‘Online, Streaming, Facebook live, YouTube Premiere, watch parties.’ All fabulous new words that have become part of the church world fast. As churches around the world are streaming collectively, we are learning a lot of interesting things. One of the elements coming to the fore is that doing online church the same way we did in person church doesn’t engage our online congregation in the same way. Now we have to wrestle with how to boost online church engagement.
I’ve found this time very interesting. In general I love change. I see it as a grand opportunity. I like to see this as a fantastic time for the church to experiment. We have an amazing new format that many of us are engaging with.
We’re connecting with new people that may never have walked through the front door of our church, but to be able to sit on their couch at home and engage, well yeah sure, they can definitely do that. However, after eight plus weeks of online church many are now finding the presentation is not engaging them in the same way anymore.
Initially it was a novelty to do church from home and it kept people interested but now, I’m hearing, and I would guess you are too, things like:
- I’m the only one in my family that sings, and let me tell you, that’s not pretty
- I’m finding it hard to engage, even when I’ve been involved in creating it, it just seems slow
- So what can we do to increase our engagement? Well I believe there are a number of things.
Many of us are used to watching TV shows. For a 30 minute sitcom they average 22 minutes of actual content with the rest going to ads. Now I am not saying that we should be aiming our services to be 30 minutes! But we should be thinking about how we are structuring our online church service.
A sitcom has a formula. We do too! We have a liturgy / a format / a call sheet for in person services, why not have one for online? We should be looking to take some of the best practice from YouTube creators and TV shows and bring that into our online church services.
Pace, Timing and Energy
The big difference with video is that our pacing and timing needs to be, well, snappy! It is totally possible that we can shape everything that we do around the sermon theme, or the liturgical theme or whatever right from the start.
Everything pointing towards the one thing we want people to remember. On video, more than in person, you are telling a story and you can weave that story through everything you are presenting that day.
I strongly recommend checking out Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath (Apple Books | Apple Books Audio | Amazon). Dan and Chip highlight why ideas stay with people. This research is absolute gold for anyone presenting every week.
Now is totally the time to let those creative juices flow. Especially when it comes to the worship and prayer elements of your online church service. Worship does not have to be sung. There are a huge resource of creative ways to do worship on the internet. Just Google search ‘creative worship ideas or reflective worship’.
Don’t limit worship to just your music team. This is the time for all those other creatives to come out of hiding and bring their creative skills to worship and prayer. Poetry can be worship, Charlie Mackesy’s recent book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse causes me to worship (check out his prodigal son art as well), drawing can be worship, it can be prayer.
Camera, Location, Takes
Sermons do not need to be filmed in a static location. You can move. As we get more and more freedom to move again we can film in different locations. However you don’t have to go far. Even slight changes in perspective can make a difference in keeping people engaged.
We’re not listening to you on a podcast we’re watching you so be animated, be creative, be passionate! From a purely practical point of view remember you can do multiple takes. If you don’t like the way you say something do it again.
In the last 8 to 10 weeks your congregation members have collectively consumed a huge amount of video content. To boost online church engagement we need to keep our creativity levels high.
Challenge yourself to bring something new to your online service every week. It doesn’t have to be big or complex, simple and unexpected will definitely win. Engage them with the best story ever told, the one where God becomes a man to save us and bring us back into His family!