9 Surprises of doing Online Church

We’ve been living stream at our church since the summer of 2019. So when the pandemic started, and isolation began, we had a good foundation to switch to live stream only. The interesting thing is ‘live stream only’ is very different to ‘church with a live stream option’.

There are a number of surprises in my church for me that have come out of doing live streaming only that I thought would be fun to share:

1. The value of prelude and postlude
This has probably been the biggest surprise for me out of everything. We initially decided to start our live stream 1/2 hour before the service started to allow those new to it time to test things out. So we decided if that was the purpose we needed something playing. So we recorded a number of hymns being played on the piano. Remember that? Remember when in church we would have someone play hymns before the service and after? We’re finding within a few minutes of starting our live stream we have a dozen connetctions watching and the number just keeps increasing. In the same way after church we accidentally left our live stream on longer than we planned one week and found we still had 20 connections to our service on ten minutes after church. So we still start 1/2 hour early and let the stream go for an additional 20 minutes. People have commented on how they value the music. The prelude and the postlude once again have a purpose!

2. The value of seeing people
We have made a very intentional effort as a church to involve as many people as possible in the service. Whether it’s different staff, elders, of congregation members we are trying to involve people from wherever we can. We’ll often arrange to have people video their part at home and we then integrate it into our live stream service. While our sermons are always live, most other parts are pre-recorded and included in our live stream in what is now called ‘simulated live stream’. We initially tried zooming people into the service, but found prerecording allowed us to balance sound levels, etc.

We’ve always tried to involve people in the service. No one has ever commented on that to me, but I regularly am getting comments on how people are appreciating seeing others from the church on the video. They value seeing their community! I had no idea how impactful this would be, but am glad people are valuing it.

3. The discomfort of the sanctuary
We started live streaming to an empty sanctuary but man it was uncomfortable. A big empty room. A camera 100′ away from me when preaching (where do you look!). We tried it for two weeks and decided if our church is in their living room we should be too (we tried this in the sanctuary initially as well.. but too big!). We created a living room space in our fireside room that is actually now our video studio for recording videos and also for livestreaming. It feels more comfortable. I feel like I can ‘look’ at people since the camera is only 10 feet away from me. The lighting is easier to control. I never had an issue livestreaming in the sanctuary with people present, but was surprised at how uncomfortable it was without people present.

4.The consistency of attendance
There are two sides to this. On a week to week basis we are getting very, very consistent numbers for livestreaming. It’s great to see consistency wise. The other surprise though is we believe the vast majority of our church community is tuning in each week. We have a formula we have developed to determine, conservatively, how many people are watching and the numbers have been very encouraging.

5. The disconnect of texting
I really value feedback when preaching. The hardest part of preaching in this season is the lack of any feedback to the sermon you would normally get with people present. So to help with feedback I often ask questions in the service and have people text me answers. At times when people are in the church I get up to a dozen responses or more. I just resumed this practice, but the initial take on it is it seems people are engaging less on text when at home then when in the church. I suspect the answer is fairly simple – at church people have their phones with them. At home their phone isn’t always beside them. We’ll see how this one transpires over time.

6. The value of the call to worship
When we’re at church we can all tell when the service is about to start… we see everyone walking up to the front and the music starts. We know church has begun. We’ve found that online having an intentional call to worship works well to start the service. A word of welcome, some scripture, perhaps a prayer, but something intentional and a bit more formal seems to work well.

7. Where people view from
We’ve had people as far away as Nepal, as far south as Mexico and as far north as Aklavik, NWT. This internet thing is pretty cool in how it lets us worship together as the body of Christ when we’re so far away from each other! I knew we’d have some engagement from other areas in Canada, but never for the life of me did I think we’d have someone watching in Nepal!

8. How many people ‘check out the church’ for a minute.
This one is fascinating – on any given Sunday we can four times the number of active live stream viewers check out our service for a minute. They’re tire kicking. It’s a great reminder that every minute matters and for us to be aware that any specific moment in the service could be all the exposure a person gets to church that day, if not for quite a while!

9. How stuck I am on doing my sermon ‘live’
Quite a few churches are going to prerecorded sermons. I’ve been encouraged to consider it, yet everytime I do I just can’t get my mind to go there. I like preaching live. I figure if we’re intentionally streaming at a specific time, and people are showing up, I can definitely make the effort to livestream my sermon at the same time they’re listening. To me there’s a sense of community in knowing we’re all participating at the same time.

So those are my top 9 surprises…. what surprised have you had during this Covid-19 season of church?

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