As an evangelical pastor in Shanghai, China, John Willison began to face new challenges as the country went into lockdown this year. To continue to reach his congregation, he began holding services online. However, he quickly learned that he had to modify his preaching style to best connect with his church members.
In today's blog, Pastor Willison will share some of the lessons he's learned and 10 ways you can improve your online preaching.
In-Person Versus Online Church
When our church first started livestreaming services, we simply took what happened on a normal Sunday and replicated it online. We soon discovered this wasn't working! Over the past months, we've modified our approach. Here's why.
When church happens in person, people come prepared differently. For evangelical churches like ours, people are often preparing to focus on a service from 1-2 hours. They think about what to wear, and they eat first—all so they can focus for an extended period of time on being with other people.
Online, it's completely different, and there's the potential to simply click away and leave at any moment.
The physical environment is also different. When meeting in person, everyone is facing one direction. In person, it's a bit awkward to eat, crinkle a wrapper, read a book, or have a phone conversation during the service. But online, you are looking at a small screen, and there are many distractions—like when your 2-year-old starts throwing a ball at your head.
Everything and everyone is more staged online. You only show what's on camera. Congregants can only guess what color your trousers might be (if you're wearing any). And participants can choose to only show a small portion of themselves. They might have their camera switched off and only be listening in. They might make an occasional comment using a chat function, or they might remain completely silent. This means social support is very different. When meeting in person, a group of people is likely to be actively listening, praying with you and joining you in your "Amen."
All these factors and more mean we've radically shifted our approach to conducting church services online. I don't have the luxury of addressing our people for 40 minutes (it doesn't work). But the good news is, we preachers can still deliver something of great spiritual value in 15 minutes, and we can do it in a close, personal and intimate way.
Here are 10 ways to improve your online preaching:
1. Preach shorter. Think in terms of a 12-18 minute sermon, not 35-40 minutes.
2. Preach up-close and personal. You're not on stage. You're up close. People can see your eyes, your face, your smile. Speak softer. Look into the camera. Don't wave your arms. Don't shout. Don't pace back and forth.
3. Have a conversation. Think of your sermon more as a "fireside chat" with friends.
4. Invite people into your home. Let people see the pictures on your wall, your family, your pets, your office, your sofa and your kitchen.
5. Keep things moving. Have your main camera, and then a side-angle to mix things up. Vary your scenes, props, positions and camera angles. People get bored quicker online.
6. Don't repeat yourself. People are paying attention to every sentence.
7. Prepare differently. Prep like a movie producer, not a preacher from a pulpit. Think location, props, scenes. Are you walking? Sitting? Standing? Inside? Outside?
8. Plan ahead. Deadlines are different—get your sermon recorded by Thursday, so your people have time for post production. Consider adding words on the screen, improving the sound and getting it ready to put online.
9. Trust your young people like you have never done before! If you're a digital immigrant, listen to digital natives in your church. Digital natives are people who grew up knowing about this stuff and can't remember a time before the internet. Trust them. They know what they're talking about.
10. Take the limits off. Don't limit yourself to one weekly sermon. You can produce daily five-minute devotionals or prayers. Aim to share content regularly and find a rhythm of the day.
Taking Your Church Online
Like Pastor Willison, church and ministry leaders worldwide have had to adjust to new ways of fulfilling their calling this year. They have had to expand their impact online to reach their congregations and communities through this challenging season.
As we move forward from 2020, having an online presence, like a website, will remain an essential part of reaching those in need of the hope of Christ.
Learning how to move your ministry online is exciting, but it can be stressful and challenging if you don't know where to start. That's why we at StartCHURCH created a practical step-by-step guide for pastors and leaders like you to make the process easy. With the StartCHURCH Connect e-book, you will feel confident in getting your ministry online and producing services with excellence. Click here to learn more!
If you need help creating a church or ministry website, the team at StartCHURCH is here to assist you! We know the challenges church and ministry leaders like you are facing—that's why we created the StartSITES Service.
John Willison is the lead pastor of Abundant Grace International Fellowship in Shanghai, China. He has been a pastor of the international community in Africa and Asia for the past 16 years. Previously, he was a Vineyard pastor in Evanston, Illinois for 15 years.
Get Spirit-filled content delivered right to your inbox! Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Dr. Steve Greene is now sharing stories, teachings, and conversations with guests who lead with love on Love Leads, a new podcast. Listen now.
Dr. Mark Rutland's
National Institute of Christian Leadership (NICL)
The NICL is one of the top leadership training programs in the U.S. taught by Dr. Mark Rutland. If you're the type of leader that likes to have total control over every aspect of your ministry and your future success, the NICL is right for you!
FREE NICL MINI-COURSE - Enroll for 3-hours of training from Dr. Rutland's full leadership course. Experience the NICL and decide if this training is right for you and your team.Do you feel stuck? Do you feel like you’re not growing? Do you need help from an expert in leadership? There is no other leadership training like the NICL. Gain the leadership skills and confidence you need to lead your church, business or ministry. Get ready to accomplish all of your God-given dreams. CLICK HERE for NICL training dates and details.
The NICL Online is an option for any leader with time or schedule constraints. It's also for leaders who want to expedite their training to receive advanced standing for Master Level credit hours. Work through Dr. Rutland's full training from the comfort of your home or ministry at your pace. Learn more about NICL Online. Learn more about NICL Online.