Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Do you have a vision of people gathering around a computer screen and watching a church’s worship service? Have you tried it? It works, but some of the power and majesty can seem minimized by a minimal screen. Most would agree this experience would be enhanced by gathering around a larger screen such as a household TV.
Recently, an ice storm made the roads impassable in our area. We began watching our local church online, before realizing our FireTV device might make it easier to participate via a larger household TV. After searching on YouTube for our church, we found that among the (probably) hundreds of congregations with similar names as our church, only a dozen or so offered live streaming on YouTube.
Too often when choosing a streaming platform churches opt for computer-focused streaming options. Instead, to increase your outreach:
Investigate and then use platforms (e.g. YouTube Live, etc.) that allow your services to be easily watched on viewers’ larger screen TVs.
Explain on your webpage how to access the services on larger screen TVs.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Part of my ongoing research is to visit churches online before I visit them in person to evaluate the online perception versus the onsite reality. One of the greatest discrepancies is in the number in attendance.
Charles (Chip) Arn, a writer, colleague and friend, told me about his experience attending a megachurch with a famous TV ministry that had now shrunk to a few hundred attendees. He noted, “They acted like they were still on TV with thousands in attendance. It not only made me uncomfortable and it gave the impression that they were untrustworthy. They should be themselves.” I noted that, “honesty is what will grow a church, not deception.”
Don’t exaggerate the size of an onsite audience for online viewers. Some leaders make it seem that there are hundreds in attendance, when there may be dozens. This will create dismay and disappointment when an online viewer visits in person.
Sunday Church Hack: When you are streaming, there are hundreds and could be thousands watching. Accept it, pray for them … but don’t hype it.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I regularly evaluate online and onsite worship services for clients and colleagues. A reoccurring experience is when a skilled worship leader is backed by supporting vocalists who have been faithful churchgoers for some time. However, if you are trying to reach younger generations (see the list of generations here and here) you should include backup singers from missing generations too.
Yet don’t err on the side of participation, and ignore skill. In many churches there is a community music leader, e.g. current or former school music teacher, etc. that can help. Seek out these musical coaches and ask them to work with your supporting vocalists, relieving the music director of having to work with novice vocalists.
Regarding getting younger people involved, see the chart below for the generational names and years (in addition, you will find an explanation of “Early Boomers,” “Generation Jones,” “Generation Alpha” and “Generation Beta” here).
Following the “Millennials” born between 1982 and 2009, the next two generations are now “Generation Alpha” from 2010 to 2024 & “Generation Beta” from 2025 to 2039.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: As part of most consultations I analyze the online and onsite services. I then provide a confidential report to the senior leader or executive leadership team. On many occasions I find that online services have become an afterthought, inadvertently giving online attendees a less than fulfilling experience.
Each week as a staff, review the previous weekend’s streamed service. Often churches use videos to augment the sermon and worship. Unfortunately, many times the videos are not viewable online. This inadvertently gives online attendees a sense of being overlooked, if not second-class. Such missteps can easily be overcome by a weekly staff review of the streamed service. And if all leaders are involved in the review, corrections can be made quickly.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Watching a client’s streaming today, I noticed three nicely placed buttons that say …
Clicking on any of the three boxes above results in ending the streaming playback and exiting to another webpage. This would be analogous for someone in a face-to-face service taking a “connection card” and starting to fill it out; only to have the entire worship service stop, the preacher stop preaching and everything put on hold until the attendee has finished filling out the connection card.
The solution is to have:
A “feedback” button where people watching the streaming service can give you input.
Ask your staff and leaders to semi-regularly watch the service online to stop such missteps.
For more ideas about communicating in the new reality of the eReformation, see the book:
Today I have been engaged to analyze a traditional worship service. And, it is an exceptionally anointed and well organized worship expression. However, when leaders of the contemporary service participated in the traditional service they wore clothes representing their culture.
There is nothing wrong with this, but it can distance you from your listeners. This is because each culture has what Paul Hiebert (Cultural Anthropology) describes as aesthetic “products” or expressions of dress that show reverence for their culture.
While many leaders want to stretch congregants’ acceptance of other cultural norms, during worship is not usually the place. The word “worship” means to intimately draw close to God. A worship service is not the place to create cultural acceptance (though laudable), but a place to create minimize cultural differences and increase focus heavenward.
Forced-perspective will make objects in the background look closer. To avoid distractions, be aware of this phenomenon as you film your worship services. Below is an example about how making objects in the background look closer is used routinely in movies.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Online guests can have a more interpersonal experience if they can dialogue with others before, after and when appropriate during an online service. But, there should be a pastoral “moderator” who can answer questions, guide and encourage. Here is how one church does it, by utilizing an “online campus pastor.”
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Worship registration “templates” often ask for too much information than visitors to your online service may be ready to give. Check your online registration site and ensure that phone numbers and email addresses are optional, not required like the example below. This example, from a client church that is making great strides in becoming visitor focused, was unaware it had this requirement.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Backlighting (putting a light shining down on a head/back of a person) is standard lighting practice. However, churches often don’t have lights hung to do this or they are unaware of the importance of this standard lighting practice. A backlight (done well on the singer in the picture below) makes a person on the platform stand out in a 3-dimensional manner. Without a backlight, people on a stage may only appear 1-dimensional (like a card-board cutout).
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: To ensure your streaming service doesn’t have a second class feel, make sure that an online announcer greets online attendees at the scheduled start time. A blank screen will leave online attendees wondering if they’ve connected to the right website.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Distractions bother leaders, sometimes more than they bother attendees. If a microphone gives feedback, a music stand falls over or a child cries out, the church leader is often especially annoyed. But when stagehands and technicians are moving equipment behind the leader while she or he prays, that leader may be unaware of the distractions going on behind them. Because I evaluate online services for the clients I coach, I find there is generally movement behind the pastor during the prayer that follows the music. The fix is for the leader to review the recorded online services each week, take notes for improvement and address recurring distractions delicately but directly.
The story of Mary and Martha, as translated in The Message Bible, gives insight and this phrase sums it up nicely: “One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.” Read the rest of the passage to discover what this “main course” is …
38-40 As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”
The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.” Luke 10:38-42 MSG
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: It is important to poll your congregants to find out which portions of your service are connecting them to God (the Hebrew word for “worship” means to “connect with God” face-to-foot). Also poll attendees to discover which part of the service are not connecting them to God.
Here are four principles for measuring which elements are connecting congregants with God during worship.
This does not need to be limited to live streaming sessions. Because a prayer chat can be monitored by the prayer team and continue during the week or at designated times. The idea is to offer more opportunities for people in need to connect with congregational members with the gift of intercessory prayer, c.f. James 5:14-16, 1 Tim. 2:1-2; Col. 1:9-12, 4:12-13.
Note the detail in the stained-glass windows above the minimalist depictions of buildings on the stage.
Notice how the speaker dresses in a manner that can relate to multiple generations. The older culture has expectations of dressing up to honor God, which usually in their culture includes a jacket. Younger generations may synergize styles to create innovation, sometimes called aesthetic fashion.