How the Past Year Will Alter Onsite Gatherings in the Future

How physical gatherings will be forever changed

Church leaders thought long and hard about how church online should change in light of COVID-19. But we haven’t invested as much thought into how church onsite should change. Below are some significant ways in which our large physical gatherings will be forever altered.

1. It Will Empower the Mission. This has been said a lot over the past year, but it bears repeating. The church service is not the church’s mission. It can empower the mission but it does not equate the mission. Moving forward we will better utilize our physical gatherings as a catalyst for disciple making.

2. More Transcendent Experiences. Why should guests exert the effort to drive to your campus instead of watching from home? Because there is something transcendent in your physical experience. For years I designed services to be seamless. My goal was to craft experiences with tight transitions and no distractions. Now my goal is to help guests encounter the risen Savior. Practically speaking, this means participatory worship. Longer sets, vocalists backing off the mic and sound engineers pulling back their line array speakers.

3. We’ll Cautiously Invest in Portable Campuses. Online platforms continually change the rules of engagement for the user. These uncontrollable changes have helped and hindered our online campuses. Our physical campuses also have uncontrollable changes and regulations placed upon them from politicians. Portable campuses have additional regulations from corporations. When my church reopened physical campuses they did it with their four permanent locations. We had to wait an additional six months to reopen our two portable locations. The potentially capricious nature of partnerships with portable locations will have us reexamining their viability.

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4. Onsite Messages Will Reflect Online Messages. When we went exclusively online a year ago, our messages adapted in three major ways. They became more conversational, practical and cultural. These changes are here to stay. The messages also became shorter. But I don’t foresee the majority of preachers adopting this change long term.

5. More Conversational Messages. Guests became accustomed to writing comments in the chat and hitting reaction icons. They have become comfortable responding to the message. But, unless you are in a very charismatic church, you aren’t allowed to respond, and even that is relegated to a simple amen. Onsite messages will be more conversational in tone down the road with less “I” and more “we” language. Preachers will also incorporate digital response tools like surveys and polls into their onsite messages.

6. More Practical Messages. Global anxiety peeked after the pandemic hit. Almost every church responded with a series about faith over fear. Preachers became very comfortable delivering practical messages that connected with the emotional needs of their congregations. This is because they envisioned a guest experiencing the message from their couch at home instead of from a pew at church. Practical messages are not going away.

7. More Cultural Messages. There was a lot of pivoting last year. Preachers did this by incorporating responses to cultural events during the week into their message on the weekend. They addressed racial protests, political riots and mass shootings. The need to be culturally engaged and contextualize the gospel for the time and place you are in is here to stay.

Humans have always desired to gather in large groups. Hunter-gatherers did this around a campfire. Modern civilization does this in town halls. Religious groups do this in services. Our physical services aren’t going away, but they are being altered. May they be altered to better accomplish what God has called us to do.

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