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What is Digital-First in a Small Church?


Before COVID-19, I argued for filming all or part of your service as a digital front door to your small church. Now, I think we should up our game for digital in a small church. Consider it an equal part to the rest of your church options. You want to connect with and reach those people right where they are. This crisis could extend for a lot of people. Digital church might be the only church people engage with for a while. What does digital-first look like in a small church?

3 Steps for Digital-First in a Small Church

Step 1 for Digital-First: Pre-record your service video.

I opposed this for a while because I wanted all week to prepare. In this COVID-19 season, I forced myself to record on Wednesday night and noticed that the difference is minimal. The extra time on Saturday doesn’t add anything, and doing this gives our digital volunteer time to edit the service video. 

  • A tight camera angle with good lighting goes a long way to communicate clearly. As we move toward in-person services, I don’t want to lose the connection that comes from the up-close camera shots we’ve been using, so we will be continuing to pre-record.
  • Create a studio.  You likely have an unused area of your church building, a classroom, or home office that you can use. Set that up with some good lighting and prerecord. People have gotten used to the fact that church doesn’t have to involve standing up at a podium, so use this as a chance to learn what works for you. The point of the studio is not simply to look cool but to communicate the message as clearly and persuasively as possible.
  • Do an intro and outro. We have had awesome success with a simple question and answer format before and after the sermon. Give yourself some flow to the service video. I like this framework: countdown, pre-game show, sermon bumper, sermon, post-game wrap-up. An online service doesn’t have to include music. It can if you can record or borrow, but only include it if it helps you accomplish your mission.

Step 2 for Digital-First: Check-in with people.

Karl Vaters says in Small Church Essentials that if you are in a small church for very long, you realize that the church is a small group. He says that small church pastors should stop trying to do small groups because that is what larger churches have to do to make disciples. Be unique to you is the principle.

How can small churches use digital to make disciples in a way that is unique to them? Instead of doing digital small groups which may be necessary in a larger church, create a strategy to regularly check up with people by email or text message. Tips on how to use digital check-ins for discipleship:

  • Find out how to pray. 
  • Ask how someone is trying to grow spiritually right now and how you can help. 
  • Use your church database, divide it up among your leaders, and regularly reach out to every person in your church.

These check-ins make discipleship digital-first.

Step 3 for Digital First: Record a show.

Make a video show and use the audio for a podcast for your church every week. People attend your church because they benefit in some way, because they believe in the mission, and/or they like the leaders. Give them more of a chance to connect with their leaders. Give outsiders more of a chance to know the real people behind the church. Documenting who you are and what you are about can be incredibly powerful. How to do that?

  • Don’t make it tips or how-to’s. 
  • Just document life in your church and community. 
  • You can answer questions that people ask you during the week (anonymize them and get permission). 
  • Just talk about what is going on. 
  • Get another staff member or leader (3 might be great) who have chemistry, and just have a conversation about what is going on, what you are looking forward to, what you are prioritizing, how you are learning, etc.
  • This could be as simple as a live show on YouTube recorded through phone, or a podcast recorded on a phone through Anchor. If the audio and picture are clear, that can be super simple.

Coronavirus quarantine has caused all of us to reset and rethink what we are doing for a season. As we move towards “normal life,” take this chance to move to digital-first. If you have ideas for how you have moved to digital-first in a small church, please reach out and let us know so we can learn too.

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About Author

Joe Radosevich
Joe Radosevich

Joe Radosevich (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) lives with his wife and six children in Manchester, Illinois, and pastors Manchester Baptist Church.

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