At Pushpay Summit, we get the honor of connecting church leaders like you with your peers in ministry as well as finance, technology, and communications experts from across the nation. The conference is designed to answer your most pressing questions about practical issues that are affecting your ministry right now.
On a recent panel at Summit, we met with Brandon Hoskins of Soul City Church, Dave Lonsberry at Christ Fellowship Church, Michael Mullikin of Newspring Church, Lawrence Fudge from Mosaic, and Ryan Cameron at Champions Centre and asked them to talk through how they use technology to nurture church growth. Here are their top takeaways.
How should ministries use technology to nurture church engagement?
It’s an essential truth for ministries across the nation, that when someone is gung-ho for the mission and vision of their church, they tend to have a multiplying effect. But in today’s highly digital, highly disconnected environment, it can feel counterintuitive to drive engagement using digital technology. But the Summit panelists believe the opposite.
In fact, each of them, leaders at the country’s fastest-growing churches, heavily invest in technology to unify and engage members. Each agreed that technology isn’t just an onboarding tool to connect their community outside of worship services, but see tech as a necessary part of their engagement plans.
1. Invest in church content
Churches are wellsprings of the best possible content: The good news. That’s what people show up for and it’s what keeps them coming back. The panelists all agreed that effectively engaging with their communities starts with excellent use of the church’s sermons, retreats, special sessions and breakfasts, small group curriculum, and even music.
Churches that are incredible at nurturing newcomers and early members with technology have figured out the value of segmenting their congregants and sending people relevant content. Drawing on data they gather in their church app, ministry leaders are able to segment content for various audiences to ensure that what people get is most pertinent to them. This is instrumental in helping nurture church engagement and growth. People who can rely on their church’s app or website to get information and content that makes the most sense for them will keep going back to the app and engage more deeply with the content and the church as a whole. And engaged people grow churches.
An unmarried person who is shown a sermon snippet on an upcoming dating class will feel more seen, understood, and engaged. Likewise, a single parent who gets rich push notifications about a new parenting group will feel more connected to that ministry.
Lawrence Fudge from Mosaic stressed the importance of using unique, high-quality content to get people excited about what’s happening at the church. Mosaic ensures that their church app prioritizes content about activities that naturally helps drive connection and engagement around important events like Easter and Mother’s Day.
Christ Fellowship Church also invests heavily in great content but in a different way. They focus on communicating individual life change on platforms like social media, showing how other people in the community have been transformed through Christ and involvement in the local church. Regardless of what your ministry is doing right now, investing in content will always lead to deeper engagement with other people as well as the good news.
2. Create simple next steps
Mosaic Church takes it a step further by using technology to nurture people along their community member journey. They encourage people to download the app as a starting point, then gather demographic information about them. From there, church leaders can determine who’s attending their church and how the church can best serve them.
For instance, they’ve noticed that the bulk of their membership is comprised of highly transient, mobile millennials—and that makes a huge difference. Using their app, they encourage millennials to attend very large church groups. Smaller, more traditional church groups tend to be intimidating for younger people so it’s important to get them plugged into a larger setting. From there, church leaders encourage young people to join smaller and smaller groups to get that more personal, impactful community experience. Here’s how Lawrence Fudge puts it.
Data matters for churches
No matter a church’s size, it’s important to use the data that only good technology can provide to help create logical next steps for the people they serve. Maybe for your church, it means sending targeted push notifications to people who only recently downloaded the app to attend a connections class. Or maybe it’s simply making your in-app bulletins more targetted to the demographic that uses your app the most.
When churches make good use of technology, they find themselves with access to a plethora of great data. Newspring Church encourages the use of tools like Google Analytics, Facebook Analytics, and in-app analytics to track the ways people are engaging with church content and see whether or not it’s working. For Michael and his staff, online engagement reflects people’s spiritual engagement and translates directly to more attendance, more baptisms, and overall church growth.
3. Use tech to help drive spiritual growth
Michael Mullikin talked through Newspring Church’s use of technology to help support members’ faith journey. There’s no silver bullet for using tech to drive healthy spiritual habits, but his church makes heavy use of their website and app to help people engage with the scripture, serve, and connect with others. In fact, their ministry leaders believe (with supporting data) that if people read their Bibles, serve, and connect with others they’re more engaged and grow spiritually.
So within their church app, they’ve made it very easy to identify and sign up for volunteer opportunities. For churchgoers who might be disengaged and are looking for an opportunity to have a more hands-on role at the church, getting matched with serving opportunities in the app is helpful.
The church also drives spiritual growth by encouraging people to engage with the good news on their own time. So for people who might have missed services and want to stay engaged, they can simply access the church’s website and app to see what sermons were preached, what scriptures were highlighted, and follow along with message series. Finally, the church makes full use of its app in an effort to keep congregants connected. Biblical community is a cornerstone of healthy, growing churches. Newspring makes an extra effort to nourish small groups and ensure that people can easily find a place to get plugged in.
Giving is another spiritual discipline supported by the tech tools at Newspring. However, Michael admits that this discipline is the hardest to jumpstart among members. The church focuses on other forms of engagement with the intent to help people grow spiritually over time. People tend to start giving money to their church as the final thing surrendered to God in their faith journey, but when that happens, it normally indicates a very faithful and engaged individual. For the moment when someone starts to give, the church already has a digital giving platform set up to support that outward act of faith.
At the end of the day, when people feel like their church knows who they are and they’re being led on a logical journey to deeper faith, their level of overall engagement skyrockets. Ministry growth is an amazing byproduct of a more engaged congregation.
Does online church count for attendance?
Online church has been a topic of debate for a few years now—and with good reason. The Biblical call to community is the undercurrent of every thriving ministry, and it feels generally unclear what that looks like online. Our panelists had some incredibly profound thoughts on the subject. Let’s explore them.
For Ryan Cameron and the rest of the Champions Centre team, church is still about having a real-life connection with people—and that includes the online community. It’s important that the people who want to experience their church online are not excluded, and so they’ve developed a very intentional process for connecting in-person and online attendees to the life of the church.
Ryan encourages ministries to use church online to supplement the in-person experience, especially since it does such a great job of serving those who were home-bound (whether because of chronic illness, or travel). At the same time, he wants those who watch online to get plugged into an in-person community.
While each panelist had differing views on whether online church counted for attendance, they agreed that their peers in ministry should not shy away from nurturing their church community using digital platforms.
It’s a relatively easy way to engage with more people and grow a church’s reach and impact.
In addition to church growth, they all agreed that church online is an extension of weekly in-person worship and spiritual growth. For many congregants, it has been increasingly important for them to be able to go back into their church’s sermon archives to revisit previous messages, and they enjoy being able to actively share these messages with people they know.
So for these and countless other church leaders, church online is an essential part of a modern, growing ministry—no matter a church’s size, denomination, or demographic makeup.
How much should churches invest in church online?
The simple answer is: It’s varies.
For some churches, online church is promoted as a means for growing and nurturing their extremely young and transient church community. For other churches, it’s used as a recap tool to help people who missed a service get the message. For others, it’s only used during the summer months to help traveling families remain plugged into the church. Again, for other churches, online church is used primarily for non-members of the ministry and is used to spread the good news to people who are simply unable to attend church in person.
For Dave Lonsberry at Christ Fellowship, it was a necessary tool when the Florida-based ministry simply ran out of physical land to enable expansion. They launched their online church to grow their ministry while working on their space issue.
“Maybe it’s not ideal but we’re still called to reach people during this time in our generation. And I’m going to bring as many people to Heaven as I can.” Dave Lonsberry, Christ Fellowship
Churches are using the “whatever works” approach where they’re deciding how much of online they’re going to invest, where and how overall. Here’s how MOSAIC church’s relationship with church online changed and adjusted over time.
As church leaders, you need to make decisions about church online that fit in well with your church, culture, and mission.
But no matter which route your church chooses to nurture it community and grow, online church is an effective way to encourage engagement among your members and the wider community.
Technology next steps for small churches
So apps, websites, church online….these aren’t just for large churches that grow by leads and bounds each year. They’re especially instrumental among smaller ministries that are looking to be missional on their street, neighborhood, and wider city.
Our panelists had some excellent insights for smaller ministries wanting to use technology to help nurture church growth.
Manage data with a church management software
It’s critical for churches of every size to have an excellent church management tool in place. This is the foundation for knowing your congregation and using great data to nurture them along the next steps in their community member journey. A church management system like Church Community Builder or Ministry Platform is a great start. These tools will help you input and manage relevant data about your congregants and allow your church to follow up with people and communicate with them intelligently. Many of these platforms also have native integrations with giving platforms, making the direct transfer of information simple and easy for church admin.
Nurture generosity with a giving platform
Digital giving platforms have been an incredible asset to churches since the advent of the smartphone in 2007. With people now spending about 5 hours a day on their phones and using apps to do many everyday financial transactions, digital giving platforms have allowed people to be generous in the same way they practice other important habits. Mobile giving platforms like Pushpay have made it easy for congregants to give and for churches to nurture generosity with intuitive digital tools.
Encourage software integrations
Ryan Cameron with Champions Centre also made the excellent point that churches should make sure their tools work well together to easily engage and follow up with people. He mentioned that many email automation, church management systems, and giving platforms support third-party integrations that allow them to easily exchange information. Do a little bit of research to see how your tools can talk to each other through friendly APIs. So for instance, when a congregant takes a certain action like donates a financial gift, your church software automatically sends them a thank you email and records their gift in your accounting software. Plus, when software systems talk to each other, it cuts down on redundant tasks for church admin, boosting efficiency and simplifying processes.
Talk to other leaders
A huge part of building a suite of relevant and efficient digital tools for small churches is talking to other leaders. Connect with your peers in ministry to tap into their expertise and learn from what they do. Maybe you have a great friend in a ministry across town—take them to coffee and talk with them about the tools that worked for them in the past and the ones that didn’t. Be sure to connect with churches that are just a few steps ahead of you in size or maturity. A church that’s been around for decades with thousands of members and dozens of campuses may not be able to advise you on what church to get for a 200-person congregation.
Technology is an enormous resource to churches of all sizes and demographics. Even ministries with older members benefit from having intuitive, easy-to-use tools to help connect members and the wider community with local churches.
But there’s a fine balance.
It’s critical for churches to encourage in-person community, even as online campuses are launched nationwide. Continue driving those in-person small groups that naturally form from in-app groups. Encourage people to reach out to those who need a little extra support. And enable churches to better communicate and connect with the people they serve. At the end of the day, the panel and the churches our speakers represent agree that technology should be integrated into a church’s nurture strategy as a tool. It shouldn’t be used as a substitute for other forms of outreach and engagement.
To learn how else your church can use technology as a tool to nurture your church community, listen to the Nurture Church Podcast today. It’s a podcast exploring how ordinary churches are doing extraordinary things to nurture community engagement and growth. Click here to listen today!