Power up Your App: Stay Connected If In-person Services Are Reduced
It’s more important than ever that churches have the tools and technology to reach and minister to their congregation so they never miss a moment to provide support and fellowship. And as news on the spread of the coronavirus makes its way across the U.S., many churches are taking heed from their local health officials on how they can keep their congregations safe to reduce the spread of the virus within their communities.
Churches across the nation are promoting good hygiene practices and taking preventative measures to avoid close contact with others (i.e. staying home if you are sick, sharing the Sign of Peace without touching, or avoiding to Pass the Plate). Unfortunately, unexpected situations like this may lead to a decline in weekly attendance, or may even result in you having to make a decision to cancel in-person services. Shutting down in-person service has the potential to impact your church financially, but with digital tools this should not stop your mission to love people and spread the word.
In fact, situations like this may cause fear and anxiety for many. But as scripture states, God has given us a spirit of love, not fear. We hope that by working together to serve the Church, we might find peace and community amidst these circumstances. Here are some tips and tools to help you spread the word and connect with your people–anytime, anywhere:
1. Power Up Your Church App
There are a number of ways you can still engage with your congregation even when in-person fellowship isn’t possible. Connecting with your congregation through your church app gives you the flexibility to communicate and still reach your community any day of the week.
In fact, 81 percent of all Americans own smartphones. They spend an average of five hours per day on mobile devices—including more than four and a half hours on mobile apps. Communicating with people via your church app is a quick and convenient way to share your message and ensure that people have a place to go for updates and information regarding the church. Some of the most impactful features you can use to help bring people together–digitally–in a time of need are:
Technology has enabled us to bring many of our favorite activities and hobbies right into our homes–such as video arcades, movie theaters, shopping, and more. So, why not bring your church into the homes of your congregation?
If you cancel services at physical locations–by choice or local recommendation–you can still greet your congregation during regular service times in the comfort of their homes. Whether you’re preaching from church, or delivering the sermon from your own living room, it’s never been easier to live-stream so you and your congregation never miss a moment.
Live streaming has become a trending tool that helps churches reach out to their congregations. Case in point, Livestream (a live video platform) reported that in 2016, 2778 houses of worship across 59 countries saw a 38% increase within a year in the use of Livestream to broadcast 166,700 services, ceremonies, and meetings. These numbers are only increasing each year.
When you live stream with your community, it will help increase your church’s dwindling attendance whether it be from a national crisis, disaster, or seasonal change. Beyond just planning for an emergency situation, live streaming also gives you the opportunity to connect your church with those who are sick or physically challenged, members that have moved out of commutable distance, or even families that have Sunday activities and commitments.
Leverage Push Notifications
Get your message directly into the hands–and eyes–of your congregants when it matters most. In fact, did you know that mobile users read push notifications more than they read email? Connecting with your community by leveraging your church app’s push notifications is also a great way to keep them in the loop, most importantly when growing concerns arise.
Before you get started, be sure to remind your congregation to opt-in to receive push notifications from your church app so they don’t miss out on important announcements and information. When they first download your church’s app, they’re given the opportunity to opt into those notifications. If they haven’t updated their preferences since they downloaded the app, now’s a great time to encourage them to update their settings.
Whether it’s adding an emoji, an image, or getting your point across in only a few characters–be sure to check out a few tips to writing push notifications that are genuine. Or, here are a few examples to get you started:
- Weather or health-related announcements (i.e. “Due to [insert details] we’re choosing to close our [insert city] [campus or location]. But church is still happening! For more details click here!”
- Weekly gathering updates (i.e. “Our buildings may be closed this week, but we hope you still join us for worship! Tune in LIVE for our weekly gathering via livestream @ [insert time] this Sunday!”
- Relief event or fund (i.e. “Join us at [insert details] to support those in our community who have been affected by [insert details]. Let’s come together for fellowship and generosity. Click here to learn more!”
In times like these, it’s important that you make notifications relevant and actionable to your community. To amplify your notifications, rich push notifications (which include images, videos, audio, and interactive elements), allow you to personalize your message and will capture your community’s attention even more effectively than static ones.
And in fact, according to our stats, open rates for rich push notifications are double that of static push notifications. Despite the lack of physical contact with your congregation, push notifications will improve communication and engagement within your church no matter where you are and what situation you are in. And what’s better? You can plan ahead and schedule them in advance!
Get Creative with Digital Giving
Despite closures or health concerns, your ministry expenses and missionary obligations remain the same. The decline in in-person attendance should not have to lead to a decline in giving. You can still help your church remain faithful in their giving.
Most recently, Brentwood United Methodist Church in Brentwood, TN, received an announcement of an identified coronavirus case in their county. As they began to strategize how they’d like to proceed, they discussed ways to avoid contact without compromising in-person services.
Determining that passing the offering plate had a higher tendency of passing germs, “we decided we are going to have a place where people can drop checks, and encourage people to use their phones to give through Pushpay,” said Melissa Wagner, CPA, Director of Finance and IT at Brentwood United Methodist Church.
One of the best ways to enable people to give through their mobile devices is Text Engagement. Having everyone pull out their phone and text your giving keyword to 77977 (if you’re a Pushpay customer) is the fastest and easiest way to enable your community to give online during service. Additionally, to make it easy for your live-streamers, be sure to add your giving link to your livestream page.
Relevant to the current times, your church can also start a campaign (i.e. Natural Disaster Relief) that will allow your community the opportunity to donate or pledge money in response to the emergency, especially if your community has been directly impacted or is in need of support.
In fact, if you are in a situation where you’ll be live-streaming rather than delivering a sermon in-person, be sure to still incorporate a message about donations and contributions. Oftentimes that gets left to the last section and people may miss it. We recommend delivering that message up front, especially if there’s a specific relief fund that your church will be focusing on for the week.
2. Maximize Social Media
Leveraging social media is a quick and impactful way to reach your congregation, and compliments the tools and tactics mentioned above. Your church Facebook page in particular is an easy way for you to reach a broader audience more efficiently–especially those that might have missed the opportunity to opt-in to receive push notifications via your church app. You can leverage Facebook as an additional place for people to get the latest news, updates, and announcements.
For example, if you make a decision to close campus, or people choose to stay home, we encourage pastors to make a quick video message and post it on your Facebook page–and let’s not forget about sharing on Twitter and Instagram if you have those channels established as well. Having a personal and genuine message from your leadership team goes a long way, and is a great way to reinforce the plan you’ve created above. Be sure to let your congregation know how they can expect to hear from you about future updates and what you’re most looking forward to in days ahead as your team is managing your approach to worship services.
For additional resources on ways to leverage social media to connect and engage with your congregation, Nona Jones, leader of Faith-Based Partnerships for Facebook, is a big advocate of nurturing your church community online. She provides some great tips on ways to build an online presence and how that can help you reach and advance your goals in expanding your ministry.
3. Reinforce Small Group Fellowship
Lastly, while meeting weekly as a whole congregation may not be an option for some in your community, it’s great to encourage people to connect in smaller groups outside of church or within people’s homes to support each other. Whether that’s taking time to connect at regularly scheduled small group meetings, or snagging a couple of friends for a sermon viewing party on Sunday.
As always, we are here to help you in your ministry and want to contribute to the success of your church. If you have additional questions, or would like to talk to an expert on ways to leverage technology to connect with your congregation, we’d love to hear from you.