"What are we going to do?"
Josh Morris is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. There, he serves under Pastor Greg Laurie. He recently wrote an article for Crosswalk that encouraged and challenged us: “How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Causing the Church to Flourish in a Digital Age.”
Josh tempers his optimism with the reality of the pain and heartache he sees, but he’s experienced firsthand how God is moving right now.
In a single weekend, Harvest saw 350,000 unique visitors to their online services (which doesn’t even account for individuals gathered around a single screen). What’s more, they received 5000 commitments for Christ. They were amazed—they could have never reached that many people at their physical campuses.
We got to speak with him recently, and here’s what we took away from our conversation.
Bring a Fresh Message
First, Harvest committed to bring a fresh word to their congregation every week during this crisis. During the first weekend of “social distancing,” Pastor Greg spoke on “What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do.” The next weekend, the message was “God’s Answer to Fear, Worry, and Anxiety.”
They knew whatever happened, the goal of services would be to reach people, edify them where they are, and offer an invitation to accept Christ at the end of every service.
Don’t Believe the Myths surrounding Online Church
Josh says the biggest misnomer about online church is simply this: Only large congregations can afford to do it well.
Harvest decided from the beginning not to invest time or resources building a custom platform. He said, “We want to reach people and not break the bank.”
Instead, they used the free resource, The Church Online Platform. Josh and his team like that the platform has already thought through giving, raising a digital “hand” to accept Christ, and allowing for onscreen calls-to-action.
Josh wants to reassure churches that they don’t need expensive equipment or custom software. He said, “You only need your iPhone, which you probably have in your pocket right now.”
Now, Every Pastor Is an “Online Pastor”
Though the skills for being an “online” pastor are virtually the same as being a pastor at a location, it’s a new paradigm for their staff.
During services, they have pastors who monitor each of their social channels: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among others. Pastors who usually handle walk-in counseling do the same work over a Facebook chat. Their church’s new online prayer page gives the congregation a chance to share prayer requests. That way, people know someone is praying for them.
But, because people at home are used to on-demand content, Harvest runs a broadcast of their weekly service every two hours on Sunday, starting at 6am. But most of their staff are working remotely, and staying on the same page has been hard work.
The key? Josh calls it “micro-communicating”—checking to make sure everyone knows what they're supposed to do at all times.
During the week between services, Harvest shares its archived content, including past services and interviews between Greg Laurie and special guests.
Engaging People in “Next Steps”
With 350,000 unique visits to their website on a weekend, the church wants to make sure everyone who needs discipleship can get it. After viewers have the opportunity to receive Christ, they can click a “next steps” banner to go to a landing page.
There, they can sign up to receive a free Bible in the mail. They’ll also receive an email drip sequence that walks them through the Gospel of John.
Harvest uses readily available tools to accomplish this job. Though their primary CRM is Hubspot, Josh has also used (and highly recommends) MailChimp.
Reaching Each Other and Reaching the World
Harvest has also found solutions for their small groups. “Though we’re called to self-quarantine in these times, we’re not called to isolate,” Josh says. “As a Christian, one of the worst things we could do would be just to tune in on Sunday morning, watch church on TV, and then say, ‘That’s good.’”
Once again, they’ve found the simple tools are the best. Their small groups use Zoom, Facebook Chat, and Google Hangouts.
And Harvest keeps reaching the lost! Known for their blowout concerts around the country, they found an innovative way to help Christians invite their friends to hear the Good News.
Harvest presented their own recently released Hollywood movie, Steve McQueen American Icon, as a one-time streaming event. It tells the story of how McQueen became a Christian and ends with a Gospel presentation from Greg Laurie. Harvest encouraged their audience to invite friends to stream the film together.
- Bring a fresh word every weekend—no recycled messages
- When it comes to online tools, low-cost and free tools work well
- Help pastors transition to the role of “online” pastor
- Keep in close communication with your staff
- Give viewers an opportunity to take a next step
- Keep small groups alive
- Give your congregation ways to invite others to hear the Good News
Has God given you the vision to reach people in this moment?
There are more opportunities to touch lives with the Good News of Jesus than ever before. We’re here to help churches and ministries of all shapes and sizes fulfill God’s world-shaking, heart-healing call to go and make disciples of all nations.We have a free tool that can get you started in the first step: Identifying who you are and who you’re called to reach. It’s our branding questionnaire, and you can download it right here.