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5 Ways To Create a Successful Online Campus sought out Online Campus Pastor Brooks Talbott with multisite Compass Church, based in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, to ask: what are the top five components of successful campuses online? Check out Talbott’s five MUST DO’s.

1. Have a clear vision and talk about it often

Church leadership often doesn’t understand online ministry or what direction they should go with an online experience, primarily because it’s in our nature to sometimes be uncomfortable speculating on the unknown return on investment. The leadership may include your lead pastor, executive pastors, and elders.

The most critical piece is communicating a compelling and inspired vision or sense of core purpose for the online ministry. Gathering data and stories to share with your leadership and peers will help build an emotional response within your leadership and drive their understanding of why online is such a vital ministry tool. Our campus’ mission is to ‘drive people from [being] watchers to participators.’ We measure our mission’s success by people’s engagement: chatting, commenting, sharing, liking and giving. A big piece of this is when people do what we ask them to: fill out a connection card, respond now/decision card, baptisms, etc.

2. Decide what model of experience you will be. And stick with it

Different models of an online ministry/campus exist; are you a model that offers a virtual experience that allows individuals and families to explore the church’s values, services and community before deciding to attend? Or is your model providing a dedicated online-only space where individuals can worship and take next steps but ONLY at a distance?

At Compass, our hybrid model provides a space where people can participate in our online campus regardless of distance—it’s more a both/and culture. We have online campus attendees who watch services and worship online but attend our events in person. Maybe they attend physically for two weekends and then engage online the other two weekends. People serve in person but then go home and watch services online. Sticking with one model will make it easier for your people to know what you are and maintain realistic expectations for your leadership. Be who you are.

3. Speak personally to your online audience during live streaming

One of the big wins we have found with our online campus has been to engage at the moment with those joining us live on any of our chat platforms. If there is someone new, I always make a point to welcome them by name while live. I will also send those names to our lead pastor, Drew Sherman, who greets them by name and location at the beginning of his message. This has been consistently why we have a high retention rate—our guests love that we remember their names and reach out. Whether by a number or a chat username, behind that identity is a person that matters with a story. Any live element in your broadcast will enhance the viewer’s experience.

4. Have a plan for next steps

I want our online campus at Compass to be as physical of a campus as a digital one can be. Some examples would be to include a First Time Guest Connection—and make it personal with a gift, have a class for online to learn more about your church, a way for them to give, have a way to be accessible, and have a plan for getting people baptized in person and at a distance.

5. Have a stellar team of volunteers and staff

Our volunteer team helps with production, chat hosting and prayer. Consistent chat hosts are the key to building relationships and connections. Having your team pray with people, answer questions and post links, will drive conversation and participation. This helps encourage your online culture to be friendly, helpful and fosters an interactive experience.

For us, LIVE prayer has become a cornerstone for relational equity, and designating a staff member or chat host leader to follow up with those who ask for specific prayer requests (as needed) is essential. Our volunteers at the online campus aren’t just people who serve; I treat them as part of our staff. They are included in decisions and specific meetings and individually connect with our online campus attendees throughout the week.

On the flip side, asked what churches should avoid in their online operations. And this was Talbott’s response

I like to say that ‘authenticity ascends while excellence embraces.’ As I connect with churches around digital strategy, I notice churches embracing a polished look. This usually includes pre-recording their experience. One of the pieces of feedback I typically receive from guests or our attendees is how they love when I stumble over my words live, or maybe miss a transition or two. The authenticity of the moment while live makes people engage more. I will always stress that you cannot welcome people by name and where they are from enough. But also, many people view me as their pastor. Greeting them when they join us, as I would at a physical campus, makes them feel seen. When they post a prayer request in the chat—and I pray for that request live, helps them feel loved and cared for. I avoid pre-recording as much as I can. It’s preferable if I can get someone to host for me while I’m on vacation or sick.

Being authentic genuinely expresses who you are, and our attendees relate to that. Authenticity, though, does not mean you can’t put a high priority on excellence. Making your experience flow well with an intentional conversation, stellar graphics and announcements that make sense for your audience creates an experience that prepares those watching for what’s ahead.

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