Research Study Says 73 Million People Want Online Church

Crossroads uncovered that millions of Americans are willing to engage with Christian people and content, but not necessarily ready to go into a church building. So what do they want from online church?
The Apollos Project

Our friends over at Executive Leadership Solutions sat down with Kyle Ranson, the Online Pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Cincinnati, to dive into Crossroads’ study on demand for online church. We’re going to provide a summary of the study below. For the full conversation, visit 73 Million People Want Online Church. Trust us, it’s worth the listen.

So, what’s the demand for online church? According to Crossroads’ latest findings, 73 million people in the US want online church.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The research team uncovered astounding data highlighting that millions of Americans would be willing to engage with Christian people and content, but not necessarily ready to go into a church building. So what do they want from online church? Community.

People are still very interested in having a community of faith. It’s access to community that stands between them and participating in church.

They’re Not “Online” Relationships, They’re Just Relationships

Almost everyone knows couples who have met on dating apps. At one point, it was thought to be a strange way to date. We were worried about our friends on the apps. But dating apps have become a very normal way to form new relationships.

The Crossroads’ study asked participants questions focused on in-person versus online relationships. Many respondents replied, they’re just relationships! We don’t see our “online” friends as “online” friends. They’re just friends.

People’s version of what it means to be together is different than what the established church world would respond. It’s time to expand our views and consider where people are building community and spending their time. And that’s often online.

How to Create Online Church and Community that People Want

Many have tried to create online church by photocopying the Sunday in-person service and posting it online. Some have taken the concept of small groups and put them on Zoom. But this strategy is not highly effective in reaching new people.

Kyle Ranson tells us it comes down to product-market fit. We need to clearly listen and understand the pain points of who we’re trying to reach. This will help us build digital tools to meet their needs and create resources that feel natural to them. For example, using a mobile app to build community may not feel natural to the traditional church model. But we must focus on the needs of the people we serve. Crossroads has done just that with their Crossroads Anywhere app and has seen tremendous success.

In a different research study conducted by Crossroads, they found that people who sign up for small groups are extremely lonely and in need of community. The majority of Millenial and Gen Z participants who were anonymously surveyed admitted that they are lonely. But if you market to them as being lonely, they will reject it.

People often find community through exploring a topic, learning a new skill, or sharing a common passion/hobby. The gaming community is a great example of an online community enjoying an activity together. This activity leads to friendships, even if the entire relationship is centered around an online gathering ground.

Crossroads took this concept and created what they call “Cohorts”. The experience brings together people experiencing a similar problem for a six-week-long deep dive to solve the issue or learn more about it.

Cohorts is marketed as a program to solve a pain point, that just so happens to involve community. The call-to-action is just a six-week offering. This feels safer and easier to commit to versus a year-long journey or joining a church. This online church offering is an easy step to encourage engagement with your church.

Online church and fostering faith communities

How to Make Church More Accessible

What if we were to think about church as a spiritual health business? Looking at the physical health business, we can learn a lot.

First, make digital tools for members to track their progress. How convenient it is for us to look at our Apple watches and in 10 seconds note the steps we’ve taken for the day. What if we could track our spiritual health?

Second, make it easy for people to get started. No one joins a gym for the first time in 20 years because the gym promises to make them a marathoner. Rather than making people commit to joining a church, offer online resources for them to start at a lower commitment. Gyms offer 30-day free trials or incremental challenges to create healthy habits. We can do the same for spiritual health. Online church makes it easier for people to get started.

The Church has an incredible opportunity to build communities and expand its reach through online church. Crossroads’ research study made it clear that there is plentiful demand.

The Church has a long and rich history of innovation. Let’s continue to explore the future church. Read more about building the future church.

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