Pastors, communication, and media leaders: It’s been over a year since the mandated church lockdowns. Obviously, back then many churches were caught by surprise and needed to do some catching up to make their livestream worship services work for an online congregation. In that process, I know communication and media teams worked overtime getting their production schedules, equipment, and volunteers up to speed, and that incredible effort should be appreciated.
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But after a year, I’m distressed to say that I haven’t seen much innovation, and now that we’re moving back into the building, I’m concerned about the future of live-streaming.
I’m not trying to be overly negative, but on this one-year anniversary, I would have liked to see more innovations. We’ve had a year to explore new ideas, adapt more effectively to an online audience, and be more creative in our presentation. But most live-streamed services I’m seeing are not very different from those early first months of the lockdown. What happened?
For instance, here are some questions I’d ask:
– We know live-streaming is here to stay, but are we putting as much effort into that service as our physical services?
– Are we regularly filming testimonies, stories, and church updates?
– Does the pastor still engage with the livestream congregation during the service?
– Are we rehearsing the elements of the livestream like we rehearse the physical service?
– Are our transitions between segments smooth?
– What about our B-roll footage? Are we taking the time to film it well? Are we using high-quality stock footage?
– Have we adapted our audio and video equipment toward producing a better online experience?
– Perhaps most important, do we understand that the live-stream services doesn’t have to mimic the physical service? By now, we should understand that it’s a unique experience and design it for an online congregation – not a physical one.
Our producer at Cooke Media Group, Dan Wathen puts it this way: “It’s important to stress effectiveness over quality. Just because you have a chat room or special video segments doesn’t mean you’re actually “connecting” with your congregation. The real meaning for weekend services is to share worship and the Word in a community environment. I’ve come to believe a livestream is never going to feel like the physical service, even if the pastor addresses the camera. The real key to growing the online church is to not only think about weekends but also create other digital options throughout the week (small groups, Sunday school, etc). That idea allows us to create both in-person options as well as digital-only experiences that may be different but work together. I’ve watched some single camera pre-taped services that I personally enjoy more than the 6-camera live services, because it’s really about how effective you are using what you have.”
As I said, live-streaming is here to stay. But it will only be engaging to online viewers based on the level of effort we put in. Perhaps we should stop comparing our live-stream with the physical service, and compare it more to a broadcast TV program. Like a television audience, the online congregation is distracted, they have other things to do, and to be successful, we have to make a compelling case.
Keep in mind that even after a year, everything is fluid. It’s important to experiment with new ideas and formats because what we learn from this will potentially set the pace for the church moving forward.
Let’s keep exploring. Because our digital presence matters more than ever.
Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Their Credibility and How We Get It Back.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.