How to Help Your Church Go Digital, Part 2

Congratulations! For many of you, you made it through your first week of doing church online!

It took some creativity and ingenuity, but you made it happen. And that’s something worth celebrating.

So my guess is your thinking, “What now?”

Many states and localities have now issued “shelter in place” orders, so you and your staff and volunteers are probably trying to navigate working from home. 

Are there best practices for church leaders seeking to work remotely? How do you stay connected? How do you collaborate? Manage projects? Communicate? 

Here are Simplify Church, we’ve been working as a remote team for more than a decade now. We partner with churches all over the country to provide financial management services, so it just made sense to allow our team of Simplify Account Managers to work remotely as well. The convenience and flexibility of this set up has truly served both our company and our employees, and I believe it has great potential for your church as well.

With this in mind, here are a few tips, ideas and best practices to help you navigate the next several weeks of working remotely with your ministry staff and leaders. 

KEEP YOUR STAFF AND LEADERS CONNECTED

Overnight, we’ve all gone to a virtual environment. Last week you may have chosen to cancel your staff meeting or your elders meeting or your Sunday planning meeting.

While this is okay for a week or two, it’s not a sustainable way to keep an organization connected. You still need to be in regular contact with those on your church leadership. You can do this via:

Slack – This free messaging service is a very popular way to communicate virtually via instant messaging and group chats. Instead of an email inbox, you have direct conversations with others in dedicated spaces called channels. Pro tip: organize chat channels into broad categories to keep the discussions relevant. 

Zoom – After using several tools and testing them out over the years we’ve landed on Zoom as our app of choice for video calls with those outside our organization Zoom makes the process simple and easy to setup a new call, invite others and collaborate together in a virtual meeting. Zoom offers a free option with time limitations or a simple single user price for $14.99/month.  Single user just means that you have one login. So long as that one individual can schedule the calls (even for others), then that option is viable for a church.

Microsoft Teams – If you already have Office 365, you have access to Microsoft’s chat and video conference tools via Microsoft Teams. In fact, here at Simplify Church, we recently made the switch from Slack to Teams for our internal communication, primarily for the ease of use of Teams Meetings. This system is very simple to use, but if you don’t already have Office 365, it’s probably not worth the subscription in lieu of using Zoom. 

GoToMeeting – A great tool, but not as easy-to-use as Zoom. They offer a similar service to other video conference options. Admittedly, I have not looked into their system after transitioning to Zoom from the simplicity they provide. 

Google Hangouts – If you’re a Google Apps user, then you have access to Google Hangouts. This is a viable option even without the Google Apps setup so long as all users have a Google ID (anyone can set up a google email address for free) and use that to login. Note: there is a bit of a learning curve for this option. 

Email – While I would absolutely recommend you incorporate one on the above tools, in the short term you can stay connected via email. You will just need to remember that it is important to err on the side of over-communicating rather than to under-communicate and risk miscommunication.

KEEP YOUR CONGREGATION CONNECTED

I was listening to a podcast targeted to small business owners the other day. But as soon as I heard this suggestion, I knew it was just as applicable to churches.

The podcast host made the statement: “The businesses that survive this pandemic will be the ones that find a way to stay connected to their audience.”

Now, replace business with the word church.  

This is exactly what will set apart the churches that come out of this crisis stronger from the ones that will end up closing their doors.

Yes, it will take creativity and ingenuity, but one of the best things you can do for your church is lean into this new era of digital connection.

You must find a way to keep your congregation connected. An easy way to do this is to encourage all of your small groups to continue meeting virtually via Zoom, or apps like WhatsApp or GroupMe. 

Stay tuned. We’ll be sharing some more ideas for creatively connecting with your congregation in the weeks to come!

HELP FACILITATE YOUR STAFF WORKING FROM HOME

Let me first address a common concern/myth I hear from those resistant to virtual workplaces. It’s the myth that given the opportunity to work from home, people won’t actually work. 

In over a decade of working with staff remotely I have found the opposite to be true. In fact, often remote staff work MORE than they’re supposed to (which is why it’s important to encourage your team to develop healthy work/life boundaries). 

To be fair, there have been a few instances where an employee took advantage of the situation. But I’ll be the first to admit that it was a hiring issue, rather than a virtual employment issue. I simply hired the wrong individual and they took advantage of the flexibility we offered. 

Working from home is not the issue; it is how we lead and facilitate a remote team that makes the difference. 

Communication

The best piece of advice I can give is to maintain intentional communication with your remote staff and team members. Being intentional means that you reach out to them periodically. Check in and see how things are going. Communicate with them even more frequently than you normally would in an office environment.  

Set up consistent video calls with the team. These calls may be project-related, or they may simply be a chance for people to connect with one another. It’s all about keeping people connected in this new reality, when they may not be used to working from home. 

Pro Tip: If you’re going to use a system like Slack or Teams, you can set up a “check in” channel so that people can let everyone know when they are available or stepping out. I'd also recommend setting up a “virtual water cooler” channel to give people a place for non-work-related discussions. This helps foster community, collaboration and helps people feel like it’s more than just a place for transactional discussions.  

While I’m sharing suggestions that we’ve learned from years of remote work, it is also important to keep in mind that this season is anything but ordinary. Many on your team will be home with children, since most schools are cancelled.

A virtual chat offers an outlet from that 5th episode of Wild Kratts playing in in the background. Also understand that your team members may be less productive and need additional flexibility and grace as they seek to both accomplish necessary tasks and teach/care for children. 

P. S. As the leader, your staff and volunteer leaders are looking to you for guidance and direction. In times of stress and uncertainty, it can be helpful to have a person or a group to process with. You also have the opportunity on calls with your team to help them navigate the days ahead and be the voice reminding them that our security is found in Christ alone! 

Tools

Beyond simple communication, you’ll need to find a system that works for your organization to manage projects and collaborate with team members. Here are some options:

Project, Task Management 

Trello – basically an online dashboard of post-it notes. You can share your Trello board with others and track project progress as you move cards along the lists that you have pre-defined. This is a very helpful tool for managing projects and other needs for your staff. 

Asana – Free online project management software. Asana is a bit more robust than Trello in that it already has some pre-defined ways of doing things. You can setup projects, invite people, track progress and to-dos and set deadlines.   

Basecamp – a paid online project management tool, but at a nominal cost. Basecamp is great as the company itself has written several books about the concept of remote work. If you’re looking for some resources or tips, they have written extensively about it. Here is a piece they wrote about internal communication for remote workers. 

Online Collaboration 

Most of the project management tools listed above will have some cloud storage and collaboration systems built-in, but here are a few other options to help your team share files: 

One Drive – Part of Office 365, OneDrive allows you to share documents and work collaboratively on them. The benefit for many churches is to always have one version of the document so you can be sure you’re always working on the latest draft.  

Google Drive – very similar to One Drive except using Google’s infrastructure. 

Evernote – this is a little less robust from the features of Word or Docs, but still gives a method for cloud storage and collaboration. 

Dropbox, Box – both options are a cloud storage system.  These are great for times when you need to access a file from multiple locations. Neither of these system have online collaboration features, however, so you’d need to use Office 365, Word or Google Docs/Sheets to collaborate.  

REMEMBER THAT SPIRITUAL CONNECTION IS POSSIBLE, EVEN WHEN PHYSICAL CONNECTION IS NOT

Right now as a church leader, you should be encouraging your staff and congregation to stay home and help stop the spread of the Coronavirus.

But as you do that, you may feel a sense of confusion or loss. The Church has always been about connection, community and reaching out to meet needs. What should the Church look like in this season? 

The good news is that this crisis is simply a reminder that the Church was never about a building; it was and always will be a movement of people. The even better news is that God is not at all limited by our physical distancing. 

A pastor in our Oasis pastor networking group shared recently that he was able to lead a member of his church to Christ over a Zoom call last week. The mission and the message of Jesus and the movement of his Church continues, regardless of what workspace we use or how we gather together. Isn’t that a wonderful thought! 

I’d love to hear how your church is navigating the move to collaborating remotely. If you have any questions or we can help your church out in any way, drop me a line Josh@simplifychurch.com

How to Help Your Church Go Digital

With the health crisis brought about by COVID-19, pastors across the United States are facing some significant questions right now. Questions like:

  • How do navigate our church through this season of crisis?
  • How should we respond?
  • How can we keep people connected?
  • How do we focus on the mission and keep momentum going? 

And perhaps the biggest question for many pastors:

How do I take my church online?

Many large churches already have robust online platforms in place. But if you’re the pastor of a small or growing church, your church may not have a strong digital presence. 

The good news: You don’t have to know technology well to have an online platform. 

What you do need is a well-thought out action plan. Here are a few steps you can take to help your church community go digital:

TAKE YOUR CHURCH SERVICE ONLINE

Begin with your weekly large group gathering. Think through the important elements of that gathering. How you can provide those same elements digitally? Are there creative ways to accomplish the same objectives?

Here are six service components to consider:

Worship

Will you have a worship leader lead worship solo or can you bring a small worship team together? Will this be pre-recorded, or recorded live?

Prayer

Will you include a time of prayer and reflection as part of your online service? Could you offer a weekly prayer guide for members?

Sermon 

Similar to your worship, will you pre-record a sermon or will you preach a sermon and stream it live? Could you offer digital sermon notes for people to download? Are there other resources you could provide to help them digest the sermon?

Giving 

What percentage of your congregation currently gives online vs. in the plate on Sunday morning? What steps could you take to help more people to give online?

Make sure your congregation knows how to set up online giving or text-to-give. If possible, have an easy-to-click link to your giving page close to wherever you are encouraging people to to to watch your service online. 

If you haven’t already done so, offer a guide or tutorial that explains how to give online and encourages people to set up reoccurring donations. 

It is also crucial during this time that you explain to your members the how and why of giving. As more people become financially strapped, having an understanding of WHY we give and HOW those funds will be used becomes even more important.

For more ideas on how to do this, download our free guide to Building a Culture of Generosity at Your Church. 

Families 

Let’s be honest, most churches usually offer separate activities for children during the main services. For many families, worshiping together at home can be a new (and somewhat distracting) experience. Think through how your service can become more family-friendly or how you can provide additional resources to engage families. 

Guests 

You may not physically be welcoming guests to a building, but that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with guests. Consider having a digital connection card for people to complete that watch your service online. 

This moment in time is unlike any of us have experienced in our lifetime. Now, more than ever, anxiety is high, and people are searching for something that will bring them peace. 

Encourage your members to invite their friends and family to watch your online service. And if someone does tune in for the first time, encourage them to complete the digital connect card. Then follow up with a text message or email thanking them for attending. Consider sending a letter or small welcome gift in the mail as well. 

For more specific suggestions on the nuts and bolts of setting up a digital church service, check out this video.

KEEP YOUR COMMUNITY CONNECTED

Connection 

As Hebrews 10:25 reminds us, “Do not neglect meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

So how do we keep connection? How do we “meet together” digitally?

Consider additional ways you can foster community and discussion online via your church website or perhaps a church Facebook group. 

If your small groups are not currently meeting in person, encourage those smaller groups to stay connected via email, Facebook or apps like GroupMe or WhatsApp.

Another benefit of having digital connect cards is that they can offer an opportunity for members to submit prayer requests and needs. Perhaps you can publish an anonymous list of requests and needs. Encourage your members to be praying over these requests and give members the opportunity to help meet one another’s needs. 

Communication 

Now more than ever, it’s important that your congregation knows how they will get information from you. Will you post updates to your church website? Will you communicate via email? Will you post via Facebook or Instagram?  Whichever methods you choose to use, be consistent and communicate updates regularly. 

BE A VOICE OF CALM IN A STORM

Almost every person that I’ve spoken with in the last several days has expressed feelings of heightened anxiety and uncertainty. As church leaders, we can either add to the noise and chaos or we can speak truth and joy into the void.

Be aware of how you interact with those you speak to. Do your words bring clarity or confusion? Do they add to people’s anxiety levels or do your words convey peace and hope? 

In addition to official church communication, use your personal social feed (if you have one) to remind people of the source of our hope, peace, courage and joy. As leaders, people are watching and taking cues from how we respond to this situation. 

This is an opportunity for the Church to be the Church in a moment of crisis. As a leader of your local church, you can help set the tone for this and role model the way. 

THE OPPORTUNITY

This is a moment in history where churches have the opportunity to lean into the uncertainty and develop creative solutions to meet both the current and future needs of those in our congregations and our communities

Regardless of the size of your church, this is an opportunity for your church to shine a light and spread life in the cloud of uncertainty and darkness. Now, more than ever, people are searching for comfort, for peace, for hope, for rest. All of these things are found in Jesus! 

Will you step into this opportunity?

CONCLUSION

As we navigate the days, weeks and months ahead, it is our intent to provide you with as much relevant resources, tips and encouragement as we can.

In our next post, we’ll share more about the impact of going digital on the operational side of your church and what you need to consider from an administrative and financial perspective. 

In the meantime, please reach out to us with any questions. We are here to be a resource to your church, and to help you navigate this unprecedented time in our history.  We are praying for you. And we are here to help in whatever way we can.  

5 Helpful Responses to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) For Your Church

In the last 48 hours, the feelings of many Americans about COVID-19 and the impact that it has on their personal lives has shifted dramatically.  

 Across the country, events and gathering spaces are closing in an unprecedented way. Schools are shutting their doors, churches are cancelling services and many Americans are being asked not to come in to work or to try to accomplish all their tasks from home (while simultaneously teaching and caring for their children).  

This can cause a lot of fear, anxiety and stress for many people, both inside and outside of the Church. Here are five actions your church can take to respond to this crisis in a healthy way.

1. Start With Prayer

Enough said.

2. Plan, Not Panic

We should absolutely take COVID-19 seriously. It does not do our churches any good to pretend that this virus will not impact all of our members in some way. A feeling of panic comes naturally to people. What is needed is not panic or a reactionary stance, but rather to prayerfully and thoughtfully make a plan for the ways it will impact our congregations. 

  • Is there a better way to encourage greeting one another that limits physical contact? 
  • What if your Sunday service does not meet?  
  • Should you gather in smaller groups? 
  • Do you have a way to digitally stream your Sunday service? 
  • Should your small groups still meet?  
  • Should your youth or children’s programming be altered in some way?  

What is right for one church, may not be right for another. This is why approaching all of these questions with an attitude of prayer and seeking the Lord’s guidance is so important. People want to know that those in leadership are trustworthy and are making wise decisions. By being proactive and communicating your plans and actions, you continue to build that relationship of trust and help prevent people from moving to a sense of panic.  

3. Encourage Generosity

Our response should not be to hoard resources, but to consider those around us. Encourage those in your congregation to continue to give and live generous lives. Encourage people to continue to give to your church as well. 

As a church leader you may be concerned about the financial impact to your church. 

If you need to forgo meeting together on a Sunday morning, do you have a way that people can still fund the mission of your church? Make sure that you have digital giving options for your members AND make sure they know how to do it. If someone regularly gives on Sunday morning, they may need a simple tutorial of how to set up online giving. 

This is also an opportunity to encourage your regular givers to set up recurring giving if they aren’t already doing so.   

4. Promote Being a Good Neighbor

In this season, there are many people that are feeling even more fearful, stressed, isolated and confused. Many will face significant financial stress and it seems all of us will face a shortage of toilet paper.🤷‍♂️

Encourage those in your congregation to be a light and a good neighbor to those around them. It is about being intentional with our words and actions. Have groceries delivered to a friend in need. Call/text friends and family to check in on them. Be intentional about meeting needs and looking for opportunities to share the hope we have in Jesus Christ.  

5. Spread Faith, Not Fear

God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).  

During trying times and events that affect our nation as a whole, people tend to lean into anything that can give them a sense of peace and security. It is our responsibility and opportunity as Christians to be open and available. We can show how our faith prepares us to handle uncertainty, knowing that God is in control and has a plan for us even when we don’t see it. 

Be confident, be strong and courageous and be available to minister through this time. This is a huge opportunity to offer hope and to “care for the least of these.” 

Every church will have to take measures to deal with this unprecedented time according to their own best judgment and the advice of the local authorities.  The church can be a beacon of hope during this time so keep your eyes open to opportunities that may exist to be the hands and feet of Jesus.