going where the fish are

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Your weekend services are no longer the front door of your church. Your digital ministry is.

I want you to consider something: How long have you been in ministry? Five, 10, 20 years? 

However long it’s been, consider this—how long has your ministry been the same? 

Sure, there are small changes here and there. You now offer online giving. You may have shifted your vision. You might’ve had some significant staff changes. But the way churches generally do ministry—our methods—how long has it been the same? How long have we been teaching the same way? Serving the same way? Doing our weekend services the same way? 

How long have we been fishing on the same side of the boat?

How long have our methods been the same? How long have we been teaching the same way? Serving the same way? Doing our weekend services the same way?  How long have we been fishing on the same side of the boat? Click To Tweet

I’ve been thinking a lot about John 20 and 21 lately. I want to share some of my thoughts with you. 

When Jesus was crucified and buried, the disciples grieved not only the loss of their friend, but also the loss of who they thought he was. They scattered in fear. I can’t imagine the depth of their sadness. But then, we get to Chapter 20.

Chapter 20: After the crucifixion, we read in John 20: 19-23 that Jesus appeared to his disciples. He said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

He’s alive! Talk about unprecedented times! Jesus was who he said he was. He defeated death. He came back to life. Nothing like this had ever happened. Then he gave the disciples the Holy Spirit! What a change of events. I’m so excited to see what happens next!

Chapter 21: The disciples went fishing. 

Literally

Maybe Simon Peter was simply unsure of what to do next. Whatever was normal in the past was not normal now and Simon Peter, in the midst of something new,  returned to what he knew. In John 21:3 Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”  Then the others joined in, “We’ll come, too.”  So they went back into their old fishing boat, and they caught nothing.

We cannot wait and hope for things to “go back to normal” or think that in-person services will bring people flocking back. We need to shift our strategies to meet people where they are: online.  Click To Tweet

Then Jesus called out to them, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some.” In other words, “Fish on the other side of the boat—that’s where the fish are. This side has been fished for years. There’s not much happening there. Try the other side!

I think this scripture has an interesting parallel to what many of us are experiencing right now. The pandemic is often quoted as being an “unprecedented time.” And it is. 

In the midst of it, many of us would probably like to say, “I’m going fishing.” In other words, I want to get back to what was familiar. I want to get back to habits and rhythms that I’ve known. I want to get back to fishing. But like the disciples, we may need to shift where we are fishing if we want to see the harvest that Jesus has in mind. We may need to fish on the other side of the boat. 

We may need to shift where we are fishing if we want to see the harvest that Jesus has in mind. We may need to fish on the other side of the boat.  Click To Tweet

And our hands were forced to do this when we couldn’t gather. We had to cast our nets on the other side of the boat through online services, virtual small group rooms, and the like. And you know what most of us experienced? There’s a lot of fish over here. Online engagement numbers surprised most of us. 

Initially, viewership was higher than we thought it would be. People took next steps to become givers. And while we don’t have all the best practices defined yet on how and what to track, one thing was clear, there are a lot of fish on that side of the boat. And we should probably keep fishing there.

The truth is, the people that God placed around our churches are on that other side of the boat. So the question is, how do we seize this opportunity?

For decades, we’ve designed our ministry strategies around common (analog) methods: 

  • Teaching—Come to our weekend services.

  • Community—Join a small group.

  • Serving—Join a volunteer team!

  • Missions—Go on a global missions trip/Participate in a local outreach.

These are all really good things, but times are different, and we have to adjust our strategies to reach new people. It might look a little like this:

  • Teaching—Invite people to our online services.

  • Community— Join a virtual small group.

  • Serving— ???

  • Missions— ???

If we just try to convert our current strategies to digital ones, it’s going to be difficult. And honestly? It’s not going to be as effective. Instead we have to think about it differently. It’s a paradigm shift.

Your weekend services are no longer the front door of your church. Your digital ministry is.

Your weekend services are no longer the front door of your church. Your digital ministry is. Click To Tweet

We cannot wait and hope for things to “go back to normal” or think that in-person services will bring people flocking back. We need to shift our strategies to meet people where they are: online. 


Awhile back, we hosted a masterclass on the 4 Keys to Expanding Your Church’s Front Door with Digital Strategies. We interviewed some church and industry leaders, and one of the conversations was just too good to not share with you.. 

Nona Jones, the head of faith-based partnerships at Facebook, joined us to share about engaging our people in digital spaces.She had some really fantastic things to say, and as you plan for the digital future of your church, you need to listen to this conversation. 

Here are a few interview highlights: 

  • Jesus told us to go out, but instead of being fishers of men, we decided to tend an aquarium. And most churches have gotten smaller and smaller. We are now the keepers of fishbowls, not even aquariums. 
  • Imagine your Facebook presence as a house. Your Page is like your front porch, the public space. Anybody driving along the street can see your front porch. Facebook Live is like opening your front door, 1 interacting with the people on your front porch. But if you only have a front porch and a front door, what you really have is a “movie set.” It doesn’t really help; it’s just aesthetic. What you need is a living room, a space where people can sit down and have conversations. And that is what Facebook Groups are.
  • If we truly want to build God’s kingdom, we are going to have to realize that this idea that church requires a date, time and location is completely limiting. 

You can watch the full interview here:

YouTube video

Your church’s digital presence and online experience are more important than ever.

It is both the way to reach new people outside the church and the method for connecting with and continuing to foster relationships within your congregation.

Let’s get practical!

Download our free PDF guide on Designing Your Digital Ministry Strategy. It’s packed with content, exercises and tools to help you take this conversation back to your team and get things moving in the right direction at your church.

Amy Anderson

Amy has served as the Director of Consulting at The Unstuck Group since 2016. During this time she has served over 150 churches, helping them design ministry, staffing & multisite strategies that aligns and fuels their mission. Prior to joining the Unstuck team, Amy served as the Executive Director of Weekend Services at Eagle Brook Church in the Twin Cities, helping the church grow from one location of 3,000 to six locations with over 20,000 gathering each weekend. Her husband is a Teaching and Engagement Pastor at Hosanna Church in Lakeville, MN.

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