Conference points way to connect digitally

The past year made switching ministry and mission online a necessity.

We know there’s far more to it than adding a few posts on Facebook.

Elim’s recent Digital Conference shares a few takeaway's...

The pandemic jolted us into radically reforming the way we do ministry and mission – with digital technology at the heart of this change.

Digital communication has fast become an integrated and additional tool for sharing life-changing messages and extending our reach, relationships and discipleship.

And if this shift has left you wondering where to go next, there was plenty of advice at Elim’s Digital Conference in February to help you figure that out.

We’ve boiled down a selection of sessions and tips. If they leave you hungry for more, you can find all the conference videos on Elim’s website.

Build a community

Facebook, WhatsApp, Spotify, Zoom all offer an opportunity to build relationships and online communities, and Elim churches have been doing just that.

For Mark Pugh in Exeter, that’s meant a daily rhythm of online communion and Bible reading plans.

For Carl Johnston in Letchworth, it’s meant connecting for prayer on Zoom and responding to the needs of local teachers and nurses.

For Nathan Johnston in Ulster, it has been about broadcasting life stories on Facebook and gathering an audience of 200+ for midweek prayer.

With digital tools, you can encourage prayer, share testimonies, inspire worship and more – all interactive, relational ways to engage, support and build communities.

Top tips

  1. Keep it regular – create authentic, meaningful times to connect throughout the week.
  2. Get creative – with worship playlists on Spotify, church photo competitions, Bible reading plans and more.
  3. Inspire discussion – with video clips from your sermon or faith questions posted on Facebook.
  4. Build relationships – use Facebook and WhatsApp groups for chat, prayer requests, praise and testimonies.

Focus on prayer

Through digital gatherings prayer has become more intentional and consistent, with people attending who wouldn’t normally go to meetings. "Healings and provision have also been reported", says Elim’s prayer lead Sarah Whittlestone.

In Birmingham, Mark Ryan has seen weekly prayer meetings regularly engage 120 people as well as city-wide prayer meetings supporting leaders.

And in Malvern Hills, Trudy Smyth used an online Prayer Space to encourage prayer for topics including lockdown home-schooling.

All agree virtual connections are real, not a weak substitute. Post-pandemic, online prayer should be a complementary, supplementary or a hybrid part of church life.

Top tips

  1. Make it personal – say 'hi', respond to comments, interact as if people were in the room with you.
  2. Zoom isn’t a barrier – Jesus healed at a distance and the Holy Spirit isn’t fazed by Zoom.
  3. Use online moderators – have a second leader interacting with your chat feed.
  4. Get prepared – ask for prayer requests in advance to plan your themes, then invite others during the meeting.

Extend your reach with social media

Social media is like a digital foyer where people check out your church before visiting. That’s why creative posts, video content and apps for design, editing and scheduling are incredibly useful.

Elim social media gurus have plenty of advice. Phoebe Gubb in Winchester recommends churches create bitesize sermon videos with a mix of audio, video and creative text.

Chumi Lakshmi from Bristol adds that talking naturally, writing posts people will want to share, and taking inspiration from others can help.

Meanwhile, Ben Lasky from Forge Community Church says video testimonies, devotionals, and online communion, prayer and worship has provided a good mix at his church.

Top tips

  1. Recycle – don’t start from scratch each week. Add text and pictures to snippets from sermon videos.
  2. Get creative with apps – apps like Canva, Buffer, InShot and Word Swag will help you edit, schedule and create.
  3. Share your church life – testimonies, devotionals, sermon snapshots and mission news.
  4. Form a team – with the enthusiasm, time and talent for social media. Include younger people.

Raise your profile with voice tech

A third of UK households have smart speakers says James Poulter, CEO of consultancy agency Vixen Lab. Voice tech has grown massively over the past 18 months, creating opportunities for evangelism and discipleship, and a new way to find information about churches and faith.

Bible app YouVersion now offers access to its verse of the day, and reading plans via Alexa, for example. Meanwhile, the Church of England has enabled people to tap into online services, mental health reflections and Q&A content through smart speaker apps.

Voice tech allows greater access to podcasts and services, while notifications prompt people to form new reading habits. Curious non-Christians can access church without having to enter the building. Could it work for your church?

Top tips

  1. Update your FAQ page – think what questions people might ask and add searchable info like your address, opening times and contacts.
  2. Get started with simple tools – Alexa Skills Blueprint will let you template info like FAQs.
  3. Include searchable info – when you upload sermons and podcasts, add keywords people will search for like speaker or church names.
  4. Don’t be afraid to try – a voice search for your church might be someone’s first step towards you.

Reach teens on TikTok   

If you want to talk to teenagers you’ve got to be on TikTok, says Anne Beverley, vicar of Wesham Christchurch.

Embracing one of the fastest growing platforms in the world, she started posting on TikTok just before lockdown. She says God has “exploded it” – she now has a regular following of 45,000 and her videos, which put a Christian spin on dances and trends, have attracted up to three million views.

Having followed God’s prompting to allow comments, she has been wowed by prayer requests, answers and messages such as “I don’t believe but you’ve brought me hope.”

Top tips

  1. Use TikTok to sow seeds – then point people to YouTube and other platforms for more in-depth content.
  2. Post regularly – keep people interested with new posts each week.
  3. Consider comments – yes, you’ll get negative ones, but you’ll also get prayer requests and chat.
  4. Let others go first – it’s ok to follow others. You don’t have to be first to the latest trend.   

Livestreaming and measuring

What are the best options for livestreaming when you have limited connectivity and a small tech team?
Reliable 4G connectivity on your phone will carry a stream to Facebook or YouTube. Facebook has low resolution requirements. 4G dongles can also be good. Also, you can run your stream through a wired connection and run test streams on YouTube.

How can you measure engagement and success?
Viewing figures are really helpful, but also ask yourself who your target audience is and whether you’re reaching them. Facebook and YouTube analytics are great for this. Focus on engagement, likes, comments and shares.

What content stops people scrolling and grabs attention?
The power of good news can’t be underestimated. Also, showing personality and having a laugh works well. Be click-baity with intriguing questions or fun content. Use catchy video titles, and if you see a post you love from someone else, copy it.

For more Q&As head to elim.org.uk/digital     



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