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With the rise of online offerings from churches, another concept is becoming increasingly popular – creating an online campus for your church.
While it’s true that not every church needs one, investing the time and resources helps you connect with far more people. It can even aid churches that have members that move around often, such as those near military bases.
Simply offering a website or online resources isn’t quite the same. A campus online is much more engaging and creates a fuller worship experience for online parishoners.
Table of contents
- What Is An Online Campus
- How It Differs From A Church Website
- Creating A Great Website
- Ensure Universal Access
- Choose An Internet Pastor(s)
- Recruit Volunteers
- Develop An Online Campus Portal
- Develop Online-Only Ministry Programs
- Go Beyond Just Basic Live Streaming
- Offer A Way To Connect Online During Services
- Include Online Prayer
- Create A Secure Online Tithing Option
- Offer Interactive Options
- Learn From Other Churches
What Is An Online Campus
Despite how the name sounds, an online campus doesn’t mean creating a new physical location to hold online services. While you might decide to dedicate an office to managing the campus, it’s just an online extension of your church.
The phrase “campus” comes from the fact that you’re setting up a new location, but it’s completely virtual. Think of it like online universities. Yes, professors teach real classes, but instead of a large classroom, students all attend from their homes. The professors usually sit in an office with the tools they need to teach. An online platform contains all the resources students and professors need to interact, take tests, study and learn.
The same is true for your online church campus. It’s an area online where online followers and members can gather virtually. This goes beyond just watching a sermon online. It’s a full worship experience, much like you’d get by attending church in-person.
How It Differs From A Church Website
You’re probably thinking this doesn’t sound much different than a church website. That’s kind of true. However, an online campus is a church website on steroids. Plus, it’s not just a bunch of online resources. It’s an interactive community. It also requires much more time to manage.
Think about the time and effort that goes into managing your physical church. You minister to members. You have weekly sermons. Churches typically have various programs, meetings and gatherings throughout the week, month and year.
Instead of just offering glimpses of your in-church members worshipping, you’re creating a second location for people to worship. Yes, it’s online, but people attend an online campus to get the same benefits as going to a physical location. They want to be able to interact with other members. They want to be able to talk with a pastor or other church staff member when they need to. Think of it as a larger church family and not just online followers that just watch your live stream or uploaded sermon without ever interacting further.
Creating A Great Website
While online campuses aren’t the same as just having a church website, they become a part of your church’s website. This means you need to focus on creating the best site possible. A few must-have features include:
- Mobile-friendly or responsive design
- Easy, intuitive navigation
- Secure web pages and logins
- Plenty of images and videos (even on your home page)
- The six main key pages for any church website along with your campus portal/platform
Believe it or not, your church’s site actually has the potential to hurt your church. It can give a bad first impression to potential new visitors. It’ll also discourage people from joining your online campus.
Ensure Universal Access
People don’t always access the Internet the same way. But, you definitely don’t want to try to develop a separate website or online access platform for every type of device. As of October 2020, 56.1% of people used a mobile device (smartphone) to get online. Another 39.1% preferred using a desktop or laptop. Surprisingly, tablets only make up 4.22% of Internet connections.
While mobile devices and desktops/laptops are the most popular options, these come in a variety of brands and sizes. Screen sizes for mobile devices range from around five inches to nearly the size of a tablet. Of course, there are numerous Android manufacturers along with different iPhone models.
To create an online campus for your church, you have to ensure universal access. If you’re using a church website, make sure it has a responsive design that works well on most devices. Also ensure it works with all the major browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Edge.
If you’re developing a separate app for your campus, ensure it works well on most major platforms, such as Android, iOS, Windows, and Kindle. This allows members to connect from nearly any mobile device.
Choose An Internet Pastor(s)
In most cases, you’ll likely need a separate dedicated pastor for your campus. For smaller churches, the pastor may be able to manage ministering to both church families (online and offline). For larger churches, your in-church pastor might not be able to handle the additional responsibilities.
Your main pastor can still be in charge of the weekly sermon for your online and offline locations. However, you’ll want another pastor available to speak directly with online members, answer questions during services, host special meet and greet events to increase fellowship online and a variety of other tasks.
Most pastors are already extremely busy and struggle to get the most out of their time. It’s easier to hire someone else to help out versus risking burnout. The good news is as your campus grows, so will your online tithing. This helps offset any additional salary costs.
Volunteers are just as important as having a pastor for your online campus. They serve as church ambassadors, spreading fellowship between your online and offline locations. They’ll handle tasks such as answering common questions, leading online prayer, helping people get signed up, interacting before and after services, and aiding in developing resources and programs.
This is a great opportunity for younger church members that might feel more comfortable socializing online. This also helps make younger online followers feel like they fit in better.
Develop An Online Campus Portal
For most churches, this is a separate section of your church website. Members create a login to access all the features. Some churches even create a separate website, which is similar to how some churches have a site for members and one for non-members or potential new visitors.
In this case, you’d have a site for your online campus and another for your main church website. You’d link to your campus from your main site and vice versa.
Another option is to use social media, which works well for smaller campuses. For instance, on Facebook, you can use Facebook Live for watch events, live streaming sermons and special conversations with followers. There are also groups, which work well for more interactions and ministry programs. This is a great free way to set things up, but it can get complicated quickly as you try to share resources and get everyone together.
Develop Online-Only Ministry Programs
Your church has ministry programs and groups that provide more worship opportunities, faith-based growth and fellowship. Online campuses need the exact same thing. While they don’t have to be exactly the same as your in-church programs, offer online-only options.
For instance, create a program just for kids. A youth pastor or volunteer can lead discussions geared toward kids. You might read Bible stories, host crafting sessions (send supply lists to parents in advance), let kids talk to each other and more.
You want to offer more than just a sermon to your online followers. Make the virtual location of your church seem just as fulfilling as the offline location.
Go Beyond Just Basic Live Streaming
With that in mind, live streaming your services doesn’t mean you have an online campus. All this means is people can watch your services from anywhere. But, watching isn’t interacting. It doesn’t give viewers the same type of connection as they’d get in person.
While attending church online won’t ever be exactly the same, the idea of creating a campus for online worship means doing your best to provide a more personal connection. You might set up video chats with 10-30 people at a time to give more a face-to-face interaction. These groups can change out from week to week to help people make new friends and realize they’re not worshipping alone.
Yes, live streaming is definitely a part of the online experience, but go beyond just the live stream. You can even host social session before services where members chat online before services begin.
Offer A Way To Connect Online During Services
Usually, you don’t want your members talking throughout your services. It’s distracting. But, let’s face it. Members whisper to each other, ask quick questions and even talk about what the pastor’s saying. Plus, members usually say a prayer together or sing a hymn. It’s a way to do something other than just sit and listen.
Your online campus should offer something similar. Typically, a live chat feature works well for this. It’s not nearly as distracting and members can interact in real time. Having a volunteer or second pastor helps with this as you can talk with your campus members during services. Encourage them to get up and sing along.
You might even put together a virtual choir if you’re feeling particularly adventurous (yes, it’s challenging to do, but worth it if people are interested). Gala Choruses, Renewing Worship and Sheet Music Direct have great guides for setting this up.
Include Online Prayer
This is a must-have for any online campus. People want to pray together. You might lead special online prayer sessions, ask people to submit requests that you read or even set up group video chats. Volunteers or your campus pastor may set up one on one video calls for some prayer requests.
This is another way to help your online members feel more like they’re in church versus at home. The method you choose doesn’t have to be fancy or complex. As long as everyone can pray together and submit requests, they’ll appreciate it.
Create A Secure Online Tithing Option
As you might have already realized, creating an online campus for your church is an investment, not only time, but money. Much like your regular members, your online members want to give and help support the church. The more engaging and interactive your campus is, the more likely they are to attend regularly and give regularly.
Set up a secure and easy to use online tithing option. We’ve reviewed seven of the best options to help your church get started quickly. Plus, all of your members, online and off, can use this option to donate whenever they want.
Offer Interactive Options
This is something we’ve stressed throughout this entire post, but there are a variety of ways to do this. Yes, chat tools are a great option along with using social media to help people meet, connect and worship. However, there are some other ways to increase overall engagement online.
- Issue interactive challenges – Ask online members to group together to do special faith-based projects or encourage individual challenges. This could be writing a story, helping someone in the community or showcasing a talent. You can even play games, teach a skill (this can be something fun, such as a cooking class or a singing lesson) or virtual marathons (can be running, yoga or any other physical activity).
- Develop online volunteer opportunities – As your online membership grows, offer volunteer opportunities. They can help in developing online resources, setting up outreach programs in their communities, reaching out to other online members and more.
- Develop growth resources and classes – Provide a variety of study guides, special Christian classes (such as dealing with specific issues), guidance on growing your faith and more. Videos work great for these.
- Host watch parties – Bring everyone together for special watch parties. This could be a special event at your church, a virtual event, watching a Christian movie together or anything else.
Learn From Other Churches
If you’re not sure what an online campus looks like, learn from other churches. You don’t have to do exactly what they do, but notice what makes them special. A few churches to check out include:
Interested in turning your church’s site into an online campus? Contact Reach Right Studios today to develop the perfect site for your needs.