As the popularity of internet worship services increases, it is easy to imagine that every church has the capability and desire to host live worship, organize Zoom small groups and connect through social media.
While they may be a minority, there are still churches throughout America that are not plugged in.
Most Americans access the web daily and many falsely assume everyone else can as well. There are three primary reasons why some churches have not joined the internet age:
- Aging congregations.
- Limited/nonexistent internet access.
- Low funds.
According to Pew Research, almost 30% of Americans 65 and older do not have a smartphone. One report stated that 30-40% of individuals over 60 don’t own a laptop or home computer. A 2021 study found that 25% of those over 65 never go online.
Online services have been essential during the pandemic and can be great for garnering new growth. But for churches with a significant number of members over the age of 60, they do little to help meet the needs of much of the congregation if those people are not able to get online.
Limited/nonexistent internet access
According to a Federal Communications Commission study, about 14 million Americans didn’t have access to the internet in 2018. Microsoft calculated that about 25 million did not have access to high-speed broadband connections in 2019. Some reports estimate that as many as one in three households do not have access to high-speed internet.
Many schools and workplaces discovered this challenge when students and employees scrambled for remote access during the pandemic.
Internet connection availability isn’t the only issue. There also are millions of Americans who can’t afford the cost.
Libraries, internet cafes and other public locations typically offer free WiFi. But that’s little help to someone who is homebound, doesn’t own a personal device or wants to avoid crowds. In addition, a church with a congregation that is financially strapped may not have the budget to purchase services and supplies for web-based ministries.
In general, wealthier, larger and more educated congregations are more likely to use technology.
How churches can survive
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The internet is an amazing tool, but it’s not essential for every congregation. Churches survived previous pandemics without the World Wide Web, and even low-tech churches can survive this one.
Here are a few ideas for how you can connect with your unplugged congregation:
Use the phone
Everyone may not own a smartphone, but according to the Pew Research study previously cited, 97% of Americans do own at least a basic cellphone. Some still have landlines as well.
Phone service offers a valuable and consistent way of ministering to your congregation, whether it is through calls, texts or FaceTime. Phones also can help with remote sermon communication. For example, one church used a conference call and speakerphone to create a remote sermon experience for several home-bound members.
Even for those facing health concerns, almost all Americans now have the opportunity to receive at least one visitor. Home and hospital visits mean a great deal to those with limited in-person contact.
Paper resources and snail mail
Print magazines, newspapers, Sunday school literature, church newsletters and books are valuable tools to reach those who don’t have access to online resources. These can be mailed, hand-delivered or picked up from your church on an as-needed basis or via loan. Personal letters, cards and notes never go out of style.
Delivery services are available for almost every shopping experience. But many people either cannot afford or don’t know how to take advantage of such services.
If your church is looking for a low-tech ministry with high impact, enlist volunteers who can get groceries, pick up prescriptions or take people to appointments.
Even if your worship services are not online, you can have a remote option for your congregation. Record your sermon and make it available via CD or DVD. You also may want to contact your local radio stations. Broadcasting your sermon via AM radio may be an affordable solution.
These old-fashioned methods of communication may not be as flashy or fast as high-tech options, but often they are more personal. For low-tech churches struggling to thrive in a high-tech world, a little creativity can go a long way.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor and public speaker. Through her ministry, The Girls Get Together, she seeks to encourage women to grow in their relationships with the Lord and each other. Her book, A Year of Yearning: A 12-Month Devotional to Help You Study God's Word More, is available from Amazon.