How Shifts in Digital Behavior Are Changing Outreach

Churches can’t afford to ignore these trends.

The ever increasing shifts in culture seem to be happening at warp speed. That which would have taken years can now happen in a matter of months.

For example, a church with a few hundred attendees can reach a thousand or more when it’s viewed online. Or a church with a few thousand people during a live service can turn into a church of hundreds of thousands. And while lots of people have questions about whether this is a good thing or not, the truth is, this is the age we live in.

In the past, the church has often been a late bloomer in cultural trends, racing behind to keep up instead of being a trendsetter.

There are elements and shifts that are beyond our leadership that affect church growth.

You can be a good leader and communicator and yet your church can be in decline simply because you’re not making certain shifts toward the digital world. After all, everybody you want to reach is online. If you’re not there, you’re missing them.

Here are five digital shifts that affect church growth:

1. Digital Has Become the New Normal.

The new normal for many growing and multisite churches is for people to watch the message on a video screen. The pastor preaches at one or maybe two services and the message is aired in other services or campuses on a big screen.

What was strange years ago is now normal. We all consume large amounts of content on screens.

Younger adults have fully embraced a digital platform and are very comfortable watching the message digitally at a live service. This is revolutionary. Embracing the digital platform helps prevent burnout of the lead communicator (if you have multiple services) and allows for easier expansion to reach the community beyond the traditional four walls of the church building.

You may be asking, why would people attend a service to experience the message digitally? Great question.

Because they want a non-downloadable experience. People come for the community, live worship, kid’s ministry, relationships and to bring their friends.

Churches that understand that the platform has become digital are experiencing a reach that extends far beyond the weekend services. The digital platform expands the reach of messages to thousands more online than those who walk through the doors of the building and can be relived and shared over and over again.

And online church is a front door. Many visitors watch online services for a few weeks to months before attending an actual service.

When you focus on the digital platform experience online, you can expand your reach which will, in turn, affect the growth of your live services.

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Churches that shift to a mindset that the pulpit is not just live but is also digital will reach more people and experience growth over the next decade.

2. Apps Aren’t Your Front Door. Websites Are.

With the invention of smartphones came the rise of apps.

There was a short trend that suggested church apps would completely replace church websites. It was similar to those saying email would die. But today, the opposite has happened. Emails and websites are stronger than ever.

Surprisingly, nobody visits an app to check out a church. Why? Because they Google their question, and Google leads them to websites, not apps.

Venturing through the church website creates a digital experience that allows the church to have a voice and speak into the person’s life, or it repels them.

The website isn’t nearly as much for the congregation as it is for unchurched people who are searching for answers.

In today’s culture, the main purpose of the website is for the unchurched and the first-time visitor. Sure, your church website will have information for those in the church, but you could put that on an app (for attenders) or on the back pages of the site.

Websites are the digital foyer. Your website is the gateway for new people to discover amazing leadership, preaching and a faith of their own.

3. Right or Wrong, Decisions Get Made in Seconds.

Digital decisions are lightning-fast decisions.

In a matter of seconds, you make decisions about whether to keep watching a video on YouTube or click away, bringing the level of expectation higher than it’s ever been. Quality media is expected by those in your community for this reason.

Stopping the scroll goes beyond social media and translates into your church website.

When someone lands on your church website what do they think?

Your digital presence is sending a message from you that a generation is welcome or not welcome. This message is not done in words but the actual design of your website. Just like stopping the scroll, the decision is made in seconds.

Before they watch a message or read what your church is about, the website visitor has already made a snap judgment about the church. The decision is made visually and through the power of design.

How often do you buy a product at the grocery store for the package and you haven’t even tasted it? You liked the packaging, so that is the one you choose. The other product may have tasted better, but you make a snap judgment based on the package. Whether you buy it again will depend on the taste, but trying it out was based on the brand packaging.

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Today, people make a decision to visit your church because of your brand and design. Your digital presence and design matter more than the building you meet in for services.

Again, that might not be ideal, but it’s real.

People have already made a decision about you before ever walking through your doors. This changes the visitor experience and how you need to treat them in your services.

If the digital experience is one that greatly affects your weekend visitors at your services, it only makes sense to get digital right.

4. Outreach Is Also Shifting to Digital-First.

Some of you remember the days you would go door to door as a church to evangelize.

But today things have changed. Almost nobody knocks on doors anymore (except couriers) and when they do, it’s almost counterproductive. What if you could knock on every cell phone within 30 miles of your church?

The good news is you can through Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

You can literally reach your community digitally and single out those in need. Then with a simple follow-up strategy in place, you could call or meet face-to-face with those needing prayer for a personal tragedy.

Your church has the biggest opportunity in history to reach your community for Christ. But are you maximizing the digital platform of your church?

What if your social media became a beacon in your community that said, “We are here to help”?

Over the next decade, the church that invests in digital will reach more people for Christ.

5. Rural and Urban Have Become More Equal.

Digital and the internet has reshaped the world.

Even in rural communities, people have access to the same media as the big cities. It’s flattened our experience and broken down divides that used to exist because of geography and culture. While there used to be a big gap based on location, the average kid in the country has the same access to YouTube and TikTok the average urban kid does.

What does this mean for the church?

Churches that are intentional about creative media will be the ones who are heard in the future. Most young millennial couples will be reluctant to share a post from their church that has an outdated design?

Media brings the entire world together, and that means the geographical divide that impacted churches a decade ago isn’t nearly the factor it used to be.

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