Engaging with Visitors Online and Beyond
Many of our churches are experiencing a spike in visitors or attendance in their online services. While this is a good thing, we don’t want engagement to end there. We want the love of Christ to continue to touch lives during this time of separation and as we begin to meet in person again as conditions allow.
We asked the ADOTS Canon for Church Planting — and Abbot of the Mission Abbey in Chattanooga — Canon Chris Sorensen how the Mission group of churches is welcoming visitors: starting with its online services and extending to personal connection.
How are you engaging online visitors during Sunday worship?
We use Facebook live for our services, and have staff members assigned to “activate” the chat feature. This is a bit of a balancing act, for sure, as the chat feature can at times feel like a distraction to the service. But, at the end of the day, we feel like the positives of engagement outweigh the negatives of distraction. When we meet in face-to-face worship, we actually feel a similar tension, I think. When someone comes in late, do we still welcome them and engage them? When someone is dealing with a crisis and approaches a pastor, mid-service, do we tell them to wait, or do we engage them? At the Mission, we choose engagement, but it certainly is a valid tension.
Along with engagement, we follow-up with people. Especially visitors.
- First of all, we created a general email account. People are told several times throughout the service that they can email that address to get connected. Also, that instruction is posted in the comments. Also, that instruction is right in the video description.
- Second, we encourage people to sign up to a database. This database also has an electronic giving function, which has been very helpful. When people give, their information goes right into the database. We also send out a weekly newsletter, using that information.
- Third, we invite people to “like” our Facebook page. Now, for some church leaders, this may be a new concept. Here’s how it works: If someone is on your Facebook live feed, they can often “like” the video/service. But, at the end of the service, you can click on those “likes” and then invite those people to “like” your page, as well. When they “like” your page, it means that every time you do something on your page, those people will be notified.
- Fourth, build relationships. This is obvious. The first three steps are just leading to this fourth step. Call people, text them, email them. Get to know them.
- Fifth, invite people to join small groups. Just like in the face-to-face scenario, getting people into actual relational community is key. Our small groups are meeting virtually.
- Sixth, invite people to serve. In this cultural moment, more than ever, our city needs the church. We are doing more service projects right now than perhaps any moment in our history. These are also good entry points for visitors. For instance, every Friday, more than 100 bag lunches are prepared in individual homes (people sign up ahead of time). These lunches are then dropped off at the church building, where they are then collected and brought to a local organization that is serving the homeless population. That organization distributes them to people in need. Service projects are a great “next step” for visitors.