Hyper-Localize Your Mission And Message
By: Vanderbloemen October 28, 2020
Whether your church is open for in-person worship or is meeting solely through online platforms, the pandemic has changed the way we do church. Now that nearly every church in the world is streaming services, what will keep people engaged with your church? The answer is simple, hyper-localize your mission and message to continue connecting to your specific audience and your ministry will thrive. I sat down with Chris Seay, Pastor of Ecclesia in Houston, Texas, to discuss how being hyper-localized has strengthened their ministry and allowed them to reach people they could not have otherwise.
Ecclesia has a long history of being hyper-localized. Chris Seay founded the church after serving in Waco, Texas for several years. Chris had a heart for the city and the people of Houston. He explained, “The city that I love is the most ethnically diverse city in the United States. If you want to impact the world, Houston, Texas is the best place to do it.” Chris set out to do just that - impact the world through Houston.
The church started in downtown Houston and did not attract a huge crowd immediately. Rather, Chris explained, “we started having really beautiful, radical conversions where people came to faith and lived missionally... That attracted Jesus followers from all over the city because people went ‘I want to be a part of things like that.’" We didn’t feed the homeless, we would eat with the homeless”. Since its founding, Ecclesia has grown tremendously with two locations and a restaurant for the homeless in Houston to enjoy a meal for $1. Despite its growth, Ecclesia continues to stay true to its mission of serving and sharing Christ with the people of Houston.
What Does It Mean For A Ministry to be Hyper-Local?
A hyper-local ministry focuses on the immediate community that God has planted them to serve. For Ecclesia, this means having life-changing conversations at an Astros game or sharing the gospel over queso. People are looking to be a part of a ministry that speaks to their everyday life and their specific context. God has called you to your city for a reason. Use your church to engage in ministry and reach those in your community.
More importantly than just engaging your local community, it is important that churches are serving their communities. No one is better equipped to serve your city than those who are living in the midst of the specific local current events. In many communities right now, people are hurting and need the church. But not just any church; they need a church that can deeply understand and empathize with their experiences. As you get involved in your community and become hyper-local, you will have more opportunities to share the gospel than you know what to do with.
How can you use your city to share Christ and reach out to your community?
How Can I Create A Hyper-Localized Message?
As you try to create a message that speaks to your specific context ask yourself, “what has happened in my zip code this week and what does God’s word say about that?” Use your city to speak God’s truth to your congregation. A hyper-localized message can be as simple as talking about the weather or local sports teams. Chris Seay explained, “when our daily conversations come back in our preaching, we are reflecting on what is really happening.” Sharing a message from God that accounts for what is going on in the context of your community will allow your members to connect with your church and feel like the message is specifically for them. Listen to what people are saying and how they are feeling and let your message reflect that.
What message does your congregation need to hear that speaks to what is happening in your community right now?
How Do You Have A Hyper-Localized Ministry Online?
Even after the pandemic, it is likely that churches will continue to stream services online. While it may seem difficult to hyper-localize your ministry to an online audience, there are things you can do to engage with your members online and serve your local community.
Connect the online world to the real world. Just because your congregation may not be meeting, it doesn’t mean that you can only connect with them online. Call your congregants and ask them how they are doing right now. Make gestures like delivering baked goods or local treats to their doorstep. There are many things you can do to connect with your church while continuing to practice social distancing.
Continue to create messages that speak to your specific context. You do not have to preach a different message to those who choose to worship in-person and those who engage online. Just because your congregation may be choosing not to meet in person, that doesn’t mean they are not affected by what is going on in your local context. Continue to talk about the weather, sports, or local events in your sermon. Do everything in your power to make online worship feel like in-person worship. The more you make your online services contextualized, the more people will engage.
Continue to serve offline. Your community still needs their local church to serve them. In fact, a crisis is when your congregation is most in need of hope. Let your church offer the hope your city needs. Consider ways your church can serve your local community while social distancing. Let the struggles of your community turn into spiritual conversations by engaging with those feeling broken. Some options to consider are donating goods to your local food bank or shelters, offering community clean up to local officials, or even offering small gifts or tips to your essential workers like grocery clerks, nurses, or firefighters.
Find new ways to make better content. Online church has allowed people to engage with the church in new ways. As people continue to be more engaged, it is important to make your content more helpful than ever before. Try to find new ways to make your online service connect with your congregation. Consider bringing in a guest speaker if you’re feeling burned out, build online meeting opportunities like coffee for moms or online worship services to keep people feeling connected.
Online church is an outreach opportunity. People who would have never come to church in-person are engaging online. People who would have to miss worship services for some reason or another are now able to engage with church every Sunday.
While some things from this pandemic will last and others will go back to the way it was before, one thing is certain, hyper-localization is going to be the difference between churches and small businesses that make it and those that don’t. The church was made for times like this. In the midst of how hard life is, this is the time people need their pastor and their church. What does it mean to embody Jesus in the community God has called you to right now?
This conversation is part one in a 5-part podcast series we released called The State Of The Church, where our CEO & Founder, William Vanderbloemen spoke with pastors and ministry leaders from around the country about how COVID-19 has impacted their Kingdom efforts and what they project the lasting impacts will be. Check out the other encouraging conversations in this series here.