Several months ago, the XP of a large church in Florida mentioned to me that they no longer think of first time worship attenders as first time guests. They had discovered, even before the Coronavirus Pandemic, that all their first time attenders had watched the service online at least once before attending. That conversation grabbed my imagination and has been a frequent conversation topic since. How can we use today's technology to move church engagement from virtual to reality?
But first, I wanted to validate the implications of this idea in light of the Covid shut down in recent months. I wondered, in real numbers, not just my hunch, how much 1st time guests, new members, and online giving had changed between March 1 and June 30, 2020 compared to the same date range in 2019. So, I researched and aggregated data from 7 of our top churches. Here's what I found:
- First Time Guests - 14%
- New Members - 24%
- Giving - 99%
I remember conversations 15-20 years ago that we couldn't cancel worship and even Sunday School because it would hurt the offering. It is incredible to think that churches could go four months with few worship gatherings and see almost no change in giving. The range for the churches I looked at was 80% to 123%. Contemporary online giving and best stewardship practices have totally reversed a historically embedded ministry axiom!
If the use of technology can have that much impact on stewardship, I am confident it can have the same impact on engagement. By engagement, I am talking about the process of outreach, follow-up and connection. Assimilation is another commonly used word for this process. Obviously, from the First Time Guest and New Member stats above, there is a lot of work to do.
Having run a business full time the last 12 years; I now think of outreach, assimilation and connection in terms of marketing, sales and on-boarding. These processes are the pipeline for new life and new growth in a software business. If I saw 30 day trials and new clients at 14% and 24% of what they were the previous year; there would be a lot of sleepless nights, prayer, and a hunger to learn how to do things differently.
In his book, How The Mighty Fall, Jim Collins shares the 5 stages that he discovered in the process of organizational decline. Stage 3 is Denial of Risk and Peril and stage 4 is Grasping for Salvation. Neither of these are terminal. There is a way back. It begins with getting back to what we do well. We just have to revise it to fit new realities.
In the next few blog posts I want to explore the potential of technology to radically transform outreach, follow-up, and connection. I'd like to pull together things I'm learning in business with what I see and am learning in ministry. I'm convinced that web / mobile integration and workflow automation can do for outreach, follow-up, and connection what payment processing has done for Stewardship.
If I do this right, it will be more than a new set of glasses by which to view engagement. It will be a VR headset that completely redefines it.