We’re in a series about the Seven Building Blocks of Evangelism, and this week’s building block is Delivery. By this, I mean the channel used to deliver the content to your audience. Historically, this primarily has been through public meetings at the church and in-home Bible studies, but neither of these delivery methods are available to us right now in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. In this season of social distancing, we seriously need to consider online evangelistic meetings as the delivery vehicle.
Authentic, effective evangelism requires engagement: smiling faces and personal conversations that build trust and encourage interests to feel welcome in a local church.
So, how do we encourage engagement in an online world? Whether in person or online, engagement happens two ways: depth or width. Depth is the idea of the meaningfulness of the connection. Am I talking to someone who understands my experiences, my community, my circumstances? Width comes down to how many times you engage with a person. We know from studies in marketing and customer interaction that a group needs to reach out to a person 7 times on average before they will engage back.
Once we understand these two important aspects to meaningful engagement we need to overlay that onto our online evangelism dilemma.
Zoom: The Right Platform for Engagement
We’ve researched a number of technology options for online evangelistic meetings, and in the end we recommend Zoom. Platforms like Facebook Live or YouTube Live may give you more exposure, and potentially help get the message out more widely. But we don’t believe they do a good job with direct engagement. In order to have a small group session, capture an email address, or check actual attendance (other than through likes and comments), you need to use tricky marketing techniques, such as lead magnets, signup buttons, or popups. None of these build a feeling of trust. Facebook Live and Youtube Live are designed for reach, not for connection.
Zoom, on the other hand, is all about connection. That is why it works for schools, churches and other organizations that need people to see each other face-to-face.
Here are some reasons to use Zoom for your online evangelistic meetings:
- You capture data that you can keep. When you invest in evangelism marketing, it’s crucial that you have something to show for it. Even if you don’t see baptisms directly from an event, you want to know who your guests are so you can continue a dialogue with each one. You can reach out about future events, or invite them to a small group Bible study. When you know who has previously connected with your church, and tracked their engagement, you can help each one take the next step. Zoom allows you to see who is participating and gives you the opportunity to capture usable information—not just account usernames.
- You can track attendance. The information you get from Zoom is richer than that of social media platforms. By setting up a Zoom meeting you will be able to easily track attendance, instead of just watching people come and go through your feed.
- Small groups are built in. Zoom offers a feature that mimics one of the great techniques for evangelism. With break out sessions, you can create small discussion groups. With this tool, you can even preset the groups with a combination of members and guests and add a leader to ensure things stay on track. Once the discussion time is over, you can bring everyone back to continue the main meeting.
- Communication is in a closed loop. While some church members love seeing their friends on Facebook Live, it can be off-putting for a guest viewer to see the comment stream of personal, Adventist-related interjections. (Really, the phrase “Happy Sabbath” does not foster a sense of inclusiveness for guests who have never heard that greeting.) A stream of inside-speak can quickly make someone feel more of an outsider if they are not yet aware of that terminology. Meanwhile, Zoom allows you to control communication. You can use polls and breakout sessions to create an interactive environment without permitting freewheeling, unfocused communication.
Meeting or Webinar
With Zoom, there are two methods to hold online evangelistic meetings: meeting or webinar. In working with this technology ourselves, we have seen benefits and detriments to both. Which way to do it will depend on your goals and your ministry environment.
Zoom describes meetings as ideal for hosting interactive sessions and people who want to break into small groups. Webinars, on the other hand, are described as more like a virtual lecture hall. Although this may make webinar sound more similar to an evangelistic meeting, remember that the goal is engagement—the kind you would get in a physical setting, but won’t get from an online lecture.
Meetings offer the ability for everyone to see everyone else the way they would in a church setting. You can still mute everyone upon entry, remove chat, and control the meeting environment. But now you can also set up breakout sessions and give everyone the experience of knowing there are others in the “room” with them.
Running your online evangelistic event through a Zoom meeting does add complexity, and you’ll want to have an experienced host to help it go smoothly. In our experience, the webinar format is a little easier for a host to manage, but it will result in less interactivity between participants.
Finding the Right Platform for You
Ultimately, it’s your choice. Use the platform that is right for you. To help you consider all the factors, we’ve created a chart that compares Zoom Meetings, Zoom Webinars, Facebook Live and YouTube Live.
Can evangelism work online? Yes. We saw it work last Spring in several churches, resulting in guests making the decision to join the church. But it does require intentional engagement with your attendees. Using Zoom is one powerful way to create a relational environment that will encourage future engagement and long-term connection—leading new members of your community into a meaningful relationship with Jesus and members of your local church.