Creating a Structure for Digital Church

September 10, 2020

By now you are tired of hearing how much has changed since March. I will spare you the grandiose talk of “unprecedented times” and all of that. What has amazed me is how quickly churches have made the pivot to online ministry in such a short period of time. I’m convinced that we have done ten years’ worth of innovation in six months. Let that sink in, and then own the fact that you have led well in this season.

Now that many churches have reopened and routes forward are being plotted, we are repeatedly hearing leaders wrestle with how to continue to gain momentum with their virtual ministries while at the same time continuing to grow their in-person experiences. This isn’t easy.

So, where do we start? I am convinced that we need to begin by defining how we are going to do virtual ministry. As we have learned from churches and researched best practices, we have determined that there are 5 models for doing virtual ministry:

  • The Old Normal: These are churches who want to get back to the way things were in January. The goal is to have everyone back together in the sanctuary and to move forward from there. These churches will have recorded sermons on their website in an on-demand format, but not much else.
  • The Simul Service: These churches have the goal of everyone being together, in-person, on Sunday mornings but will live stream their services so that those who are on vacation, sick, or otherwise indisposed on Sunday morning can have a ‘second-best’ option for attendance.
  • The Building Feeder: BuildingFeeder churches ultimately want to have everyone together, in-person, on Sunday morning, but recognize that Sunday morning programming that is customized for their web and social channels can be a great front door for potential attenders. They approach their virtual ministries as a campus and program accordingly.
  • The Campus Launcher: This model is less focused on having people together on campus, but still highly values in-person gatherings. The goal of this model is to birth additional campuses, whether they are micro-sites meeting in people’s living rooms, or full-service campuses made up of hundreds of people. CampusLaunchers have a more regional approach to their virtual ministries as it ultimately leads to a new physical campus or church plant.
  • The Digital Disciple: This is the most radical model of them all as it seeks to engage and disciple people that they may never physically meet. The DigitalDisciple church seeks to extend its reach beyond its region, desiring to create a fully virtual church that makes disciples across the globe.

We dive more deeply into what we are seeing in this free download, but here is what we know: there is no right or wrong model. Each church will need to decide for themselves as to which model is the best fit and then begin to optimize their current staffing, budgeting, and programming to fit the model. While the model isn’t important, what is important is committing to one strategy and moving forward, to continue to build on the successes and momentum that you have experienced over the last six months. 

Interested in learning more about the online ministry strategy options? We unpack them more deeply in this free resource.

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4 Comments

  • Yes, strategies and structure planing are needed now. Yes, we can get excited about feeling like we are doing something from strategic offices. Let’s us not forget the lessons of the 1980’s and 1990’s of the fallacies we discovered in the “If we build it, they will come” and the “High tech/ Low touch gnerations.” The foundations still need to be on building personal relationships. Personally connecting with two people, without an agenda, every day, will help give the mission and the strategy life.

    • Totally agree with you on this. Just because we’re doing ministry online does not mean we can forsake placing a priority in relationships. What I’m learning in this season is that the lack of a clear strategy with our online efforts makes it nearly impossible to create a relationship with those that are attempting to engage with us online. If we’re not intentional now with how we do online ministry we will never put a name and face to those people that are consuming our online content.

  • Niyi Dunmade says on

    Thank you Dr Thom.

    With our world being more and more into digitalization with the younger ones spending increase number hours online, our churches need to explore the radical option of digital discipleship. We need to put this option in place for the future massive harvests.

    I think COVID 19 has made the digital church movement come to stay for a very long time.

    Niyi Dunmade

  • You are correct in saying the 5th option is the most radical model. However, in churches where donating members expect everything to be done only for them, there needs to be an explanation of the need for virtual outreach. Also, your leadership may have to create a membership tier for the online-only people. It is one thing to learn about the faith online; it is another when the online congregation winds up as large as or larger than the in-person one. Someone will ask about membership and want to vote, and there will then be an uncomfortable discussion that could wreck all the efforts.