How’s the online ministry of your church going right now? If it is like ours, it can be overwhelming, discouraging, and just plain mind-numbing after a while. May I encourage to not give up or pull out of the exciting privilege to declare the good news of Jesus in new and creative ways. How can we do that? Here a few general thoughts that we are learning.
Preaching should take the lead and be unapologetically “the main event”
No matter how flashy the graphics may look or stirring the newer worship song may feel, to keep the preaching of the Gospel central to your virtual service requires the primary preacher to be in the driver’s seat. This means that we build our song selections, Scripture reading, prayer, and even graphics around the sermon for the day. While the tone of the sermon may have a little more of a conversational feel, it must still be the cornerstone around which every other element is constructed.
Your sharp dialogue, music, drama, and video content is not the divine “why” for your service. Choose exposition over entertainment. Gospel over goosebumps. You must determine “the win” of your worship service. Is it going to click-bait or Christ-exalting? If the win is “the Word was faithfully communicated in the power of the Spirit,” everything else is secondary at-best.
One of the best ways we have found to keep the preaching fresh and central is have the lead pastor’s voice not heard in the livestream before the sermon introduction. It also helps to have the opening commentary or “virtual lobby” to be regularly referencing the upcoming sermon and the closing remarks to preview next week’s sermon.
Use a web-based software program that allows collaboration
We use Planning Center Online, but any web-based option is likely better than none. This allows both your paid staff and volunteers to work ahead on larger services with annual implications (Easter, Christmas, Anniversary Sunday, Missions Conference, etc.) and work around each other’s schedules.
If you are like our church, your services, virtual and physical, are generated by a “hybrid” kind of team—one that is comprised of people with all kinds of different vocational and personal rhythms. Our flow looks like this:
Lead Pastor works ahead on expositional sermon series and special emphases approximately 3-4 months at a time.
Worship Leader fills in music selections of familiar music as well as new music to introduce to our vocalists and instrumentalists 1-2 months in advance.
Worship Team is able to access sheet music and rehearse their individual contributions.
Our typical service schedule includes: opening prayer, four worship songs with lyrics, occasional video, sermon, invitation, announcements, closing song.
Determine to make your virtual service “barrier free.”
Like our physical buildings and on-site services should be accessible to all, no matter their limitations or handicaps, so too should be our virtual services. This requires making the digital content you are generating to be available across multiple platforms. Here is our current strategy:
This feed generates the most views if you regularly encourage your church family to start a “Watch Party” and then interact with their family and friends who participate.
This is the format, available on our YouTube channel, that we have embedded on our website and seems to be the easiest app to view on a smart TV in the living room.
This option allows even those WHO DON’T HAVE INTERNET to call in and access the audio of the service through their most basic phone. (Several of our seniors and shut-ins have been able to access our virtual service for the first time ever!)
Regularly ask people to interact and respond.
Just like a service without God’s Word is not a service, so a service without an internal and expressed word of response from the audience is not a service. For example, we have learned to change our vocabulary from “first time visitor” to “first time viewer.” While that may sound like an inconsequential shift, it has revolutionized how we speak to the camera and what we ask of those on the other side of the lens.
For your regulars, ask them to comment, share, sing, and just fully enter into the service as not a watcher but a worshipper. We also make available on our website a digital version of our sermon outline with blanks to fill in. Engage. Engage. Engage.
Make no apology for asking for an offering.
The last important aspect of our virtual service, that many feel hesitant to tackle, is the offering. Please remember that you are not ultimately asking for people to pay your salaries or campus expenses; you are asking them to honor God and support the Gospel mission of your church.
To do this in a digital sense, requires multiple ways for people to give. We utilize the following options that all appear on a title slide at the end of the service: Give the church address for folks to mail in a check/send a bank-issued payment. Provide a way to give online through your website. Provide a way to give via texting.
You or your church family may be tempted to think that virtual services are too much work and “really don’t count” in the long run. May I gently but firmly push back against that sentiment with the thought that virtual services, pandemic or no pandemic, are here to stay and will become a considerable aspect of our ministries.
Therefore, we need to figure them out and invest more of our physical and human resources into getting them up to the standards of excellence that the Gospel of Jesus Christ rightfully deserves and Spirit of the invisible God blesses. May the Lord richly bless your ministry as you lean into this awesome privilege and very real responsibility.