Churches are temporarily transitioning to online ministry. In live-streaming worship services, we’re transporting the big group experience right into people’s living rooms. Yet like all ministry, contextualization is essential. You know the phrase “You had to have been there.” There is a lot that can get lost in translation when moving church online. Keep in mind the audience you’re reaching. What’s their environment when they are online with you?There is a lot that can get lost in translation when moving church online. Keep in mind the audience you’re reaching. What’s their environment when they are online with you? Click To Tweet
What works in larger group settings may not work as well via video
Longer sermons provide one example. If done well, they can certainly be compelling in a public worship service. But longer sermons don’t work nearly as well via video: they don’t hold people’s attention in a remote setting. Confession. When I watch almost any video presentation, I pay attention for 3 or 4 minutes before I start to think about doing something else. Then I move the cursor to see how long the video is. I wonder if that email came in yet. I am distracted by the news alert on my phone.
Rethink your worship service when moving church online
Think about the end-user and what you are really trying to accomplish. What works in a full-blown worship service doesn’t work the same way in a small group gathering. The same principle applies to taking church online. Consider these 3 areas when translating your church experiences online:
1. Be mindful of attention span
I am not the only one who struggles to pay attention to one-way video. We live in a highly distracted culture where even entertainment is multitasked. It is common to find people watching TV while playing games, texting, scrolling through social media, or even watching videos on their phone at the same time!
Having church online means we lose the in-person advantage of the social pressure to be polite and give full attention to the person speaking. Having church online means we need to up our game. We have to be strategic and creative in order to break through the noise and ensure our online audience hears the message of hope that we carry. Here are some ideas that can help you hold the attention of your audience:
- Break your sermon into shorter clips
- Change the background for a different look
- Add the text of verses and quotes to the screen
2. Keep it personal and keep it real
Without a live audience, we lose the ability to interact, to take the pulse of the room and respond accordingly. There is a reason comedy shows are recorded with a live audience. What’s a pastor to do without a congregation to laugh at their jokes?
In times of crisis, care and compassion are a balm to the soul. And it can be challenging to convey care via a videotaped sermon. Many pastors are framing sermons around verses of hope, love, and compassion. As they should. And don’t stop there. Consider what else you can do to make church online feel more like a personal touch. Here are some practical ideas that can help build a relational atmosphere online:
- Talk more casually and conversationally. Consider how you would normally act in their living room
- Be honest with how you are doing. Not only is it appreciated, but it also gives permission for others to be honest
- Speak from an armchair or your garden rather than from behind a podium
- Consider adding a videotaped testimony from a special guest
3. Give people something to do
While this is closely linked to attention span, it’s also so much bigger than that. Action means internalization. When we provide opportunities to connect, to interact, and to respond we are helping people solidify concepts. Moreover, having something to do can help people process and recover from trauma.
We need to think about how to make online church more interactive and do whatever we can to increase personal engagement and connection. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- If the service is recorded in advance, build in times where you tell people to push pause and engage in discussion, reflection, or prayer with the people they are with or if they are isolated, via FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom
- If you’re working live, Zoom has the capacity for breakout rooms so you can cluster people into smaller groups online for prayer or sharing
- Consider an experience or exercise you could walk them through
- Suggest courses of action such as helping an elderly neighbor or calling someone to provide encouragement
Remember the goal
All of these adaptations could make for a far richer experience for those you’re trying to reach. And “reach” is the word. One of the benefits of moving church online is that it’s likely your reach will be expanded. (Side note: If you are not familiar with online reach, google it or talk to a media communications expert or even a social media savvy teenager.)
Similar to the church of Acts being dispersed while under persecution, by moving church online we are the church being dispersed under quarantine. What an opportunity to live out the Great Commission.
Friends, I am thankful for you. The context is different but the sentiment of Isaiah 52:7 stands:
“How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
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