is built, you have permission to walk the Engel scale with the person. I’ve had friends DM on Facebook Messenger every person who liked a social media post… even strangers. The result? The majority of people responded, mostly pleasantly! Even small things like a thumbs-up emoji (👍) can move the needle on the Engel scale if you’re serious enough about engaging, responding, and building relationships.

Relational evangelism and relational discipleship are paramount to digital ministry success in today’s culture. Remember, our connections need to be connected to community. Community is where we see growth of the Engel scale. Community is where discipleship happens. That online service chat room creates an opportunity for community for about sixty minutes, plus or minus… at least for those utilizing the chat room functionality. The real question comes in: what does community look like beyond that? All those thumbs-up emojis (👍) need to go somewhere… where do you put those connections?

Today’s church doesn’t have a good answer to this. We hope the (👍) person will attend a physical church service. But what happens if the (👍) person is too far away? Or, maybe just because they (👍) your post, that doesn’t mean they immediately trust you enough to show up in person! Digital community offers them another safe space to get to know you and others in your community. Pastor, this will be hard for you to hear: in today’s culture, you are not the best representative of your church. Instead, your members, attendees, and volunteers are. Giving normal (non-pastor) people an opportunity to interact with (👍) person digitally is a considerable kingdom win! What if, Pastor, you looked at digital ministry not as an opportunity for you to win souls for the kingdom but for you to mobilize ordinary people on a mission to interact with people like our hypothetical (👍) person? Ministry looks a lot different through the lens of relational evangelism and relational discipleship.

From Sunday to Every Day

Download our FREE ebook to find out how your church can measure success in this engagement-centric culture.

Download for free!
From Sunday to Every Day

Four tips to connect with our hypothetical thumbs-up emoji 👍 friend

  1. Use the platform they engaged you in to engage back!

As a general rule, churches default to email communication far too quickly. No one wants to check that email. Instead of asking our (👍) person to give up their email address, why not just direct message them right back via Facebook, Instagram, X, TikTok, or whatever platform they found you on? We know, or can easily assume, that the person is interacting with that platform because they found you on that platform.

If you’re streaming with Resi, check out the new “QRclick” feature to engage with people on the stream. But don’t fall into the immediate trap of getting them to fill out an email form! If your church has a strong Facebook presence, and your service targets a Facebook audience, don’t be afraid to connect people to a Facebook Group instead of an email form! You will get far more two-way engagement with a Facebook group than an email form. There will be time later to get that email address. With a cold lead, you want them to talk as much and as quickly as possible!

  1. Track early in the database with minimal information.

Your database administrator is not going to like this. Track the people you’re connecting with online in some form of a database. Now, there was a time when the database administrator for the church needed names, mailing addresses, names of kids, birthdays, blood type, etc, before the person had a profile in the database. Okay, blood type was an exaggeration. However, a large amount of information was needed in the database before the record could be created.

Digitally it will take a very long time to collect all that information. Mailing address and phone number? Digitally, that’s very hard! But… you can have weeks’ worth of casual conversation with just a social media handle. Relational discussions allow you to discover a lot about people online. Have a database where those conversations are logged so you can remember who is who! 

Some churches have this database separate from their main church, ChMS/CRM. In an extreme situation, this is okay! Just have a clear process when you move from the online database to the church database.

  1. Listen more than you talk.

Digitally, it’s better to use question marks than periods. And never use exclamation marks! Seriously, though. Ask questions. Keep the person talking or typing. Show them that you care by listening to them. Online is not the place to beat people over the head, telling them everything they’ve done wrong. Instead, we should listen to them, show them empathy, and tell them they have value. 

We know this about digital ministry: people often find community before they find Christ. It will take time for online people to trust you. Showing you care about them builds trust, allowing them to listen to hard conversations. As you pray, pray that God would allow you to see people online as Jesus sees them.

Whether using online services or even social media, engaging with people online for kingdom purposes is an unrealized opportunity in the church today.

You Might Also Like
Guide What Church Sound System Setup Is Best for Livestreaming
Uncategorized How Broadcasting Church Services Live Can Grow Your Physical Congregation
Uncategorized My Pastor doesn’t believe we can disciple someone digitally. What do I do?

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.

Start Streaming Now

See firsthand how Resi transforms your streaming experience with a full walkthrough of Resi’s advanced features. Find answers to your questions, get pricing info, and discover how to elevate your streaming setup with ease.

or call 1-800-875-0696