Are We Fishing on the Wrong Side of the Boat?

I want you to consider something: How long have you been in ministry? Five, 10, 20 years? 

However long it’s been, consider this—how long has your ministry been the same? 

Sure, there are small changes here and there. You now offer online giving. You may have shifted your vision. You might’ve had some significant staff changes. But the way churches generally do ministry—our methods—how long has it been the same? How long have we been teaching the same way? Serving the same way? Doing our weekend services the same way? 

How long have we been fishing on the same side of the boat?

I’ve been thinking a lot about John 20 and 21 lately. I want to share some of my thoughts with you. 

When Jesus was crucified and buried, the disciples grieved not only the loss of their friend, but also the loss of who they thought he was. They scattered in fear. I can’t imagine the depth of their sadness. But then, we get to Chapter 20.

After the crucifixion, we read in John 20:19–23 that Jesus appeared to his disciples. He said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

He’s alive! Talk about unprecedented times. Jesus was who he said he was. He defeated death. He came back to life. Nothing like this had ever happened. Then he gave the disciples the Holy Spirit. What a change of events. 

Then in chapter 21, the disciples went fishing.

Maybe Simon Peter was simply unsure of what to do next. Whatever was normal in the past was not normal now and Simon Peter, in the midst of something new, returned to what he knew. In John 21:3 Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” Then the others said, “We’ll come, too.” So they went back into their old fishing boat, and they caught nothing.

Then Jesus called out to them, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some.” In other words, Fish on the other side of the boat—that’s where the fish are. This side has been fished for years. There’s not much happening there. Try the other side!

I think this Scripture has an interesting parallel to what many of us are experiencing right now. The pandemic is often quoted as being an “unprecedented time.” And it is. 

In the midst of it, many of us would probably like to say, “I’m going fishing.” In other words, I want to get back to what was familiar. I want to get back to habits and rhythms that I’ve known. I want to get back to fishing. But like the disciples, we may need to shift where we are fishing if we want to see the harvest that Jesus has in mind. We may need to fish on the other side of the boat. 

And our hands were forced to do this when we couldn’t gather. We had to cast our nets on the other side of the boat through online services, virtual small group rooms, and the like. And you know what most of us experienced? There’s a lot of fish over here. Online engagement numbers surprised most of us. 

Initially, viewership was higher than we thought it would be. People took next steps to become givers. And while we don’t have all the best practices defined yet on how and what to track, one thing was clear, there are a lot of fish on that side of the boat. And we should probably keep fishing there.

The truth is, the people that God placed around our churches are on that other side of the boat. So the question is, how do we seize this opportunity?

For decades, we’ve designed our ministry strategies around common (analog) methods: 

• Teaching—Come to our weekend services.

• Community—Join a small group.

• Serving—Join a volunteer team!

• Missions—Go on a global missions trip/Participate in a local outreach.

These are all really good things, but times are different, and we have to adjust our strategies to reach new people. It might look a little like this:

• Teaching—Invite people to our online services.

• Community—Join a virtual small group.

• Serving—???

• Missions—???

If we just try to convert our current strategies to digital ones, it’s going to be difficult. And honestly? It’s not going to be as effective. Instead we have to think about it differently. It’s a paradigm shift.

Your weekend services are no longer the front door of your church. Your digital ministry is.

We cannot wait and hope for things to “go back to normal” or think that in-person services will bring people flocking back. We need to shift our strategies to meet people where they are: online.

For more, download the free PDF guide on Designing Your Digital Ministry Strategy from The Unstuck Group.

This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.