The skills needed to pastor an online church are different than those in typical pastoring in the 21st century. For one thing, it’s more about PASTORING and less about ONLINE. Hindsight is 20/20, right? Let my mistakes be a lesson to you as you learn how to lead an online ministry.

Pastoring an Online Church? Avoid These 3 Vital Mistakes I Made

1. It’s about people, not tech. 

I wish when I started, I had understood that church online is about relationships, not technology.

I was SO enamored with pushing the Church into the modern world that I found myself pushing technology whether we actually needed it or not.

Since there was so much catching up to do, I spent way too much time figuring out the perfect tech solution, and I did it alone because no one seemed to understand what I was trying to achieve.

If I could do it over, I would’ve spent more time bringing people along with me for the ride to test and research with me. I’ve found that the times that I have brought people along the journey of discovery with me, they have become the biggest advocates for online ministry because they were a part of the discovery process.

When learning to pastor online, bring lots of people along for the ride. The folks are part of the discovery process and help you test, research and develop your tech strategy become your biggest advocates. Click To Tweet

Let team leaders choose their own tech

On that note, if I could do it again, I wouldn’t push the ‘best’ technological solution based on preferred features (like doing an ENTIRE Online Campus inside Microsoft Teams, which has everything). Instead, I’d use tools that people already had and knew how to use (like the creative online ministry going on in WhatsApp in Africa).

For example, for online small groups, I learned after a few years to let the leader of the ground determine what would be the best tool for the group instead of me pushing what I considered the best tool (still love Teams!).

Just like the Apostle John wasn’t as enthused about writing letters (2 John 1:12) as he was about his friends, that didn’t keep him from writing. He did BOTH, but his priority wasn’t in the METHOD of ministry, but rather the OBJECT of his ministry.

LESSON

Pastor online by starting with the people first, then the tech. If you start with the tech first and dream of all the ways we could use it, you’ll waste time making systems no one ends up using. Even if you train them, the ROI isn’t worth it.

(Ask me how I know that. 😬)

Did you read my other article? Be sure to check out 2 Things I Wish I’d Done Differently When Starting an Online Church

2. Depth is better than breadth

As I learned how to pastor online, I found it difficult to minister to people at a manageable, small scale because it grew too quickly. 

During COVID, online ministries grew at a break-neck speed, and then fell hard. I found it very difficult to minister to just a few, which is strange because I know how to minister to many!

Here’s what I mean: what’s needed online is the ability to pastor to a smaller group and focus on the depth of discipleship and faith development. 

THE SECRET TO DEPTH ONLINE

From a content delivery system, pastoring a church online is amazing. It’s much better than anything else we have out there, including the pulpit (which is limited by space and time). But with that strength comes a shadow weakness: it’s very hard to know someone.

That package deal of strengths and weaknesses isn’t just for the online church, it’s for the on-site church at large scale as well. It just gets magnified online. For instance, for people who like to sit in the back row and not talk to anyone, online church is the perfect solution.

There wasn’t a good way for me to personally know the people I was ministering to. At one point we had almost a million people from almost every country, but it felt so empty!

But do you know what? I didn’t even know their names.

So out of frustration, I just left them and dedicated myself to pastoring my volunteer team because at least I knew their names.

I justified it because Jesus did it. But I had no idea why Jesus worked that way until now.

Ministering to that small team has grown fruit in all of us! It has deepened the connections of the people attending church online and using our tools — so much more than I’d ever have done myself.

I wish I would’ve learned that lesson from Jesus sooner. He dismissed the crowds and spent time with the twelve, who turned the world upside down when he left. We’d do well to do the same.

Lesson

Pick your twelve, invest deeply.

We think you’ll like: 3 Ways Your Church Can Live Stream To Improve Discipleship

3. Daily interactions are more impactful than the weekly service.

As you learn to pastor online, this lesson will be your superpower.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a well-executed online service just like the rest of them. But one of the biggest “aha” moments I had during COVID was the realization that a phone call is more powerful than a Sunday service. I completely underestimated the daily nature of the church in Acts 2. When we began to understand the power of the daily, it changed the way we do relationship at church.

Many times church relationships are organizationally mediated and limited to weekly interactions. But what if they were daily, like in Acts 2?

Why are school/college/family friendships so strong? Normally, they’re daily interactions. The compounding effect of time interacting just can’t be beat. If you want to go deep with your people, go daily. 

When leading an online church, regular contact is your superpower. The compounding effect of interacting on a personal level just can’t be beat. If you want to go deep with your people, interact regularly. My goal: daily. Click To Tweet

Thankfully, we have online resources available that work amazingly well for this. Here are a few proven resources:

  • Text messaging
  • Messaging platforms like SMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Discord, Slack, etc.
  • Even email!

The simple, daily touches and messages of prayer provide depth that a weekly service — no matter how catalytic — can’t even begin to approximate.

Think of it this way: your favorite band’s rock concert and your family are two different things. Both are really cool, but only one will go the distance.

LESSON

Going daily takes a lot of work, or at least DIFFERENT work. We forget how much time we’ll put into programming a Sunday.

In summary:

We should use technology and love people, not the other way around. Loving people is the foundation upon which many platforms can rest. Pick the best one and use it so often you make friends and family, just like the Apostle John and the Apostle Paul.

For more helpful online church resources, read 5 Genius Tools For Your Online Church Experience.

What have I missed? What other lessons would you share with online pastors?