Many churches moved to online worship out of necessity when buildings closed due to the pandemic.  Other churches were already online, but had to shift other ministries to online offerings.  Online worship and ministry will never be the same as it was in February 2020 – nor should it be.  The world has dramatically shifted – permanently.  I wonder if the church will dramatically shift – permanently.  I hear so many churches just “wanting to get back to normal.”  It reminds me of the cliché often heard in churches, “we’ve never done it that way,” as an excuse not to try something new.  Rather than going back to normal, what if we were to move forward?  I believe that those churches that embrace online ministry as the primary mode of ministry and the onsite ministry as secondary will be the churches that will be vital in the upcoming years.  Those that do not embrace online ministry will likely be that much more contextually irrelevant leading to more decline, perhaps more rapid decline, or even closure.

Note:  In my blog, Online Worship or Online Ministry, I offered a distinction of the difference in online worship and online ministry: “Offering online worship is providing a 30-minute to one-hour worship experience. Offering online ministry is providing a comprehensive offering of the full expression of the church.”

Here are key shifts churches will need to seize to move from online worship to online ministry:

  1. Mind Shift:  The first and most major shift is adjust how we think about our online offerings.  To serve those connecting with us virtually, we must offer the full range of ministry and thus discipleship opportunities.  We must consider how we not only offer a worship experience but we also offer radical hospitality, connection (relational and other ministries), discipleship, service, generosity, congregational care, leadership development (staff and lay leadership), evangelism, and connecting with the mission and vision of the church.
  2. Mode Shift: The second shift is somewhat basic, but we still must make a shift to its reality.  We have gone from live, onsite worship and ministries to virtual.  The different mode delivery must cause us to rethink everything.  Just because it “worked” onsite (or we thought it worked or had gotten used to it the way it was done), does not mean that it will work virtually.  Everything must be up for evaluation when we shift from the mode of onsite to online.
  3. Method Shift:  The third shift is method.  This shift relates to the form, procedure, format, and order.  For example, the order of worship both in terms of order and content may likely need to be evaluated and reconsidered.  What content and format small groups use may need to be revamped.  We simply cannot automatically offer virtual ministries as a duplication using the same method they were offered in-person. 
  4. Mission Shift:  The fourth shift is a multi-faceted shift.  While our mission/purpose of the church as making disciple-making disciples does not change, the way we go about accomplishing the vision must change.  I refer to the unique way each church makes disciples and lives into God’s preferred future as vision.  Likely each church will need to re-vision.  Any time the needs of the mission field (community), the passions of the leaders, or the gifts of the congregation change, there is a need for a new vision.  I would have a hard time thinking that any church would not have a change in at least one if not all three of these areas in these past months and will have in upcoming months.
  5. Money Shift:  The fifth shift is the resource of the dollars.  As we shift with a new vision, mindset, mode, and method, we also need to shift the way the dollars are used.  We must align the budget to these new shifts.  Using the same budget allocations as last year will result in a disconnect to our new reality.  For example, many churches are shifting dollars from facilities to more dollars for technology.  Other churches are shifting staffing dollars to new positions to support and grow the online ministry.  Churches are also shifting programming dollars to different offers using the new method, mode and perhaps audience.
  6. Ministry Shift:  The sixth shift is what may be referred to as a Ministry Audit.  This process would evaluate how well every ministry the church is currently offering is realizing the mission of making disciples currently.  What is the participation level?  Have both the mode and method been updated and edited?  Is the ministry connecting with new people?  How much resource (time, energy, money) consumption is it using for the intended outcome (should be connected to disciplying mission)?  Rather than just updating the delivery style, we may need to stop, start, or modify our ministry offerings.
  7. Movement Shift:  The final shift is movement.  All that we do must help or at least direct people in their next “move” a connectional step in their discipleship.  Too often we plan and implement worship, programs, and events in a silo.  We need to shift into strategic planning that connects one ministry to another and one step in discipleship to the next step.  This applies not only to each ministry area, but also from one ministry area to another.  For example, how does the theme and message of worship connect with a service opportunity?  A small group?  The practice of a new spiritual discipline?  A new relational connection?  An event?  Next step in generosity?  When we offer a bridge event (offsite activity for the sole purpose of building relationships with the unchurched), what is the next step we are offering the participants?  We have been led to believe that they might suddenly show up for worship the following Sunday – even without ever being invited.  While this might happen on rare occasion, in my experience it is not the norm.  We falsely believe, act, and expect that we are still living in a world that an attractional model of church still works.  Instead, we need to be much more relational and intentional building relationships with our neighbors and continuously offer and assist people in their next steps.  We must think of our ministry opportunities as pieces to one larger picture rather than each ministry being a separate puzzle.  The big picture is a faith community of mature disciples who are transforming the world!

We are in a season where adaptation has been used to get us this far during a pandemic.  We had no choice but to adapt.  Now we have the opportunity to innovate.  These shifts will help us move beyond adapting to truly innovating to reach new people, in a new time, and in new ways.  It is a time to dream of what is possible.  It is a time where there is opportunity for change in the church that might otherwise have taken years.  It is a time to no longer pivot.  Pivot leaves one foot planted.  Rather, it is a time riddled with opportunity to move both feet and shift!