Since our local church building was closed here in Los Angeles on Sunday because of COVID-19, I stayed at home, and being the media guy I am, started watching quite a number of different church services online. And as usual, I made notes (I won’t mention names.) The good news is that church leaders are finally taking live streaming seriously, so to hopefully encourage pastors and leaders to get online and make it more effective, here’s some things you should consider before your next online service:
1. Make it easy to find! I was amazed at the number of churches who barely mentioned the live stream on their website. With a few church sites, I had to go through 5 or 6 clicks to actually find it. Whether your building is closed or not, this is the time to make the live stream button BIG and prominently positioned on the home page.
2. Send out a reminder text right before the service starts. Even well intentioned people get involved with breakfast, getting dressed, or sleeping late, so think about sending them a reminder.
3. Give the early viewers something to watch. In my experience, significant numbers of viewers will tune in up to 30 minutes before it actually starts. So don’t make them stare at a graphic or blank screen. Provide an on-camera host or online pastor to prepare them for the service. It’s a great time for sharing church announcements, a prayer time, or other ways to strengthen the connection.
4. When the service starts, consider having the pastor begin with a greeting and/or prayer. Do it just for the online viewers and it will make them feel more a part of the church family.
5. If you’re just starting online because you can’t meet in the building, I wouldn’t introduce new worship songs. I’d keep this part of the experience something that’s more familiar to the online viewers. So use worship songs, choir numbers, or hymns that the congregation already knows well.
6. If you don’t have a live audience, don’t fake it. Talk directly to the camera because that’s where your audience is. It may take a little practice to be comfortable, but it’s worth it.
7. If you have multiple cameras and no audience, you’ll most likely need to move the cameras from their normal positions to maximize the online experience. Plus, there’s no need to do a lot of side shots, or cutting between cameras. Focus on creating an intimate space between the speaker and the viewers on camera. And don’t shoot it wide! The connection is in the facial expressions and the eyes. Remember, they’re probably watching on a mobile screen, so the image is already small. Shooting wide shots only makes the speaker look even smaller.
8. Speaking of the audience, during challenges like the Corona Virus, when your church is physically closed, even if you have your staff acting as a small audience I wouldn’t show them on camera. Online viewers may get confused as to who they are and wonder why they can’t attend as well.
9. Use graphics! If you have a graphics capability, add scriptures, sermon points, and other notes to help the viewer. Some studies suggest that videos and TV programs that use extensive graphics help viewers remember significantly more. So fire up your ProPresenter or other graphics tools and get more helpful information on the screen.
10. Get a proven platform like the Church Online Platform for your live stream. Professional platforms allow you to insert a countdown clock, chat room, response tools, and more.
11. Don’t wait until the end to take an offering. You’d be surprised at how many people will leave the stream early, so if you wait until the end, you’ll lose a significant number of potential givers. Find a good break earlier in the service to deal with giving.
12. Make the live stream available 24/7. I was surprised at the number of streamed services that ended when church ended. Blank screen. Nothing. I wasn’t able to replay it. The truth is, you’ll get more viewers outside the normal service times if you just make it available on demand.
13. This is the most important lesson: COVID-19 or not, it’s time to consider your online audience a legitimate congregation. From this point on, you should treat your online viewers as a campus. That means, if possible, have a campus pastor for your online viewers and in the chat room, provide them resources, and be more intentional about making them feel welcome. We often forget that even without the medical challenge we face right now, there’s always a potential audience watching online. Students away at college, business people who travel, families on vacation. My wife Kathleen and I travel extensively, but no matter where we are, on Sunday morning she opens her laptop or mobile device and pulls up our home church’s live stream.
Regardless of your theological position about what a church service should be, the practical matter is that you’re ignoring a potentially significant number of people when you don’t take your live stream seriously.
I’ve also released a special report on live streaming – particularly during this time of the Corona Virus. It’s a resource that will help you maximize your live stream experience. My suggestion would be to print out this post, and download this special report, and go over both documents with your leadership team before your next online service.
And please – share in the comments below how your online services went this week!