By Drew Gula
The world has yet to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and one takeaway we’ve all experienced is the old idiom that “no man is an island.” The need for connection has never been greater, and that’s particularly true when it comes to our spiritual lives.
Attending church is about more than just hearing a lesson with biblical principles or singing songs with religious themes. It’s more than tithes and offerings, communal prayer, and even observing Communion.
All of those things are just words on a page without the sense of connection and shared faith that ties them all together — that infuses each moment of a service into an act of worship.
And in a world of live streaming and video services, one of the biggest issues facing local churches — and really the global Church as a whole — is how we can continue to create engaging, meaningful worship experiences that translate to a remote/online environment.
The Value of Human Connection
When we read the word “connectivity,” it’s normal to think about Internet connection and the “always online” mindset of our culture. But check any dictionary and you’ll see definitions like “the state of being connective,” which means being surrounded by and engaged with people.
Now, the “community” or “connection” we share during a church service is a key piece of that experience. This is both by design (“Forsake not the assembling of yourself”) as well as by human nature (that aforementioned need for connection or interaction with others).
COVID-19 shook the very roots of our community as local church bodies. How do we cultivate a sense of community if we’re trapped in our living rooms? How do we hear about those in need (physical, emotional, or spiritual) and then support them? How do we disciple and nurture new believers? How do we follow the Great Commission if we aren’t meeting people?
Church leaders have spent the past two years looking for answers to these questions. And while there is no end-all, be-all solution, we can at least find a common area that ties all of them together: How do we transform a video service into an environment that encourages connection with God as well as with other people?
The Art of Live Streaming
In many ways, teaching or preaching via video requires a different approach to the in-person experience. Church leaders aren’t just competing for your immediate attention — they’re trying to keep you from switching channels, checking your phone, making coffee, watching the dog. If you can think of something in your home, it most likely is a potential distraction.
Then again, a church leader who live streams a service isn’t suddenly a content creator or online performer. Most viewers won’t expect a worship service to feel like a Twitch stream, but there are some tips and tricks that can be pulled from the world of content creation.
For example, Twitch streamers and YouTube personalities know how to captivate their viewers and engage them as people, both during and after live streams. And because these people are always actively competing against distractions, their ability to balance all of that can actually help inform how churches can create more engaging worship experiences.
Engagement is at the core of a worship experience, whether that’s sitting in a church service or any other location/environment. And the easiest starting point (for boosting engagement) is to think about how you are presenting each section of the service. People expect or want one thing from worship, another from the lesson/teaching, a third from announcements, etc.
How you transition between these different “segments” of a service is especially important for a remote audience that doesn’t have the benefit of sitting in the same room and watching it all take place. This process could be as simple as using different camera angles for different things or adding visual effects or overlay filters.
Alternatively, you could dedicate a few seconds to a short video transition, a static image/slide, etc. Include something to keep viewers informed, and by changing what is on screen, you’ll also keep them engaged.
The Secret of Online Engagement
It’s easy to focus time, thought, and energy into how you can create engagement during a service. Live video services like YouTube, Zoom, and Facebook allow for a chat feed, a built-in feature that exists solely to provide viewers with a place to engage with the speaker and other viewers. (Although, you may need someone to moderate comments and responses.)
This conveniently leads to maybe the most important service a church provides: engagement outside of a church gathering on Sundays. Building connections across a church body isn’t limited to an hour or two once a week. So, integrating your online video with other social media channels can help you create a platform that invites engagement throughout the week.
Yes, knowing how to present a worship service helps. So does investing in expensive cameras and lighting setups, editing new video transitions, and having someone in the video chat to interact with people watching from home. But keeping viewers engaged during the week is a challenge that every church is facing in 2022, and you can actually use your online presence (and video services) to help with that.
Maybe you cut the service into small video segments and publish them on social media throughout the week. Maybe you prepare a fill-in sermon notes sheet that people can download to help stay engaged during the service (and then use in their small community group meetings through the week). Or maybe you launch a podcast with conversations that coincide with the weekly lesson or the service as a whole.
Yes, so much of today’s “worship service experience” has changed during the digital age. And while COVID-19 quarantine pushed a lot of churches to adjust to that, people still expect different things from a church service whether they’re in the building or sitting at home.
The importance of connection has become even more important for people in 2022. So while you may not want to rearrange your entire worship service format for live streaming, you can make a few small changes that will go a long way in keeping everyone engaged with the service and feeling better connected with the church body throughout the week.
Drew Gula is the copywriter at Soundstripe, a royalty free music company that supplies church video production teams with royalty free Christian music and sound effects, www.soundstripe.com.