Due to the collective cultural responses to the worldwide to the Coronavirus pandemic, the number one strategic tool of the Christian church for the past several hundred years has been taken from us; corporate worship. Gone. We can’t meet in our buildings. Corporate worship will be back but not in the next three or four weeks. It could be eight to ten weeks. It will not be back in time for Easter and no matter how you try to spin it; that is terrible news for the church. Terrible.
Let’s face it, all pastors are all televangelists now. You may not like it or be particularly good at it but that is our new reality. We preach to cameras. We distance ourselves from people. We try to “act naturally.” And unlike televangelists, we don’t have a business model. Church leaders need to develop a learning curve concerning this new reality and we need to develop it quickly.
I have been preaching to a camera since September of 2011. That was the year we planted our first video based campus and I suddenly had to have sermons completed and be ready to film by Thursdays at 4:00. Preaching to nobody took some getting used to and was frankly, a lot of hard work. That being said, I have been doing this for a while now, I have gotten better at it and I feel I might have something to offer. Preaching to a camera is different than filming a live service and the sooner we accept this reality, the better off we will be. Unless you did an internship at a mega-church, very little in our training has prepared us for this moment. You may even struggle with the concept of “On-line Church” but that doesn’t matter right now.
Most churches are two to four weeks into this cycle with several more to go, so let me offer some thoughts:
- Internet is legitimate ministry It is also the only arrow in our quiver right now and we do well to steady our hands, aim and let it fly! If you don’t think this type of ministry is legit, I assure you it won’t be.
- Upgrade your production quality Video church is not expensive to produce and churches should try to produce it as well as they can. You probably have people in your congregation who could help you “up your game” right now who are just waiting to be asked. For most small and medium sized churches, a tiny investment can produce huge dividends concerning production quality.
- Watch the previous week’s worship service videos critically What went well? What could be improved? What was distracting? How was the flow?
- Watch the services of other churches to learn A lot of churches are doing really innovative stuff right now! What can be learned from them? We don’t need to reinvent the virtual wheel.
- Pay attention to your look and wardrobe This isn’t about vanity; it is about not being distracting. Be consistent with your wardrobe and pay attention to what colors to wear and not to wear. Generally speaking stay away from black and white. Dress too dark and you will look like a “floating head.” Dress too light and you will look way too angelic.
- Look at the camera to drive home points When you are making a point or offering an invitation, look the camera “in the eye.” It is as effective as it is simple.
- Limit your range If you are a wanderer when you preach, you will want to stay a bit closer to the pulpit. You don’t want to disappear from the screen. My team puts tape on the floor to remind me not to stray off camera.
- Bathe everything in prayer Make sure people are praying before and during your broadcasts. Prayer plants dynamite. Proclamation detonates it. On-line or off-line.
- Have a couple of people there if you need them If you need some human feedback, put a couple of socially distanced people in the pews. Have them sit to your left and right about halfway up the isle. They can give you some feedback and also keep your sight-lines in the right range.
- Be as interactive as possible Have someone man the comments section, encourage response and answer questions. A Facebook “like” is the new amen!
- Err on the side of brevity Unless you are REALLY good, it is tough to hold people’s attention for over an hour when they are watching on a screen. Make your transitions quickly, pay attention to flow, turn up the energy level and preach for 25 minutes and not 30.
- Speak reality to “those watching” Don’t shy away from naming the “elephant in the room.” Preach as if the people to whom you are speaking are isolated, anxious, bored and scared (because they are) but offer lots of hope and encouragement.
- Up your on-line game and keep it when normal returns Almost every church in the country will emerge from this crisis better on-line than when they entered it. Make gains and keep them.
- Teach your people how to access I would suggest calling your older members and asking if they are able to access your worship services and other content on-line. If they are not, tell them how. If you want people to do something, make it as easy as possible for them to do it.
- Realize this is a wormhole The longer we are kept from worshiping on-site, the less likely it is that churches will “return to normal.” And since most churches are in decline, that is not a bad thing. Will people immediately flock back to live church? I doubt it. They will still be wary. Will some people decide they like church better in their pajamas? Certainly.
We don’t know what awaits us on the other side of the COVID-19 “stay at home” orders and we don’t know when they will be lifted. We do however, know the Great Commission has not been rescinded, the Holy Spirit is still dishing out all kinds of power, game changing technology is available and the Church of Jesus Christ will prevail!
The question is not, “Will we survive this?” We will.
The question is, “What can we do right now to ensure we will emerge from this crisis more effective in the accomplishment of our mission?”
Church will never be the same after this.
Maybe it is the best thing that ever happened.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois