Seven Reasons You Must Not Abandon Your Online Services

We are seeing the trends, and they are troubling.

As churches return to in-person gatherings, they are abandoning their digital and streaming services. At the very least, they are not giving them the attention they did during the quarantine.

It’s a mistake. It’s a big mistake. Here are seven reasons why we believe strongly your church must continue to emphasize and invest in digital and streaming services. 

  1. It will grow slowly after it declines. One pastor wrote me: “We had 750 people view our online services the first week. Now it’s dropped to about five during the live streaming service. It’s really not worth our effort.” I get it. But the instant growth churches saw at the onset of the quarantine was an anomaly. Churches that are investing time and other resources in digital services are seeing slow but steady growth after the immediate declines.
  1. It is a great alternative for those who are physically unable to attend the in-person services. Some of your members and guests are homebound. Others are out of town. The digital service becomes their only alternative. And for those of you who are arguing that digital services will be an excuse for physically able persons not to attend, we are not seeing that reality take place. At most, any losses are more than offset by gains.
  1. It is a complement to the in-person service. Though it’s in its incipient stages, we are seeing digital services become a first step for people to come to the in-person services. They “test run” the church several weeks before they attend in-person. We are particularly seeing this trend among nominal Christians and non-Christians.
  1. It opens the door for ministry to the community. A church is not only supposed to be in a community, it should be a ministry to the community. Your church will have much greater visibility to the community with online services than most other alternatives. I am working with one church that is investing $20 per week on Facebook ads to send the services to those in the church’s zip code. It is beginning to show fruit.
  1. It is an incredible instrument for prayer. I am encouraged to see an increasing number of churches offer prayer lines through phone numbers and/or email addresses. A pastor recently told me that their email address ([email protected]<churchname.com>) was growing in the number of prayer requests sent by the week. The church puts that email address on the lower third of the stream several times during the services.
  1. It is truly an Acts 1:8 ministry. Church leaders and members are excited to discover their reach is beyond the community to other points in the nation and the world. The early Christians had to travel the Roman roads to get the gospel from town to town. The internet has become our Roman roads.
  1. It can provide cohesiveness to a multi-site church. More churches are becoming multisite and multi-venue. A number of churches are beginning to open micro-sites. The streaming service can be a place for everyone to get information on what is taking place at all sites. One church takes the first five minutes of the streaming service to give a monthly update for viewing to all sites. It has become a great way for the different sites, venues, and services to all be on the same page. 

I am encouraged that more churches are resuming in-person services. Don’t let that be a reason or excuse to eliminate or minimize your digital services.

Your church would miss a great opportunity for ministry, gospel witness, and unity.

Let me hear your thoughts.

Posted on January 31, 2021


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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25 Comments

  • Hi Thom
    I think that there is just so much (and I thank God) of on-line ministry available that do we really need to pursue it ourselves as such? To the degree we are called to yes. However, we may get so tied up in on-line that it may encroach upon the time and ministry to those ‘in line’ physically at our places of gathering.

    I suppose it comes to “whatsoever He says to you, do it”. Mary

  • This is a great encouragement to me. I do wonder what we can do to reach that small population that can not get out and can not get on-line. We have begun to use a conference call method in service for this population. And I am wondering if there is a better way????

  • We are a small church in Berkeley, CA and we have seen the exact attendance trends you documented in your article. Our state went into lockdown in mid-March. We had a bit of a surge for a month, then it tapered off. We began a steady incline around July/August. Currently, our unique attendees are double what they were a year ago in person. I am not sure any of us know how to interpret that number, but at least we are headed in the right direction.

    Thank you, Dr. Rainer. Your insight has helped me avoid some huge mistakes in my first year as a Lead pastor.

  • It seems to me that the correct method for the church to reach people is every way possible. Online is one way, so logic tells me a church should do that.

    We’ve already seen the results that go with 1/3 membership attendance, and their fulfilling their individual duties.

  • Matthew Lorfeld says on

    Conversely though:
    1) It reinforces the Gnostic notion that the physical (including physical gathering) is of less import.
    2) Especially for Sacramental churches, there is always going to be something lacking with “virtual” worship, namely it is impossible to virtually receive the sacraments.
    3) Worship is not outreach. It is only possible to worship as a believer. Yes, by hearing the Word of Christ, one may believe, but designing worship and making worship decisions based on the opinions and tastes of unbelievers is quite a dangerous slope, and, I would argue a major error of the “church growth movement.”

    I get it, we have radio, local CableTV, and streamed services (and have done the first two for years) that our many homebound and hospitalized members utilize. With that said, there has been an emphasis that if you can’t come to church, the church comes to you. In person pastoral care and brotherly/sisterly Christian consolation is not just a good idea, it is what Christ instituted for the Church to do. Bottom line, I see ditches on both sides (of going all in on online services or getting rid of online services) and think there needs to be some care in proceeding.

    • If you have an online presence why do you have to get rid of it just because you can reopen the building? Personally, I have seen the Body reach out more during the pandemic and hope that we will continue to be the Church in the community as we reenter the building. I know of several ministries who were able to be the bridge to Salvation because of telephonic and online services. My family Church Eben has zoom fellowships for men and women monthly. We are still able to join with each other. As for communion, we are instructed in what to prepare and it is prayed for before we partake. Some Churches even have prepackaged sacraments which are distributed. Just food for thought

  • Jonie Neddo says on

    How do I do the $20.00 a week to bring people to my facebook or website for a zoom or website posted service or connection. You can text me at 919-491-6714 and I will call you. I get lots of calls thoughout the day.

  • Niyi Dunmade says on

    Anything that is useful in spreading the gospel should be given attention by out churches.

    Great article Dr Thom!

    Love this!

  • Larry Strickland says on

    I agree. Like how you described it in an earlier article. If I think of it as a mission field, “on-line” becomes a lot more personal and gets me to thinking Great Commission rather than just thinking of it as a tool. We are blessed that my church and our Pastor were already doing on line services before covid.

  • Thom this is a good article. The only point I question is what I am seeing here at Faith. You said: you are not seeing physically able people not attending because they can view at home and I would say we are experiencing the opposite. We were about
    500 before Covid and have reached 200 as our high since. We have actually drifted backwards some in the past month or more. Many will come to a board meeting or committee that they are on but will skip the morning worship service.

    I hope this will reverse itself but it is not happening yet and we reopened in June. Thanks

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Kevin. Many older adults are comfortable coming to small gatherings, but they are not ready for the larger crowds of worship services. And, yes, the second spike of COVID has caused many churches to regress in worship attendance.

    • The same with my church we have people missing from worship regularly and has become a pattern in their lives

  • The older people who truly need to stay away are not computer savvy enough to use it. They usually watch a local pastor on television. We have people (younger) who stay away and say they watch online. The numbers watching declines weekly. The younger people use Covid as an excuse to not come to Church but they go to the High School sporting events, stores, malls etc. but they can no longer go to church. “Oh we watch online.”

  • We have found that by regularly using Facebook Live\Youtube both for the Sunday School and the Adult Gospel Meetings we are reaching far more people than we ever did when we met in person. Also with the children’s work there has been some expansion.

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    Thom, I am posting a link to this article on my daily blog and I am considering making it the lead article to which I post a link. While some churches have not yet mastered the technology and the art of digital and streamed services, it is not a good reason to back away from these services. Churches that do are closing their eyes and turning their backs on a sizable population segment, a segment that can be expected to grow larger in the days ahead and not smaller. Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and make disciples of ALL people groups, not just the few folks who show up on our doorstep on Sundays and attend our in-person services. Going online is not only one way of going into the community, it is also an important way of going into the community. We still have a lot to learn about online services, online small groups, and other forms of online ministry, but that should not prevent us from making an essential part of our strategy and using it to reach and engage members of the community that we might otherwise not be able to reach and engage.

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