It wasn’t so very long ago that your church’s front door was … your front door. It was how newcomers and visitors (and everyone else) came to you. The values held by growing churches were accessibility and hospitality, making sure those joining you could easily get in and feel welcome.
About a dozen years ago that changed, dramatically. Your website became your new front door. Everybody who was even considering visiting you was first checking you out online. Growing churches valued their websites and built them to be attractive and kept them up-to-date. A tired, out-of-date website was tantamount to a locked front door.
Of course, that is still true, but I will go even further. Your online weekend broadcast is probably the very first place visitors and newcomers are checking you out. Practically every church I know put their weekend Mass online during the pandemic, and hopefully, most have been wise enough to stay online (because everybody you’re trying to reach is still on the internet).
And unlike a website which can be designed to make your church look like whatever you want it to look like, the broadcast doesn’t lie, for better or worse. But beyond an honest look, can your online experience attract return or even in-person visits? After spending a little bit of time recently visiting other churches’ broadcasts, a few thoughts occurred to me.
The technology you have available is obviously the make-or-break issue for live streaming. Some smaller churches really can’t do more than a single fixed camera. But, if at all possible, make the investment you need to ensure that newcomers can see and hear everything that is happening during the Mass.
If you can have multiple cameras, perhaps you could even launch a technology ministry team to do it all for you (there are plenty of people in your pews who would love to get involved in this way, and many of them are in middle and high school).
Just like the old-fashioned front door, here, too, accessibility and hospitality are key, they just look different. Is your broadcast easily accessible on your website, is it really the most evident, obvious thing of all for visitors to your homepage – especially on Sunday? Is your broadcast available only on your website, or are you leveraging live social media channels such as YouTube live and Facebook Live to help newcomers find your stream? Is there a chat feature to engage visitors and give you a chance to get to know them (if they want to be known)? Is there a prayer feature where they can request prayers?
As new people check out your church, they won’t always become regular Mass-attenders right off the bat. They might dip their feet in while joining you online during off weeks, or while they are traveling. This reality makes it even more important that your in-person Mass or church service acknowledge the presence of your online congregation.
Are they included in the greeting? When challenges are given or opportunities offered, do they get to be a part of it all? Are all your discipleship steps available online (online small groups are a great way to connect those online)? If you have a church bulletin, is it also online? Or, better yet, ditch the bulletin altogether and make your announcements available anytime online.
Adapting to the challenges of today won’t be easy. It will require us to learn new skills and ways of communicating. But it will also likely play a major role in how we reach this generation. Don’t keep your new front doors locked.