Fresh Insights and The Key to Effective Digital Ministry.
Fresh Insights and The Key to Effective Digital Ministry.


We found a goldmine. 

It contains zero actual gold but has given us something genuinely more valuable: insight into the people we’re reaching online, how they found us, and what they value most. In this article, I’m going to unpack all of it to help you sharpen your vision, flip your thinking, and start reaching people more effectively. 

Now, you might take actual gold over insights, and I get it. Many of us feel like the thing holding us back from making greater strides online (or frankly in any area of ministry) is a bigger bucket of resources to do more, build more, and go faster. But like Saint Lee Corso says, “Not so fast my friend.” I’ve gotten the privilege to talk to many churches and leaders across the country about their digital ministry and goals and I’ve found resources are simply not the bottleneck. Ever. 

Instead, there’s one fundamental misfire I see churches struggle to diagnose. I know it's a familiar sound because it’s the exact same mistake we made at Crossroads when we set out to create a new set of tools to reach people online. Even though at the time we thought we had them nailed, we actually weren’t clear on two critical things:  1. Who we were trying to reach. 2. What desire do they most want us to meet? 


Nine years ago, when we started trying to reach people online, we would have told you we were trying to reach the same people who come to our buildings, they just lived further away. Naturally, we assumed their biggest desire was the bullseye of the weekly building church rhythm: a once-a-week service with a great sermon and music. 

In the years since, thanks in large part to our team of incredible market researchers, we’ve discovered something: The person you reach online can have key differences from your in-person audience and has a fundamental desire you must meet. 

If you can understand those differences and meet that desire, you’ll grow. 

If not, you won’t. 

What follows are insights from our most recent survey of our online church covering both the WHO and the WHAT: Who is online church uniquely reaching and what do they most want?

This research was done by Emily Eismann under the leadership of Manny Schmidt. Massive thanks to them for leading the way.

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Key Findings

1. The majority never attended a Crossroads site. 

When our online church started, like most, it seemed full of Crossroads expats, but that’s shifted dramatically. Now, only 27% of respondents were ever part of a physical site. This means for the large majority, everything they know, see, and understand about our church comes from what they can experience online. This is important because it allows us to separate them from the people we reach with buildings and understand what makes them unique. For the rest of this article, I’m going to refer to that majority as the “Non-locals.”

2. Half of the Non-locals are new within the past 2 years and were not regularly attending any other church before Crossroads Anywhere. 

This is utterly MASSIVE. The research I’ve heard says something like 5-10% of the growth of the typical building church comes from unchurched people. This suggests our online church is outperforming that by 5-10x. These aren’t flakey drive-bys either. A full 66% of them now consider Crossroads to be “their church” and 72% have shared Crossroads with someone in the past 6 months. Viewed through the lens of our four-step spiritual growth framework, 72% are just across the line of faith. This is important because it highlights a massive need that we know is fundamental for them to grow further: community. No one grows alone. 

3. Most came in alone.

The largest individual chunk, 40%, discovered Crossroads through an invitation from a friend. The rest? 12% social media, 12% digital content, 10% searched churches online, 10% attended a special event at Crossroads, 8% downloaded the app, and 8% other means. Add that up and a full 60% weren’t invited in a traditional way. While we have plans to amp up our online invite game, this says our efforts to be wildly accessible, findable, and attractive online are working and matter greatly. It also says most of our online audience starts alone. That means they’re missing the critical growth ingredient: communal connection. Do you see a theme?

4. The Crossroads Anywhere App is more valuable than the weekend service. 

This is utterly groundbreaking. When asked what the “Must Haves” of their experience were, 51% of Non-locals said the online weekend compared to 61% who said the Crossroads App. I’m not going to be shy: While we aim to create a world-class online weekend experience, the Crossroads Anywhere App is our secret sauce for digital ministry, and not by accident. It doesn’t major on the experiences you typically think of when you hear “church app”: a place to post the weekend service, see announcements and give. Instead, it focuses on meeting the number one desire (and need) of people online: community and connection. This survey backs up what we’ve been learning and leaning into for years: A great online weekend sermon is table stakes for online ministry, but to be effective we absolutely must deliver community and connection. It’s the thing our online target audience values the most. 

Advice you didn’t ask for...

That understanding has fundamentally changed our approach to online ministry, and while I would never suggest or believe that the fruit we’re seeing is a direct result of our effort (definitely not), I can see how the clarity on who we’re trying to reach and what they desire most is aligned with the positive numbers and insights from this survey. 

Our “who” is unchurched people who respond to the unique language we use to preach the gospel, no matter where they live. We don’t believe we’re the best by any stretch: if there are 10,000 different languages, we might be number 7,894. The burn we feel is to preach the gospel in that language to everyone everywhere who is wired to respond to it. We do that by putting it in accessible places and formats beyond a 35-minute sermon (see the results for social media, online content, and search above). But we don’t stop there. In line with their biggest desire, our “what” or promise to them is A movement you can fully belong to, no matter where you live. 

Humor a bit of preaching here at the end and I think it’ll make more sense. Buildings are awesome at helping to deliver weekly community and connection to people who live close enough. But if you read Acts 2, one of the seminal passages for church health and growth, you’ll see a clear rhythm: not weekly—daily. Acts 2:46 says, “Every day they continued to meet together...” If we offered an awesome community and connection thing at our buildings “every day,” we all instinctively know that no one would come. That’s because while the first-century church lived within a short walk of each other, making daily connection simple, the layout of our towns and traffic patterns are radically different and present huge barriers. We have highways, rush hour, evening basketball practices, and piano recitals which take us all over town and eat up our time. 

Still, the deep desire for daily connection is hardwired into us and is particularly apparent when you talk to people online—an insight that led us to an epiphany. Digital can do something physical never could: deliver daily community and connection. That’s exactly what our App is built to deliver and we’re seeing the returns. Every day, people can read the same scripture together, share journals, and pray and be prayed for in incredible ways. The home tab of our app doesn’t feature our weekend message, announcements, or a link to give—it’s built around people connecting with God and each other every day. 

My advice: focus your online ministry around delivering daily community and connection. That might seem like a high bar, but the tools to reach it are more accessible than you think. The most important thing is to clarify the goal with your team. 


Some questions to ask yourself and your team:

  1. Do we know who we’re reaching online and what they desire most? 
  2. What rhythm of communal connection do our current tools and experiences offer?
  3. Do we have a goal for frequency of connection? Is it weekly? Daily?
  4. How might we better deliver on that goal with the resources we have available?


About the Author:

Kyle Ranson is a pastor and leader of creative product development with over 15 years of experience building and leading highly innovative and effective teams. For the past decade, he has served on the executive leadership team at Crossroads Church overseeing physical and digital experiences for all ages, software development, social media and marketing, content creation, and generosity. In his time serving, Crossroads has twice been named the Fastest Growing Church in America and has recently seen its online church experience tremendous growth.

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