How Should The Church be Gathering People?

As you’re looking for new ways to engage with your church community, keep in mind two things: People are looking for solutions to their needs and want to be part of authentic communities.
The Apollos Project

The TV show Friends glamorized a group of friends hanging out, doing life together. From the mundane to major milestones, they were there for each other. Friends isn’t exactly a biblical model for a lot of things—but they nail the gathering piece.

Central to practicing the way of Jesus is gathering. Caring for the sick, holding one another accountable, being quick to listen and slow to speak, celebrating each other’s victories, being present in the moment.

John Mark Comer, pastor and author, says that “This rootedness in the moment and connectedness to God, other people, and himself weren’t the by-products of a laid-back personality or pre–Wi-Fi world; they were the outgrowths of a way of life. A whole new way to be human that Jesus put on display in story after story.”  

But this way of life is now unusual. Digital platforms aren’t the only things to blame.  

Two major disruptions to church gatherings in the last decade: COVID and travel sports

Obviously, COVID forced us to separate.

But travel sports and other weekend events now consume weekends for many families, making it impossible to attend Sunday services or enjoy even a few hours of rest.  

And still, people are seeking community.

The definition of community has shifted from traditional small groups or Sunday gatherings to include online platforms. Just look at the massive popularity of social platforms like BeReal, Bumble BFF, and TikTok.

BeReal is a social platform that sends out notifications to users simultaneously, prompting them to take a picture of what they’re doing. BeReal brands itself as an authentic look at people’s lives without the filters and edits of other platforms. And it’s working. BeReal has 73.5 million active monthly users. And 34% of BeReal’s users (most of whom are between 26 and 44 years old) say the app is an authentic social media platform.    

Creator-driven learning platforms like Maven, Masterclass, and Mighty Networks are also exploding. Each pushes niche content, where you can form a community around learning how to sous vide or write songs, or build your own branded classes and apps. With all these tools and niche communities, influencers can become effective preachers, in their own way.

Digital platforms are the church’s biggest competition for people’s attention. And in many cases, the platforms are winning. Why? Because they’re constantly evolving to offer people an experience they want.

Churches aren’t very good at adaptation. But they can be.

Reconsider how people can and should gather in your church community

The reality of physical distance, self-help, niche content, and life online should force us to ask different questions.

  • What can gatherings look like online?
  • How do we measure success for an online gathering?
  • What would it take to fill people’s felt needs?
  • How do we make gathering safe and fun?
  • What can we learn from successful content platforms?    

Create ways for people to engage with your church app daily, in ways that feel natural to them. As you’re looking for new ways to engage with your church community, keep in mind two things: People are looking for solutions to their needs and want to be part of authentic communities.

Cohorts: An alternative to small groups  

Most people feel stuck in some area of their life. But classes are hard to schedule and often come with the awkwardness of meeting new people. Cohorts are a 21-day jumpstart for a particular area of life. Chase Oaks, a church in Texas, is kicking off their cohort experiment with 21 Days to a Better Marriage. It includes weekly teaching, daily challenges, and coaches to walk participants through the journey. Plus, it’s all on-demand, which offers the ultimate flexibility.  

Cohorts are positioned to be successful for four reasons.  

  1. Relevance. Cohorts are like successful niche content communities—they address a specific felt need, such as improving a marriage or becoming a better dad. They offer relevant solutions to problems in your church community.
  2. Connections. Cohorts facilitate connections among people who are after the same thing. Everyone in the group automatically has something in common.
  3. Flexibility. The work required is minimal, with cohorts lasting just 21 days and only requiring a few minutes each day. Plus, busy people can experience the cohort when it’s convenient for them.  
  4. Low risk. People can choose to interact as they’re comfortable, avoiding the awkward small talk of small groups. And there’s no expectation for groups to continue meeting, unless the participants choose to do so.    

Experiment with different gathering types for your church

Cohorts have the potential to solve real problems, and we are excited about this approach. But it’s just the beginning. Experimenting with new ways of gathering is just one part of improving your church’s digital strategy.

At Apollos, we work with dozens of the largest churches in the country, helping them explore how digital solutions might fit into their ministry model. As part of our digital church technology suite, we offer Apollos Communities, a suite of flexible community features that allow your church to create new types of group experiments.

Anyone at your church can be in a community in your church app. Within communities, people can practice daily habits with each other, post and share resources, watch services, or learn about volunteer opportunities. To encourage attendees to create deeper connections within the community, you can deliver personalized recommendations on the home screen, based on each person’s journey.    

If you’d like more ideas for growing your digital church, please reach out to our team. We’d love to help!

See what Apollos can do for you