I was on the phone the other day with Justin Dean and we were discussing how just 2 weeks ago there was divided opinion on the topic of church online streaming. Now, with the pandemic of the COVID-19 the question is now “how does our Sunday service programming change for online church?”
Though I’m not here to be an expert on laying out a tried-and-true formula for effective engagement online, I do believe there are a few discussion starters I can help you and your leadership team begin as you navigate these uncharted waters.
First, we need to understand that what worked last week in a physical service may not be the most effective in the future with online streaming. When you have someone in a live environment, they are able to be fully immersed, and the distractions of their phone or devices pale in comparison to the live atmosphere that they are occupying physically. However, when someone is in an online environment, and streaming your church for example, the distraction device is your platform for engagement. This means that a distraction has a far greater ability to turn someone away from your content, message or stream.
I encourage you to process as a leadership team what is most effective for the platform of online-streaming? What does your community want and need when it comes to a digital church platform? Are you providing these needs? Or are you still trying to take last week’s square peg of a physical service and trying to place it in a round hole of internet streaming?
Second, we need to understand that people don’t engage online the same way that people engage in person. Take worship for example. In a live environment, you’ll engage by raising your hands, singing aloud and participating in worship. However, in an online environment, we are conditioned to watch rather than participate.
Because of this human nature, we need to adjust our expectations and our realizations of how people will engage. Think about award shows, they rarely perform two full-length songs back to back without a speaking element in between. This may be something to consider in our quest to improve the engagement of our online services.
Consider shortening your worship time in an online stream, so that you use it more as a contemplative reflection rather than an engaging worship moment. Ask as a team if your worship leader can do something to encourage private participation instead of public engagement? Begin to process how an online stream is different than a live environment when it comes to a band, musicians, video, etc.
Third, consider ways to facilitate conversation and engage in the multi-tasked environment that is the internet. When we’re in person, we can’t really have a two way conversation due to the limitations of the environment. Think about it, someone can’t turn to their neighbor and start discussing the sermon or the announcements at church without being a distraction to others in their near vicinity.
However, in an online manner, we do this all the time. We’ll have a text message conversation with a friend while we’re watching the news and browsing Pinterest. Multi-tasking online may make you think it’s a distraction toward online church streaming, but it’s only a distraction if you let it become one. What if we can reclaim our online distractions in a way that encourages conversation with engaging in more ways than one?
Therefore, ask your team how we can engage conversation with your online community during the presentation of the service. One church in Cincinnati, OH has volunteers that run chat windows and discussion groups in the middle of their service. They want to be a part of engaging you on all fronts of your multi-tasked online experience. Another church in Nashville, TN has setup online bible studies using Facebook groups, a platform that many in their community use on a daily basis.
One of my favorite quotes from Craig Groeschel, lead pastor of Life Church, is “In order to reach people no one else is reaching, we must be willing to do things no one else is doing.” In this new season of trying to understand how we can leverage the tools and technology of online streaming, we may be able to try something new in an effort of reaching someone new. Think about it this way, someone may virtually attend your weekend gatherings that may never have considered visiting your physical building. Technology can remove the stigma of “attending church” and your online streaming may become the bridge to engage with a new member in your community.
As a team, identify ways to tell the gospel story in new and creative ways. Avoid the temptation to only craft a weekend experience for the “regular” attenders. This could include sharing powerful video testimonials of life change in your organization, finding a creative and compelling way to share your churches mission and vision, or simply finding new ways to engage your youth and children ministries.
How can you use this opportunity to create online bible studies, regular email campaigns with devotionals, further readings, or podcasts that engage a topic deeper. I want to emphasize that streaming on Sunday can’t be limited to one platform and one hour, the church has never been limited to that before, so we must be careful to let this technological shift cause us to fall into that line of thinking.
I hope this helps you and your leadership team begin to process together what it looks like to use technology to engage your current community, while reaching new people. This new shift may include re-imagining our weekend worship services, or starting online discussions with new tools and technology. Regardless, our hope is to meet people in our community that need the saving grace and all-surpassing peace of Jesus Christ.
This is uncharted territory for all churches, so it’s okay to ask big questions, try new strategies and explore uncharted solutions for the days and months ahead. I believe we’re living in an “Esther” sort of season where your gifts and talents in creativity and technology are uniquely poised for such a time as this in our world.