How To Connect New Online Attendees To Your Church Small Groups
By: Sutton Turner April 23, 2020
We’re entering another month of social distancing, and people are feeling the need for connection. As online church attendance skyrockets, pastors are asking—how can I integrate these new attendees into our church and small groups? While churches might not be able to meet yet, now is the time to plan and start reaching out to this new audience in hopes of connecting them to your church community.
I spoke with pastors from churches of all sizes to discuss the unexpected lessons learned during COVID-19 and how they are connecting new viewers to their church's small groups.
Even churches with elderly populations or no online options before have been experiencing enormous success and growth with online church. How will this new option integrate into our churches as we move past COVID-19?
Embracing New Small Group Strategies
This time of social distancing has offered the church a chance to explore new tools and ways of thinking. The top strategies we’re seeing include:
-Facebook Groups have been a huge resource for churches moving online. Having a group for your entire congregation where you can post updates that apply to everyone, as well as smaller groups for classes or small groups to communicate. These will also be helpful to communicate and post updates or prayer requests post-COVID-19. Facebook also allows you to see who interacts with your content so you can reach out to them.
-Church Websites are being used to post weekly sermon recaps and updates. Your website is also a great place to give actionable directions on how to connect with others by displaying groups and classes.
-Zoom is a great tool to explore for online small groups. One church offers the ability for new people to “view” an existing house church experience on Zoom and then request opportunities to join an existing one or form a new one.
-Embracing Time To Learn - This season has been an opportunity to develop agility. Especially if online church is new to you, it’s a chance to truly experience spirit-filled living because you have to trust that technology will work and you don’t have the crowd’s reaction to go off of.
Tips For Continuing Online Church Activities
There is a consistent viewpoint that a bulk of church interactions should go back to in-person meetings when it’s possible. As creatures built for connection, it’s important to build relationships that are more that online friendships. However, it’s clear that churches need to maintain an online presence to meet the needs and expectations of a new kind of community. Additionally, at-risk people may not feel comfortable coming back to church buildings for awhile. Some ways to continue offering your online service without losing your in-presence audience include a shift in personnel.
Hire or grow online volunteer teams who manage the online church viewers. Have volunteers monitor who your online presence is and reach out to them with the goal of forming a relationship. Assess the needs of these viewers when you reach out by asking if they’re seeking things like prayer, salvation, connection, or spiritual growth. Have an additional set of volunteers that manage these unique needs and offer classes or resources to serve these people. Ideally, set up online viewers with a small group. People are most easily integrated when they experience a real connection.
Most churches agree that their solution for caring for online audience members that are not local is to connect them to a church in their community. Initially, it’s okay for them to engage in your online small group so you’re not turning anyone in need of connection away. But the end goal should be to integrate them within their community, either at a plant church of yours, or a similar church.
Small Groups & Integrating New Viewers
Many churches hope for most small groups to return to an in-person format, but there’s no denying the added benefit of continuing online options.
Small groups are proving to be a great segue to membership. Churches are finding that organic group introductions have been the most successful way of growing engagement. Because of this, there’s a growing need for small group leaders to become true shepherds and inviters. Transferring power throughout the church by training leaders of online small groups to share church initiatives and bring in new attendees will show significant rewards. As people meet and connect personally in small groups, it encourages them to come back more than a corporate introduction.
There’s also a new realization that small groups might not need seasonal breaks. Instead, during times like summer or Christmas, switch to an online format so people can still attend without the hassle.
One suggestion for training more small group leaders is to have staff or volunteers who were in charge of operations that aren’t currently happening transfer to leading a small group. They already have some experience and know the heartbeat of the church. The more people you can train, the more successful small groups you can manage.
Integrating The Community
Many churches are utilizing this new visibility as a way to connect to their community and build new bonds.
Introducing Your Church - Use this time when you can’t meet people in person to create videos that introduce pastors, staff, groups, and classes you offer. Use video to share your values to let people know who you are, so people can get to know your church without even attending. Share these on your Facebook, Instagram, and website.
Continuing or Establish Classes Online - A vast number of church leaders agree that while most church functions ideally happen in person, classes online are a great way to get more interested people to learn about your church, God, or other ministries like prayer and discipleship without having to physically attend your church at first. Connecting your online audience with online membership courses helps them get to know you before taking the plunge.
Community Involvement - Churches are finding new ways to connect with people who might not be able to leave home right now and even once the world re-opens. While these events start with your congregation, the online benefit is that they’re open to anyone who would be interested. One church is offering a men’s cooking classes for Mother’s Day, couples dancing classes, and broadcasted concerts that the entire community can join and enjoy. This reaches a whole new audience and connects people in a time of isolation. These can continue even after we can attend churches for parents who can’t get babysitters, elderly who prefer not to commute, or even youth who might not have a ride to events.
Our post-COVID-19 world is full of new ways to connect and worship. Share your ideas with us here.