From websites, email lists, and online check-in systems to streaming services, text lines, and the emergence of virtual reality, the expressions of online ministry continue to multiply. Tech trends and developments come with their own problems, yet they also contribute to the reach of the gospel. Each day offers opportunities for evangelism, discipleship, and pastoral care that the forefathers of our faith could have hardly dreamed about.
Understanding the value of online ministry begins with seeing the online space as an expression of ministry, not as a step prior to ministry taking place. For the past few decades, online spaces predominately functioned like bulletin boards, announcing upcoming ministry offerings and church updates.
Today, our church buildings have extension campuses in online spaces.
- People are well-acquainted with engaging online and view websites and social accounts as regular forums for “customer” service and engagement.
- The versatility of tools and content formats allow for human interaction at multiple points of the user’s journey—from curious onlooker to evangelist.
Take my recent experience online shopping as an example. I learned of a product from a social media user review, went to the company website, took a quiz to find the right item for me, chatted with customer service to answer a question, and then made a purchase. This same type of journey occurs daily in our churches, but the “purchase” they’re making of attending service or exploring more of who God is, holds far greater significance.
So, let’s explore the value of online ministry—including anything and everything that can happen online, not just streaming services. No matter if you have an advanced tech department or a minimalist online presence, these value-adds are available to you through the mindset and heart behind your online efforts.
The Value of Online Ministry: 4 Key Value-Adds
Your congregation includes people at all stages of life and maturity in Christ. The same is true of those who engage with you online. To illustrate these value-adds we’ll follow the journey of two individuals inspired by real people:
Joe – an unbeliever in your city
Abby – a new church member.
1. Information About Your Ministry
While we’ve developed past the online bulletin board era, this remains a powerful and foundational use of your online presence.
Think of online spaces as billboards publicly marketing your church and create resources for public consumption. Just as a company wouldn’t write national campaigns that only their most devoted customers or staff would understand, your church’s online presence announces opportunities for newcomers to get involved and receive ministry.
Your website reaches untold masses of people curious about everything from faith and God to the unique expression and offerings of your congregation. Websites and church social media provide spaces to offer risk-free information about your church without the reader needing go to the building or even talk with anyone.
Through these online expressions, you’ve multiplied the visibility and reach of your ministry. But is that added access helping or hurting your cause? View your online billboard as an expression of ministry to maximize the opportunity.
By using vocabulary they understand, speaking to their felt needs (the ones they know about, not always the deeper spiritual needs you know they carry), and sharing how you help, your church shares what you’re about in ways that prompt action.
Let’s look at this impact for Joe and Abby.
Joe is pretty convinced already that your church is not for him. He went to church once 15 years ago and left wounded and feeling rejected. Joe is pessimistic and has several obstacles to overcome before engaging.
Abby is bought in, but she’s new. What time was that class again? She wants to invite a friend with kids, how does children’s ministry work? Abby is optimistic and is looking for her positive real-life church experience to be mirrored in the help and care she receives online.
Even at the information stage, both Joe and Abby receive ministry through:
- Thoughtful information pertinent to newcomers including what to expect and how to navigate your building or parking situation.
- A functional, up to date and user-friendly website that communicates care and service—the expected norm for modern day customer service.
- Clear depictions (visual and written content) showing what church is like and what to expect.
2. Invitation to Ministry
If the starter benefit of online ministry is a billboard, think of the next benefit like a front porch.
Information itself is not an invitation. Knowing some coworkers are grabbing lunch after a meeting isn’t the same as being invited to join them. Either you’ll ask or someone will offer, but unless you’re already part of the group, only the most confident extroverts will invite themselves.
It’s the same with online ministry. Joe scrolled by, stopped on your virtual church porch, and you get to invite him in. The invitation may come through the published content, video greetings, or through more direct communication like a chat feature, email, or a text line service. Sometimes the ministry moment is simply saying the words:
- “You’re invited.”
- “If you can relate to xyz, this gathering/service/group is for you. Will you join us?”
- “Thanks for checking out our church. We’d love for you to join us this weekend.”
Most calls to action invite the viewer to move from a passive observer to an active participant. Invite them to attend, register their kids for children’s ministry, sign up for some form of communication, or engage with a real person through text line, chat, direct message, or email.
In a society constantly battling rejection and loneliness, both Joe and Abby receive ministry by being invited. The significance of this stage is most apparent when we botch it:
- Short-notice announcements or sharing more photo highlights than pre-event invites leave people feeling left out.
- Partial details make it hard to engage. Broken links or announcing an event without speaking about who it helps, how it helps them, or including a call to action can cause people to dismiss ministry offerings that were created with them in mind.
- Direct messages, texts or emails fall into the technology abyss, so senders feel ignored or rejected by church leaders.
Yet when invitations are regularly and intentionally offered through online spaces, we welcome both Joe and Abby to receive the ministry their hearts long for. These invitations themselves are part of the ministry.
3. Expression of Ministry
Ministry can happen online. In my experience, this value-add is often the greatest perspective shift for many church leaders. It warrants a far greater conversation among your church leadership about what that looks like and how it connects to genuine human relationships and discipleship. But no matter where you land or what expressions you offer, ministry can happen online.
If you stream your services, you’re not inviting viewers to observe the ministry happening in the room. You’re inviting them to participate from whatever room they’re in.
If you run ads to help the hurting in your community, the ministry began with that information and continues when the person acts based on your invitation.
Online spaces make ministry immediately accessible to a broader audience without the confines of physical locations or service times. They saw your billboard, got invited up from the porch, and are now perched on the edge of your living room couch. What keeps them there is the ministry experience.
For Joe, our hesitant unbeliever, online ministry allows him to engage based on his level of comfort. He may prefer to observe or appreciate the opportunity to engage in a service live chat. He’s looking for proof that your church is who it says it is, and this confirmation ministers to him in even the simplest of ways:
- The ministry experience is what you said it would be.
- The call-to-action invitation clearly matches the offering. If Joe responds to an advertisement about help overcoming addiction and the link connects to a webpage about how to receive salvation, that feels like a bait and switch. Joe’s awareness of his greatest need isn’t there yet. By clearly connecting the invitation with the immediate first step of engagement, Joe continues to receive ministry.
For Abby, our new church member, she’s looking to experience your stated church values in every ministry expression, including online. That stability and consistency itself ministers to her.
- Does the stated excellence come through in whatever online expressions you have?
- If your church invites people to join online, is there intentionality to truly join in for moments like being greeted at the start of service, prayer ministry or communion, or next steps, or are those opportunities only for those who attend in person?
- Announcements often lead to learning more or registering online. How does that online user experience affirm (or contradict) the importance your church places on that next step?
4. Extension of In-Person Ministry
And finally, our fourth key to the value of online ministry is the way it integrates with in-person ministry. Continuing our living room imagery, this is what prompts people to stay longer, venture further into the house, and keep coming back.
Online spaces pave the way for in-person ministry, and in-person ministry often continues online.
Stream the service if you can’t attend, but then hopefully you will come in person another time. Find information and then join us for a group or event. Sign up for emails for future offerings in your areas of need. Attend a group and get added to the group text to stay connected. Get follow-up surveys and emails to take the next step in your growth and discipleship.
Testimonies from church members like Abby about this type of ministry are plentiful. She wasn’t sure about going back to church group, but the group text conversations made her feel so welcomed that she tried it again. Abby streamed the weekend message with her family when traveling and loved how easy and inviting it was. She took a 101 discipleship class and got an email with follow up resources and an invitation to 102, a step she gladly took. Ministry in action.
Testimonies from Joe can be harder to come by, but it blessed me to hear one during my time serving as a staff pastor. One weekend before service I greeted a gentleman sitting in the front row of our auditorium. He told me it was his first time in our building, but not his first time joining us for service. Joe saw a Facebook post and clicked to join the live stream on a prior weekend. In his words, he felt despair and was in a heavy, dark place. That’s when the leaders in the live chat invited viewers to share prayer requests and began praying for people in the comments. He shared his need and as prayers started coming through the chat feed, he knew he wasn’t alone. People were genuinely praying for him on the other sides of their screens. Joe received ministry that day and felt something shift in his heart. That ministry was a catalyst for the weekend when he stepped through our front doors.
God’s ministry to the hearts of his people includes what happens online. As His church, we get to be part of it.
Jen Weaver is a Ministry Coach, investing in your personal and organizational leadership growth to help you develop thriving teams, and build message clarity for the ministry you love. With 17+ years in volunteer ministry, 15+ years in corporate business leadership, 9+ years in online ministry, and 3 years serving in vocational pastoral ministry at a megachurch, Jen thrives in merging strategy with ministry purpose and kingdom focus. Jen holds certifications as a Cross-Cultural Trainer through International House London, a DISC Method Trainer, and John Maxwell Speaker, Trainer, Coach. She’s also the host of the Good God Talks podcast, founder of Collective Good, an online community for Christian leaders, a published author, and serves as a Bible teacher and conference speaker. You can connect with her via thejenweaver.com and on social media as thejenweaver.