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Which Preaching Style Works Best Online?

An important question during the COVID-19 church shutdown...

This week I was discussing with my old friend Bishop Kenneth Ulmer about the best style of preaching during a live stream message. By “style” we’re not talking about expository versus topical or motivational versus scholarly. We were referring to the physical style of preaching and what works best on camera for a live stream – especially when 100% of your congregation is watching online.

In that context, the two styles most frequently discussed are the classic full on preaching style most pastors do on a typical Sunday versus a lower key conversational style that many younger preachers are known for today.

Most pastors can get pretty worked up and passionate about their message, while others maintain a conversational approach. The problem is that the debate shouldn’t be about which is better, but which reflects a pastor’s personal style and the expectations of the congregation.

There are numerous pastors – Andy Stanley for example – who are very good at the conversational approach. Andy isn’t a loud or forceful preacher, but he still makes a powerful connection with his congregation online. And the truth is, Andy – and pastors like him – were “conversational” even before the lockdown. Andy knows his strengths and is sticking with it.

On the other hand, Pastor Eric Petree at Citygate Church in Ohio leads a diverse, pentecostal church. Eric is a strong preacher and can get very passionate when he’s in the pulpit, and even now online, he preaches pretty much the same way. And while doing that, has actually expanded his live stream worship and music time, and has experienced growth across the board every week of the shutdown.

There isn’t a perfect style that works best online. But having said that, I do think many pastors should consider dialing it back a bit – because you can’t walk around on the stage and get too theatrical online. When 100% of the congregation is on the other end of a camera, we have to adapt everything to that reality.

But the bottom line is that for me, it’s not a debate about style, it’s about FOCUS. Focusing on your own unique personal preaching style, your unique congregation, delivering what they expect, but within the context of making it work on camera.

For more of my blog posts, video teaching, and webinars to help you navigate this crisis, check out this list.

I’ve said before that during this shutdown, we’re off the map. And when we’re in uncharted territory, rather than trying to be someone you’re not, let’s focus on who you are. Experiment. Try new things. See what works. But never let that overshadow your own unique gifts, and an intimate knowledge of the expectations of your own congregation.

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12 Comments

  1. I have tried to be the same as I always am Phil. I’m not a screamer or a sedentary speaker. I do find it hard not to move from one side of the pulpit to the other, to get away from my “cheat sheet” as I used to do. I am a naturally moving speaker with my hands and feet and miss seeing people’s faces. I have thought about sitting at a desk or in a chair at the pulpit but my wife says it would be unnatural. So i struggle with comfort level. The good thing is because of social media (FB at this time) I can at least still stay in contact on Sunday. (I am not on FB but my daughter, wife, and tons of others are). I love the people i serve and look forward to that face to face again. However, I am grateful God has given me a chance to stay in contact with them.

    1. Excellent report Bill. I would never advocate being unnatural, because your comfort level will always make a difference in your preaching. You can move, however, just keep focused on the congregation through the camera. Which sounds exactly like what you’re doing! Keep it up! Thanks for the comment!

    1. Short, devotional segments are always good. However, in this post, I’m focusing on live streaming worship services and the style of preaching that comes across best on camera. But in the meantime, keep producing your short projects!

  2. I find that the most successful preachers have learned to “read the room”. They understand who they’re speaking to and what they need to say to connect with their audience. They know that to be effective, they have to adjust their demeanor, vocabulary and style. Preaching to a Sunday congregation is not the same as speaking to someone outside the faith community watching on YouTube. I remember Oral Roberts saying, “You never change the message. But you do change the method”.

  3. What about the preaching environment? I’ve seen pastors stream-preaching in front of blank walls as well as up on busy stages. Should preaching live-stream be more focused on the speaker with less visual distractions, no visual distractions whatsoever, or does it really matter?

    1. Great point Nathan. If you need, get off the sanctuary stage. I don’t need to see wide shots, potted plants, or drum sets. I do think it matters. The background should look better than a Zoom call, but it shouldn’t distract from the message. And put some distance between the pastor and the back wall. The background should go slightly out of focus, so the viewer is focused on the pastor.

  4. Before the virus- I was a relatively quiet and I might say boring preacher… During the 17 weeks we were forbidden to meet- God really helped me and did a very good change… I began to preach with more passion and enthusiasm- this was mostly to keep my online audience engaged…

    Thanks to God- we were able to resume meeting as a church the first week of April- This past month- with a live audience- my enthusiastic- passionate preaching I did online has carried over- much to a good response from our church members and my wife!

    Notes- I am a missionary in Asia in case you wonder why we were able to begin meeting early again… In my area it has become more more relaxed.

    1. Great update Brent! Good to hear. You’re one of the few who’s preaching style is gotten more expansive during the shutdown. That’s a great testimony to your level of self-awareness. Thanks for sharing that comment!

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