Maximizing Online Ministry for gospel growth
COVID-19 pandemic has brought devastation worldwide, leading to countries going under lockdowns to try and avert the pandemic. The sad reality is that COVID has not spared the church, and most of us have been bothered by these questions, especially those in leadership; how can we faithfully continue reaching out with the gospel and discipling believers? At a time like this and in a world like this, how can we fully maximize the online platforms for the gospel ministry?
Embracing online Ministry
Recently there has been a widespread relaxation of the lockdown conditions in different countries. But this relaxation of lockdown restrictions has seen cases soar and lives continue to be lost. In some countries like Zimbabwe, small numbers were being allowed to meet whilst observing the WHO COVID-19 guidelines and protocols, but now we are back to curfews and only the day to day essential services running. Schools’ and colleges have been closed until further notice. This has resulted in the frustration of many ordinary citizens. I have continuously heard people saying, “When it is back to normal…” But from the look of things, this is our new normal. Even if by some chance we get back to that normal; life will never be the same. As such ministry in whatever way we used to know is over. We need to embrace the new normal and trust Jesus words when he said “I am with you always to the end of the age”.
For some years now I have been engaged with Global Missionary Online where we respond to online seekers and disciple them. Many of my peers found it hard to embrace it as ministry. They could not fathom how someone sitting behind the computer or worse off on a smartphone can actually say they are doing ministry. With the COVID-19 pandemic we all have been put on the same wavelength. One of the things that the pandemic has radically changed is what it means to meet for church services, small groups, Bible studies, meetups, Sunday school classes, and much more. Meeting together has been an important way to connect, encourage each other, and engage in fellowship (Hebrews 10:24-25). But as the pandemic has forced most of those in-person meetings to cease, the need for such meetings has only grown. Embracing the online ministry will mitigate the need to a greater extent.
Online Church vs Physical Church
The debate about online ministry is over because online has won consequently. We need to stop trying to slaughter and bury the online blessing and begin to use the available online platforms effectively for the kingdom. As people around the world have been forced to stay in their homes, avoiding in-person contact with family, friends, co-workers, and skipping many of the activities they enjoy, it has taken a psychological and physiological toll on the population. Prolonged social isolation leads to loneliness, depression, and anxiety and is linked to increases in disease and suicide. In a recent Wired article, Harry Taylor, who studies social isolation in older adults, says that “the mortality effect of social isolation is like smoking 15 cigarettes per day.”….
What I have noted is that the online ministry has moved from the sideline to the front line. Even with relaxation of conditions, only 50 people can gather in a place at once so now there is need to build BOTH front lines. The nature of content consumption has switched from in-person to online. Faithful church-going congregation has been exposed to the online church, regular face-to-face customers have been introduced to internet order and delivery. They have now tasted the honey and they like it, for me the recent permission to gather has confirmed this as there has been reported decrease in the number of congregates gathering with some who used to reach over half a thousand struggling to have 50 people. Of course, the fear associated with COVID-19 has a part to play but we cannot deny this reality.
Maximizing online platforms for Ministry
From what I hear, the big concerns of having both online and in-person services are real like losing physical attendance, Christians will be getting lazy and losing the habit of attending church services, among others which the bible warns us not to (Hebrews 10:24-25). As God’s children we need to harness online platforms and use them for His kingdom for we will give an account of how we used our time, talents and resources he avails to us. In Matt.25:14-30 the third servant clearly denotes the failure to understand the nature of his responsibility in which he ended up blaming his Mater. His action was irresponsible, and he plays it safe and achieving nothing in the end. This represents a disciple who is concerned of not doing anything wrong forgetting that failure to do good you ought to do is also sin (James 4:17). In other words, being ready in season and out of season consist not only keeping your slate clean but inactive responsible faithful service which produce results. It has been instructed to us and it is in our best interest as Christians to try our best for the kingdom with what has been given to us, so why not? You don’t have to be a technical savvy to use these platforms, what is needed is willingness to learn and being effective in using them for our fellowships as well as bible study among others.
One of the things I have observed in Zimbabwe is that we don’t have the internet of things but bundled internet where we have WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest among other bundles. Maybe very soon we will be having Zoom and Telegram bundles as well. One downside of these bundles is that we are at the mercy of the mobile network providers who can easily throttle the bundles such that we don’t get the best. This may call for use not only to rely on using one platform but to be on a number of them. With the outbreak of coronavirus, one platform called Zoom has found itself being widely used for meetings among other things. Most people have Zoom accounts now, but how can you facilitate these meetings well so people feel connected and loved? I am going to share principles for successfully holding these meetings I learnt from Patrick Martin, a team leader with Cru.
- TREAT YOUR CALL LIKE YOUR HOUSE. IT’S YOUR JOB TO HELP MAKE YOUR GUESTS COMFORTABLE.
If you have a meeting at your house, you would be there before everyone arrives, make sure everything is in order, greet people at the door when they arrive, show where the bathrooms are, offer a drink, etc. When hosting an online meeting, it’s your job to make sure everyone feels at home and welcome. “You might show them how to mute their call, how to get their video set up. You might even help them learn how to download the platform beforehand.”
- IT’S UNAVOIDABLE. IT’S AWKWARD UNTIL IT’S NOT.
Online meetings are much more awkward than meeting in person. People talk over each other, forget to unmute themselves before talking, and freeze from bad Internet connections. But that’s okay. Recent research shows that Generation Z and some Millennials are skeptical of things that are too slick. They value raw vulnerability, shaky selfies on TikTok and Instagram versus highly polished productions. “Embrace the awkwardness. Younger generations would rather you be awkward than slick.” Once people get used to meeting together in your online community, they will get used to that “new normal” and you won’t need to apologize for technical glitches and other issues that come from the medium.
- JUST LIKE BEFORE, PEOPLE NEED FOCUSED AND UNFOCUSED TIME.
“It’s going to be tempting to just sort of go through your content and then say bye to everybody,” Patrick says. Unfocused time, however, is an important part of the meeting. “People need time just to catch up, to hang out with each other, to share highs and lows of the week.” One suggestion is to not close the meeting as soon as you’re done. Instead, give everyone extra time at the end of the call so that anyone who wants to stay longer and continue to talk can do so. As the online meeting host, you can leave the call while leaving it open for those who want more time.
- CREATE TOUCHPOINTS BETWEEN MEETINGS.
Whatever your meeting cadence is – weekly, monthly, whatever – it is important to have touchpoints in between those meetings so people feel like they’re connected throughout, not just when they jump online for a call. “Just like in real life, if you only see someone once a week, it’s not a real relationship.” That can include asynchronous communication via text, WhatsApp, Facebook, or some other platform. It could also be using a buddy system, where everyone in the group is paired with someone to keep in touch with during the week. Social events like a game night can also work.
If you’re a current Christian leader, hopefully these tips can help you improve your online communities. If you’re not leading a group, this is a great time to start one. People are in need of community (Romans 12:5), perhaps more than ever, and by starting a group you can be a blessing to those in need remember we are created as relational beings for God is relational.