Eight Keys to Lead a Digital, Default Church

Eight Keys to Lead a Digital, Default Church

Like it or not, digital is your new default as a leader.

Everyone’s world has changed radically in the last week. And it will likely change even more in the weeks ahead.

As a result, you’re leading your team and people remotely, and, church leaders, you will be heading into your first digital Easter.

How do you lead in that environment?

My phone has been buzzing with questions, so let me offer a few broad thoughts that I hope can help.

They’re mostly broad principles because what we’re facing is an entirely unpredictable and unprecedented crisis.

This is part of a Crisis Leadership series to help leaders navigate the pandemic.

Here are the other (free) resources you can access:

Crisis Leadership, Christian Leadership and the Coronavirus Epidemic

How to Lead Through Rapid, Unexpected Change

Things are changing hourly. But I’m hoping these principles can guide you and your team into the days and weeks ahead.

The principles in this post will work for most leaders, but in this post, I want to particularly drill down on doing church digitally.

My next post will be on leading teams digitally within any organization.

Anyway, here are 8 ways to lead in the new digital default church.

1. MAKE DECISIONS FOR TODAY, NOT FOR FOREVER

I’ve seen some leaders say the church as we knew it is over, that home church with digital shepherds is the new default , or that whatever they’re peddling is the new normal.

Not so fast. That’s very premature.

Do I think things will go back to the way they were? No, I do not. We’ll clearly begin to see a new normal at some point.

But here’s the truth: you and I have zero idea what the new normal is, and have zero idea when the new normal will start.

We can’t even see the bottom of this crisis yet.  So don’t worry about what’s going to happen on the other side. It’s pure, useless speculation.

What you need to do is make the best decision for now, not for forever.

With the situation unfolding the way it is, changes happen in minutes that used to take hours, hours have become like days, and days like weeks.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, focus on serving people today.

2. MAKE THE MISSION YOUR FOCUS, NOT THE METHODS

So what filter should you use for decision making then?

Simple. Make your mission bigger than your methods.

What’s felt so frightening over the last while is that the methods we’ve used for decades (centuries) collapsed before our eyes. The mission hasn’t.

Your methods will continue to flex.

Churches that held services inside buildings last week with no congregation either already can’t or likely won’t be able to do that soon as gatherings of 10 or more or any size are banned.

Large churches with studios who offered their buildings to smaller churches with no gear likely won’t be able to do that for long. Again, maybe not by the time you’re reading this post. (Why? Because your production crew alone is usually larger than 10 people.)

Is that the end?

No…

The model is temporary but the mission is eternal.

In a world that’s falling apart, the mission feels more relevant today than it felt a month ago. The methods will change weekly.

Here’s a quick practical exercise that will take five minutes. I did it with my team earlier this week (remotely via Zoom).

Pull out your mission and values statement. Then ask your team which ones rise to the surface.

We have values like “Serve first” “Pursue Health” and “Choose Trust” that immediately jumped out at people.

Guess what? THOSE haven’t changed. They provide a filter through which we can serve in this crisis to help people thrive in life and leadership.

The methods? They change.

But at least now you remember what you’re about.

In a time of crisis, make your mission central. Make your methods temporary.

3. GET INNOVATIVE…FAST

What you’re probably spending a lot of time doing right now is figuring out how to do what you used to do.

Um, that’s gone. It’s history.

Instead, spend your time on is what you can do. Focus on what’s possible, not what you’ve lost.

Church leaders, trying to revive up what you can’t do is a far less effective strategy than focusing on what you CAN do.

In these early days of this crisis I’ve seen church leaders:

Launch a daily podcast to connect with their church

Start YouTube channels

Get active on Instagram

Take email way more seriously

Do live prayer services on Zoom

Leverage Facebook Live, Watch Parties and Groups

And I’m sure there’s 1000 more examples out there.

Just to give you an example from my own life…I just saw a significant part of my next few months traveling and speaking vaporize. In about 26 hours, all my speaking engagements are cancelled (and wisely so).

I could sit in the corner or pretend to do virtual speaking or conferences, but instead, I asked myself: what does this make possible?

In a single day I went from an idea of launching a new podcast to a full partnership for a brand a new podcast (watch this space).

I also started writing more posts like this, launching this crisis series.

We turned one conference into a digital experience and made it better.

These ideas all came out of the last week, and as a result, we were able to help thousands more leaders almost instantly.

It certainly beats sitting around wondering why things aren’t the way they used to be.

ALL of this is an opportunity to serve…and you need to seize that opportunity.

When I look back on my ‘success’ over the last few decades, a lot of my breakthrough moments came through crisis situations where we weren’t sure what to do, so we just did whatever seemed best.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Crisis can become the cradle of innovation.

4. THINK ABOUT MEANING, MESSAGE AND CONNECTION WAY MORE THAN YOU THINK ABOUT PRODUCTION

So week one of digital church was congregations live-streaming services from an empty auditorium.

For reasons already stated, that’s likely not possible moving forward.

On top of that, it’s a little weird—weird on the level of sports teams playing in empty arenas, which didn’t last long either.

Right now church leaders are worried about production levels, lighting and optics.

It can create a have/have not environment: churches with resources thrive while churches without great production fail.

Again, not so fast.

Production values become far less important when there’s a bigger battle going on.

You know what the world needs right now?

Meaning

Message

Connection

Focus on meaning, message and connection, and you’ll always have an audience.

5. SIMPLE AND REAL BEATS POLISHED AND PROFESSIONAL

If you’re studio-less, which many of you probably are by now, just remember to be simple and real.

Simple and real beats polished and professional in a crisis like this.

You’re probably reading this post on the only device you need to influence the people you lead in the future—your phone. Your phone is probably even 4k…way more than the web requires.

For a few dollars you can buy a good mic (here’s one I use…attach with the adapter your iPhone comes with), get into some good natural light or use a circle ring light, and tripod you can put on a desk, mantle or table.

Boom…there’s your studio for under $100.

My friend Brady Shearer has a ton of  social and online tips on his social.

You want to have a decent camera angle and not look like a slob when you don’t have a studio, but seriously, the internet flattened the world a long time ago.

You don’t need a million dollars to make a difference. Ask any YouTuber.

6. THINK DAILY, NOT WEEKLY

Our past model of church was hyper-focused on weekends, and I get that.

But let me ask you a question: how often do you need hope, encouragement and connection?

If you’re like me, every single day. Same with your people.

Now more than ever, you can take the energy you used to put into gathering on Sunday into ministry on Monday. Still gather on Sundays of course, but as production simplifies and messages go mobile, you will have time, energy and focus to work on daily ways to inspire.

Want some really low hanging fruit?

A few years ago I saw that social media was not producing what it used to produce in terms of being able to connect content like this with my audience.

So I did something I was terrified of: started email people almost daily with a link to content like this.

I was terrified people were going to hate me, unsubscribe and bang down my door with baseball bats.

Let me just say I was shocked when they thanked me. And subscribed. And told their friends to subscribe.

My email list has grown significantly. And while I get a few dozen unsubscribes a day, we get far more people joining the list than leaving it. And a great open rate.

Go figure.

The key to seeing that happen for you (regardless of choosing email, social, YouTube or whatever), is to focus on serving people. Don’t spam them…help them.

If you can help people, they’ll be thrilled to hear from you.

And suddenly, thanks to digital church as the new default, you can go from helping people weekly to helping people daily.

7.  LEVERAGE YOUR PEOPLE TO REACH MORE PEOPLE

For years leaders have said “you don’t go to church, you are the church”. That takes on a whole new meaning when no one can go to church anymore.

The truth is for most of your congregation, church is something they went to, not something they really had ownership in beyond their involvement.

What if that changed….now?

You can leverage the power of your social media and your church’s social media to get the message out, but the real force multiplier happens when you leverage the power of everyone’s social network to get the message out.

My guess is your congregation has never been more motivated to do that than right now.

First, people are growing lonelier by the day.

Second, when a disruption like this one happens, people are willing to change their patterns.

Third, people are looking for hope.

Think about it: everyone you want to reach is online. It’s finally time to act like it.

Everyone you want to reach is online. Act like it.CLICK TO TWEET

Last weekend at our church, our Lead Pastor Jeff Brodie asked everyone to share the link to our weekend livestream with their friends. People did.

Rather than shrinking, we grew from a 1500 people in physical attendance and maybe 1000 watch live online on Sunday, to many times that.

On the first day we couldn’t meet, we grew.

If you think of online church as an obstacle, it will be. If you think of online church as an opportunity, it will be.

It’s pretty much that simple.

8. REPURPOSE YOUR ARCHIVE

Churches are famous for focusing on what’s next. The relentless pressure of Sunday has you always focused on a new message, new music and the next weekend.

However…you have an archive.

Some of you have an audio archive of MP3 messages. Some of you have a podcast. Others have years of YouTube videos or services captured in HD that sit on some website nobody visits.

Leverage those.

One of the questions I get all the time is “how do you write so much content?” People who subscribe to my email list ask me all the time how I come up with so many insights.

I tell them….It’s easy. I’ve been writing for seven years.

Just because your content isn’t brand new doesn’t mean it won’t be new to your audience. Especially a new audience. (And don’t flatter yourself…most of your church has no idea what you said last year, or last month. Neither does mine.)

Back to this website. Sure, I write several fresh posts a week and write a new email every day, but that’s just a few hours of work. The bulk of my content has been developed over years.

And when it arrives in your inbox, so many leaders tell us every day that it’s exactly what they needed to hear.

Here’s what’s true: you may have done your last family series two years ago, but I promise you families haven’t stopped having issues in the last 24 months (quarantine might make that series way more relevant).

Your last money series may be exactly what someone needs to hear right now.

That message you did on hope from the Psalms is exactly what someone feeling at the bottom needs right now.

The amazing thing about email, social media and other online channels you have is you can repurpose and reuse content to meet people where they’re at and reach new people who have never met you.

Not sure how to run campaigns like that of have a budget to hire staff to do it? Check out services like Pro Media Fire (partner link) that can help you for a fraction of the cost of a typical staff hire.

Great older content works. If you’re having trouble communicating with your kids, do you care that Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages was written in the 90s? Nope. You don’t. You read it. It changes things.

The key is to share these on weekdays and on other channels  throughout the week while you’re still directing people to what’s next and new on the weekend.

People don’t care if a message is new nearly as much as they care if a message is great.

Don’t believe this? How many times have you re-watched The Office or Friends?

Last weekend at our church, our Lead Pastor Jeff Brodie asked everyone to share the link to our weekend livestream with their friends. People did.

Rather than shrinking, we grew from a 1500 people in physical attendance and maybe 1000 watch live online on Sunday, to many times that.

On the first day we couldn’t meet, we grew.

If you think of online church as an obstacle, it will be. If you think of online church as an opportunity, it will be.

It’s pretty much that simple.

www.careynieuwhof.com. Used by permission.

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