Improving Church Engagement During Online Services

What is Engagement?

As we move forward in 2022, it is time to start rethinking engagement.

What does true engagement look like? What does it actually mean?

The word "engagement" has become a buzzword mentioned constantly in advertisements and magazines: “7 engaging conversation topics for your next dinner party” or “Ways to keep your kids engaged and not bored during a snow day.” It seems that the main goal of engagement is catching people’s attention and keeping the audience entertained.

Has church really become a vehicle for entertainment?

In the last few years with church attendance declining and online church services on the rise, church leaders have become skilled content creators. Whether it’s streamed Sunday services, virtual small groups, or recorded daily devotions, people are able to access an endless supply of video content at their convenience. It is not uncommon for pastors to feel like they are content creators first and pastors second.

Should church be considered content?

Some could even argue that online church has become another streaming platform where people passively watch a church service without connecting with the rest of the church community.  

This year, instead of focusing on how to keep people “entertained,” start thinking about engagement in a different way. Start to see engagement as creating a welcoming environment, focusing on the purpose of gathering, and drawing people into the space and community.

Here are a few tips.

Create a Welcoming Environment

Take a moment and think about a place and time where you felt really welcome and comfortable. Maybe it’s your grandmother’s house or the local coffee shop down the road. Now, ask yourself what about this place/time made you feel welcome? Here are some ideas:

  • You felt seen
  • You felt wanted
  • You were known

While online services allow some degree of anonymity, people still want to be acknowledged and known. Even the wallflowers don’t want to be invisible all the time!

How can I do this online?

  • Introduce yourself

If you are a host, greeter, or facilitating the service, take a moment and introduce yourself in the chat or create a little welcome video to play at the beginning of the service to let people know who you are and your role.

When people enter an online space, it can be daunting. But taking a little extra time to let attendees know that there is a real person behind the screen can make all the difference. It doesn’t have to be well-thought-out or complicated. Here’s an example:

Hi everyone! I’m Rob, one of the greeters! I am so glad you're joining us today. If you have any questions let me know!

  • Acknowledge the congregation:

Whether your church is fully online, hybrid, or totally in-person, it is so important to acknowledge your congregation.

At the beginning of the service or before the start of the sermon, acknowledge your online audience first. If half of the congregation is in-person, don’t let the online congregation be an afterthought. Express your appreciation for their attendance online.

It could be simple as:

Welcome, everyone! Thank you for joining us today. To those online, we are so glad you are here.

Feel free to type in the chat. We would love to connect with you more.

See? Simple, to the point, and expressing true gratitude for their presence. Even if people don’t necessarily want to participate or go out of their way to make themselves known, they still want their presence acknowledged. Always remember that there is a person on the other side of the screen with a need for connection

  • Purposely connect your attendees to each other:

Encourage people to reach out to one another via chat, watch parties, and more.  

NOTE: Don’t hesitate to consistently add to the chat! It won’t be considered distracting, it’s creating community.

Have a Smooth Service Flow

Every church service has a structure. You probably know your church’s schedule by heart and find comfort in the familiar routine. Having a smooth service flow is key especially when you are hosting an online service.

How can I do this online?

  • Use a cold open:

While the point of a church service is not entertainment, using a cold open could really help create a nice flow for your online service. The cold open is known as a narrative technique mostly used in film or television that sets the tone even if doesn’t necessarily add to the plot. In other words, this is the one area where catching people’s attention is important!

A few ideas:

-Tell a story

-Show a short video

-Pose a discussion question- for the chat or people can take the time to journal

  • Give directions & be specific:

Always make sure that you let people know what's happening next in the service schedule. Help them follow along and give them directions about what to do next. Don’t worry about seeming too obvious, taking the time to guide the community alongside you will be appreciated.

Answer the unspoken questions of Why are you gathering today? Or What are you going to be doing during your time together? It might seem silly, but for first-time visitors and for regular attendees, reminding everyone of why you are sharing this time together helps set the tone for the entire event.

Letting your community know what to expect during your time together will not only make transitions and event planning a bit easier, it will show the community that you want those online church members to feel welcome and known.

  • Close intentionally: There’s nothing more jarring than an abrupt ending. It’s important to create a natural ending and close with intentionality. Don’t just let the music fade and end the service there, remind people of the purpose of the gathering and send people off with instructions or a benediction.

Thank you so much for joining us today.

We are so glad you joined us online today. Please join us for our virtual coffee hour after the service, we would love to have you.

Allow Space for Reflection and Discussion- Let Voices be Heard!

Even though your service is online, people can still actively participate instead of passively watching the screen. This might mean you will have to mix it up and disrupt your usual service structure, to cater to your online community. Designate slots of time during your service to allow people to reflect, discuss, and let their voices be heard.

How can I do this online?

  • Encourage journaling and reflections

During your online service, don’t hesitate to devote time for journaling and reflection. Give people time to prepare themselves for worship. Even though you are not physically together, designating a few minutes for a collective time of reflection will unite the community.

  • Start conversations in the chat

You may be worried that there is a limit to how many messages you can send in the chat. I’m here to tell you that no, no there is not. For most church streaming platforms the chat is the only way to communicate so using the chat should be encouraged. You can choose to keep the conversations light and casual or go deeper.

  • Pose questions

Posing questions in the chat is a great way to get people thinking. You can encourage people to respond in the chat or make a private journal entry. Even if people don’t initially respond, getting people to participate and think for themselves is a great start to getting people engaged.

Need More Inspiration?

There are plenty of online resources that specialize in church engagement, online services and so much more! Here are a few of our favorites:

Allen White's Blog

Carey Nieuwhof's blog  

For more conversation starters and discussion questions, check out these ideas

Final Thoughts

This year, we can start thinking about church engagement in a whole new way. Increasing church engagement begins with the right mindset and understanding the purpose of gathering. Even though you may not be able to see the person on the other side of the screen, they are there and desire connection. As a leader, it is your job to create a space where true connection can flourish.

Who We Are

Altar Live is an online church platform designed for faith communities to stream and host interactive and engaging events and services. Our simple, intuitive platform gathers your people together online where they can worship together in watch parties, freely socialize at virtual tables together, and find private places to pray with each other.

Altar Live holds 3 major components: Events, Meetings, and Rooms.

With a church platform like Altar Live, anyone can easily create an engaging online church service that has the ability to bring people together regardless of location. The Altar Live team is honored to be able to provide video conferencing software, consulting & training for churches, reach every person on the other side of the screen, and create a community online.

Book your free trial or schedule a meeting with us today!

Check out this episode of The Altar Live Show where discuss the philosophy of leading an Event!