By: Christa Meland
When COVID-19 hit Minnesota back in March, Revs. Jim and Sara Hein—like most pastors—quickly pivoted to online worship for their congregation, Vineyard UMC in Hutchinson. Their first videos weren’t of the highest quality. But the Heins were pleased to see how many people they were reaching through Facebook.
But then something strange happened: As their video quality increased, their reach went down—fewer views, fewer likes, fewer shares.
With the huge number of church videos suddenly available online, Jim Hein realized that others were doing exactly what he was doing—scrolling past most of them. The Heins are no stranger to trying new things: As clergy winners of the 2020 Denman Award for Reaching New People for successfully relaunching Vineyard last fall, they’re used to constantly assessing what’s working and not working—and adapting their practices accordingly.
So Jim Hein decided to made two key decisions: He invested in a nice camera, studio lights, a green screen, and high-quality editing software. And, given that Vineyard wants to attract young families in its community, he decided to start creating some brief and easy-to-understand Bible lesson videos specifically for kids. (Some past ones have been about Jesus warning about wanting to look like a good person for the sake of appearances, the story of the Good Samaritan, and the story of Jonah.)
Those moves have paid off and helped the church attract new people—even when its doors were closed.
Key to the church’s online success has been a tip the Heins learned at the 2018 REACH event: Anytime someone watches worship, or likes or comments on a video, the Heins follow up with a private Facebook message—something along the lines of “Hey, thanks so much for watching. I’m pastor Jim Hein. How are you doing? How’d you get connected to our church this morning?”
“We see it as a social ministry,” said Hein.
Sometimes there’s no response, but other times, it leads to a conversation that results in further participation in the life of the church.
Such was the case for one family. Someone who who had just started attending Vineyard shared one of the Heins’ videos for kids. The family saw the video and had been looking for ways to engage their kids in faith development during the season of quarantine.
So when Jim Hein started up a conversation with the new family on Facebook Messenger, it led to dialogue. When restrictions relaxed a bit, the Heins invited the family to an outdoor dinner at their parsonage.
Now, the family is embedded in the life of the church and on track to officially join when Vineyard has its next membership Sunday. And one of the family’s children is thrilled to star in one of Vineyard’s upcoming children’s videos.
As the Heins continue to ponder the effectiveness of their videos, Jim Hein regularly asks himself: Who is this video for? What’s the goal and does it accomplish that goal? Are people actually going to stop and watch it? Is it eye-catching and engaging? And is the video authentic to who we are as a church?
“We try to regularly self-evaluate, and if it’s not accomplishing what we want it to, we pivot again,” said Hein. “The hope and goal is a vibrant relationship with Jesus. We try to do things that matter to us as individuals. What gets us excited, helps us do ministry in way that isn’t just routine or going through the motions? If we embody that, people are attracted to it and they want it in their own life.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church