“Downgrading” Online Church for More Effectiveness

Earlier today a friend told me his church will soon “upgrade” from Zoom services to a pre-recorded service.

In essence, he’s going to imitate larger churches which sport bigger budgets and greater technical ability.  But is that really an upgrade? During crises, people need to feel connected. Technology can help or hurt depending on how we use it.

So, what am I driving at? Well, my pastor just posed a question: “How will we function if COVID-19 keeps us out of large gatherings for five years?” That’s not an unreasonable conjecture. However long it lasts, my question is “How do you best keep your congregation connected to each other during this or any other crisis?”

High-touch communication is crucial to maintaining fellowship, unity and an enduring connection to your church.

While an upgrade from Zoom to pre-recorded services, including the use of a teleprompter is tempting. It might work against you. Some pastors struggle because they can’t see faces in the audience. That said, the congregation might like to see each another while watching church in their pajamas. My pastor is a super-communicator and one of the funniest improv guys I’ve met. He tosses the best zingers when something goes wrong like a gust of wind pitching his notes to the floor. At least he did before the need to pre-record our service. He’s still a great communicator and fantastic Bible teacher, but I miss the impromptu stuff which he always managed to turn into a teaching moment.

Interaction Beats Production Quality

What am I saying? I think live Zoomcasting is better than Facebook Live which is better than pre-recording on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or any other medium. High tech demands high-touch, or we suffer isolation. For now, video conversations are our best shot at high-touch mass communication. A live audience is best, but we take what we can.

Zoom for free limits you to 40 minutes, useless for church. For fifteen bucks a month you can extend your church service for as long as you want and include a hundred people. Up the ante to $62 per month and you can host 500 people.

An added benefit is that the meeting becomes a calendar event once again. Our congregation mostly gets around to watching our Sunday meeting some time during the week. But not always. How do I know that? Because people in my Thursday night microchurch often tell me that they were too busy to watch the video from Sunday. Gathering at an appointed time beats watching “when if I get around to it.”

On another front, my pastor is asking us to meet in microchurch groups on Sunday morning to watch the service. Some will cluster in homes. For me that means we Zoom our microchurch including a screenshare of the service. This will work even better if the service is live and interactive through Zoom or some other means.

If I Could Start a Church at My Age

If I started a church next week, I would kick off with three live online services no matter how many attended. They’d happen on Saturday evening and a couple of times on Sunday. I’d put them on YouTube after a one-week delay so people connecting midweek would need to catch the weekend schedule to fully participate in the discussion. Why three meetings? To better meet the scheduling needs of those we hoped to touch. This is less about appearance and more about servanthood.

I’d invite the congregation to join me in a series of 5-day devotionals from YouVersion or some such outlet. And I’d roll out of the sack each day to do a live 45 second video summarizing the devotion. Another high-touch connection point.

Congregations resemble companies where people can no longer hang out in the lunchroom but can gather online on a daily basis (this is the current go-to model in Silicon Valley). If you produce great video each week—good on you! But perhaps adding a downgraded experience to the mix would make some people feel more like what we used to see as the “real thing.”

Smaller Churches Have This One Advantage

In many ways smaller can be better in times of crisis. That’s because communication is less formal. Sometimes we think we should force our small, or startup, church to look and feel like the churches whose pastors write the books we read. However, those guys are currently scrambling to bring a sense of intimacy to the well-presented Sunday morning experience we hope to copy. Go figure.

I’m not saying to ditch your pre-recorded video. Some people want that. This is a both/and proposition.

Our world has forever changed. We’re still learning to adapt to it. I’d appreciate any feedback to what I’ve written—good, bad or ugly. Use the comments box below to sound off and BTW, if you like the content on this site please share it with a friend.