by Dave Carroll
This pandemic does not have to paralyze you. Oh, it can. But it shouldn’t. Not you, person of God. Not the Church! We have all of Heaven cheering us on and providing everything we need for life and godliness in this season.
Let me provide you some motivation before we get to tools and styles that will help you in this age of online-only church. Yes, I know many churches are caught off guard and unprepared. It doesn’t have to stay that way. If you will educate yourself and work on it a little bit every day, you will be surprised how far you advance in a short period of time. Pastors and worship leaders know this discipline very well! How do I know? You work diligently on your sermons, learning your songs, scheduling your people and keeping a campus clean every week. Now is the time to apply the same weekly work ethic into the digital arena to maintain church community.
The first and most important step is to decide that GOD WANTS TO USE YOUR CHURCH in this unprecedented season. There is one question I hear many church leaders grappling with that needs to die a swift death. It is the question, “how do I do what I normally do?” I want to encourage you to scrap this question, give yourself a blank slate, and open your eyes to the fact that you can now do anything God lays on your heart… any time or day of the week!
Stop worrying about if your live stream is good enough (for those behind the curve, just getting started is fantastic), leave insecurity behind if you’re not sure how to preach or sing to an online audience (although you will need to grow) and quit worrying about how much offering will come in (because we all know it will be less for a season) and fix your heart on the people God has called you to reach. This is the one thing that has not changed for you. Focusing on this calling is what will un-paralyze you. This is what will drive you to honor God and learn the ministry skills you were unconcerned with just last week. It will help you own that this is no longer an ecclesiological argument on whether or not church online should be a thing. Now is the time to demand movement out of yourself and your church. Hopefully, you can now fix your eyes on Jesus and set your heart on the mission. Once your mind is made up and faith in God reclaimed, you will need to learn a little bit about your new ministry playground.
Here are a few thoughts to help you in your journey of doing church online.
They are in no particular order. These are meant to help you move from being paralyzed to being propelled in this new season of church life. Some of these points are meant to put tension on all size churches, big and small. The aim here is to help you add color to what can be a cold digital world.
Google and YouTube will teach you how to do it.
I bet in the stress and hurry for this weekend, you forgot about this! These are two websites that will help you find out how to do anything you need to learn. There is about a 100% chance someone has a video tutorial or step-by-step written directions of what you need to learn. I once fixed a tankless hot water heater piece by piece watching some guy on YouTube show me how to do it. If I can learn to do that, you can get your church going digitally. Frequency is your friend. If you think your new goal is to sit in your office all week long to go online for an hour on Sunday, it is time to scrap that thinking. Your community is sitting at home and you have time on your hands. Now is the time to schedule out how you will engage your church and community through technology each and every day. It doesn’t have to be fancy. If all you have is email, send one daily. If all you have is a phone, pick it up and start connecting (read: texting). You should be asking all of your church staff or key leaders to go live everyday on Facebook or Instagram and do the people work of connecting with the teams they normally do. They should be in videoconference meetings (ie, Zoom or something similar). Post pictures of what you’re working on today; take some phone video of your new routine, letting people into your life. You can even go behind the scenes and show live video of people recording your next post!
Personality will trump polish online.
I did NOT say… do not be polished. By all means, publish the best online service you can every week. Resolve to get better and better at it every day. Even large churches will struggle with this point because they will keep doing what they always do to an empty room and it will suffer from a silent stale element. Listen, absolutely everyone knows your room is empty. It was much easier to buy online church when we knew the room was mostly full. It was like we got to sneak into your room and watch from the back. In a season where there are no people in the room, we need to rethink the venue and environment from which we film our sermons and lead songs! Also, there are numerous churches out there already winning the day in production with the best equipment available. Do not compete. I repeat, do not compete! What most churches need is a clean enough live stream to let their personality shine through. Pastor, do not act stoic. If you can’t preach to a live audience in an auditorium, preach to a group of people in a living room. Online is the time to smile, laugh and acknowledge the full range of emotion. Do not start a live stream by standing and asking people to worship. Start by introducing yourself and the people who will be on camera or create a moment with a song, scripture or news. Talk about funny things that have happened and challenges that have occurred. Let your guard down. Every church will be going online now, but only a few will connect.
You can do this from anywhere.
Living rooms, parks, kitchen tables and patios can be great places to have a worship service in an online world. This is particularly freeing to rural pastors who do not have sufficient internet connection. Simply go where internet is available and record. If you are a large church with plenty of resources, this is your encouragement to get extremely creative with where and how you shoot your posts. Large churches, make yourself available to surrounding churches to help them get their content up and running.
Online feels about three times longer, so say less.
This point is more accurate when considering a worship service online, than say, trying to connect with smaller groups. An aspect of online church is everything feels longer to the viewer. I don’t have data to back this up, but trust me. Every now and then someone is talented enough to make a live stream feel short. Don’t assume it is you. Shorter segments work much more effectively than longer. So a 15-minute sermon can often feel like 45 minutes over livestream. A 1-minute prayer can have the effect of a 3-minute live prayer. A 6-minute song can feel like 18 minutes online. So cut everything down if you are newer to this. Trust me, you would rather everyone wish you went longer than go for a bag of Doritos mid-sermon. If you pump out a quality and quicker-moving 30-40 minute service the next few weekends, you just had a big win. Chances are you have more technology to do this than you think. You probably have a smartphone or know someone who does. I could stop there. You could run this entire thing from a phone. Seriously! Ok, Ok. Most of you want to do more than that and it’s a good thing. You have lights on your stage you can take down, couches and dinner tables to sit at, a soundboard that moves and choir mics that make excellent room microphones. If you have even a simple USB microphone you can do a lot more than you think!
The camera is where you look to look people in the eye.
Look at the camera when you talk. Don’t look at your notes as much as you used to when you had a live audience. Don’t look down or up. Look straight at the camera. This is the time to practice speaking to a focal point instead of a person. There are more people than ever listening to you behind that focal point. Many ministry leaders get their fuel from hearing and seeing the people in the room. Now you need to reach deep down and speak with confidence that the Lord is providing you an audience to impact with the gospel.
Your church does not have trouble reaching new people anymore.
Good news. You will have no choice but to reach new people with the gospel online! Make sure to advertise your online service (promote the post) on the platform you will present it. Send a link out via email and ask your people to send it to someone new. Ask your people to share posts. Create an event on your social media account. If you don’t know how to do this, ask a teenager. Seriously. This will mean you will need to treat every time you go on live like you are talking to someone you just met today. Introduce yourself. Introduce some of the people who will be on the screen with you. Welcome people who are watching you for the first time. Make sure to have a separate person ready to kick-off and encourage the comment section. This is crucial for keeping people engaged, especially if you are doing a Facebook Live. The comment section is where you can follow up with decisions and facilitate ministry. Have a plan to connect new people to your staff via direct message or provide an email.
Stay connected to the people who have served you and the church so well.
One of the traps every church leader will have in this season is to lose connection to the people who helped get you to where you are as a pastor or leader. Don’t fall in that trap. Make a list of people who you must stay connected to over the course of the pandemic. Call them, email them and ask them how they are doing. Another way you can stay connected (I keep mentioning this like a broken record player) is mid-sized group video conferencing. Bonus thought: Be wise and conference in groups of three or more when both genders are involved.
Spend time during your largest online gatherings facilitating processes and plans.
It is likely you plan to sing, pray and preach this weekend online. You must not leave out the plan for this season. You are going to have to work ON your church, not just IN your church. This weekend, take a couple of minutes to share the new opportunities on HOW people can stay connected with your church. You may know what you’re doing and when, but if you do not communicate it clearly and often, you will risk losing your people to churches that do. It doesn’t have to be rocket science. Tell them which days and times you would like everyone to try and get online with you. Tell them when you will send emails. Give a plan to communicate pastoral care needs. Give them a date of when you will launch a digital groups semester. Tell them early, tell them often and tell them in multiple ways. Don’t just do a worship service online, do church online. There are so many products available to help you with this. Move all of your Bible studies and leadership meetings to video conferencing. Move them to venues like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts or FaceTime. You can even group text. Student ministry leaders, consider moving your entire ministry community to apps like Discord (it is a gaming communication app skilled tech people can repurpose). When all else fails, pick up the phone and ask how people are doing. Stay connected. Ask your talented and gifted people to connect at their availability. Your worship team may not be able to rehearse, but they can get online and lead in a devotional thought, encourage their team or some even have the talent to sing a few worship songs. Let them do it. Unleash them. Give your small group and Sunday school leaders links to go hold groups online.
It might be wise to pre-record multiple sermons now.
This is true mostly for those who are a little lost right now. No one can be sure how long we will be able to travel and connect one on one. If you are challenged in the area of technology, call a more equipped church and produce 5-10 sermons about 15-20 minutes long. Worst case, you can put them online and email a YouTube link to your church.
People are willing to help.
One thing I love about our culture is that when everything crumbles around us, we band together intuitively. Reach out to your state conventions, mission agencies, pastor friends, pastor enemies- (yeah, I said it!), people in your church who are in a profession who can help you and just about anyone else who has the know-how you need. Chances are they will help you as much as they are able.
There is a massive temptation to feel helpless and sink into depression or become a workaholic. This week has shot you out of a cannon trying to make sense of your church. Pay attention to your family, spouse and closest friends. Decide to give yourself some downtime to process what is going on in our world. Make sure to do your daily devotions. If you (like many of us) have lost your quiet space with kids at home all of the time, lead your family in devotions (what a great opportunity to reclaim spiritual leadership in your family). This could change at some point, but for the time being, we are allowed to take walks around the neighborhood. Do it. You may find it better than the gym. Most of all keep your eyes on Jesus and love the people in closest proximity to you.
At the end of the day, you have a greater opportunity to reach the world with the message of Jesus than ever before.
I have never done an online gathering of any kind that did not drastically outnumber the amount of people in the building. Never. If your church is 100 people you can reach 1,000. If your church is 2,000 you can reach… who knows how many? The more people on your local church team, the more exponential your influence can become if you will just go to work on it. Do not be paralyzed, decide to propel your church to reach more people than you ever. Being paralyzed is a choice. Choose to propel.