These days, we’re maintaining social distance to protect others and ourselves from the coronavirus. At the same time, we’re searching for new and needed ways to stay connected in both the near and long-term.
The internet and mobile phones help connect us more than ever — especially now. Our global digital connection is more ubiquitous than many think and covers most sectors of society. Look at these recent stats from Pew Research and Statista.
- Almost 65% of adults access the internet from their mobile phones
- There are 4.54 billion internet users in 2020, representing 59% of the global population
- 90% of adults in the U.S. have access to the internet, including 73% of people over the age of 65
- Approximately 75% of adults in the U.S. have access to broadband internet service at home
- Over 56% of U.S. households making less than $30,000 per year have access to broadband at home; 26% use their smartphone to go online
81% of American adults own a smartphone
Most people have some form of personal access. While offline techniques are always important for some of your members, the necessity of the moment requires the church to prioritize digital communications.
Here are a few ideas for maintaining much-needed but simple online connections — even for the most tech-reluctant in your congregation.
Send small group text messages
Divide your member list into groups of up to eight people. Leaders can create a group text message using an iPhone or Android phone. Apps like GroupMe or WhatsApp are helpful in managing group texting. (You may also want to explore UMConnect to send important news and information quickly.) Use this as a daily check-in or a way to share prayer requests. Manage the group size based on the anticipated activity of the group. Also consider building groups around those who are active texters and those who aren't.
Make video calls
A video call via FaceTime, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp is as simple as making or receiving a phone call. Homebound members may lack the device to handle video calls. Consider inquiring whether members who are frequent tech upgraders are willing to donate (or loan) their recently used laptops, mobile phones or tablets to fellow members. As people are seeking ways to help one another, this option allows for use during the crisis and beyond.
Craft a video message
Try using the easy-to-use app called Marco Polo. It allows you to leave short video messages to individuals or groups. Think of it like a “walkie-talkie” for video.
Support small group meetings
More than ever, people seek out small groups for companionship. Use tools like Zoom to help small groups maintain the connections even during self-isolation. Invite members to try a small group during your virtual worship service. Hold accountability meetings virtually to encourage spiritual growth. There are multiple tools to support virtual small group needs.
Teach a class using Facebook Live
During the long hours of social distancing, people are looking for new forms of distraction, entertainment and engagement. Ask members to host a Facebook Live class on skills they have like knitting, crafts or workout routines from your church’s Facebook Page. Cooking classes are especially popular as people need to learn how to use pantry supplies to make a meal. Create a programming schedule and publicize classes for people to attend.
Create a Pinterest page
Pinterest is a free visual bookmarking social media channel used by over 335 million users a month (growing by 26% in 2019). Churches can use it to curate and share encouraging stories, scripture-photo collages, recipes, among other inspirational ideas.
Build an Instagram escape
Photos have the power to inspire and connect. Ask members to take and share photos from home via your church’s Instagram account, Dropbox or Google Drive.
Set up a church YouTube channel
Ask members of the church to share a testimony, tell a joke, play a song, read scripture for you to share on your channel. (Also ask them to subscribe and encourage their fellow church members to do the same.) Upload new content on a regular basis, and ask people to like and send your videos across their personal social media.
Plan summer outreach or mission activities now
It’s not too early to plan for activities beyond the current crisis. Use virtual meeting tools to start planning now for future success.
Take advantage of training
United Methodist Communications offers a variety of online training courses to assist you and your team in learning more about these digital tools and how to use them to their fullest for the greatest ministry impact. No matter your budget or time constraint, UMC Training has options to help you easily address many needs.
These are just some of the ways technology can make meaningful connections and bring the church and its communities closer together whenever apart. Experiment to see what works best for your community. Now, read the next part of this series to learn how to connect with the unplugged in ways that amplify online efforts.
Eric Seiberling is part of a husband-wife duo working to help the church embody "1 > 99" at brokensheep.com. He leverages his 20+ years of marketing and consulting experience to help churches "baptize" and use secular techniques to be more effective at reaching the lost, the least and the last for Jesus Christ.