Some principles to consider when creating your online church experience
Andy Kerr from MBM Rooty Hill shares the thinking behind filming their church services to go online and principles to follow to create services people feel a part of
Back in the olden days, when we use to meet in-person for church, all of a couple of weeks ago, we would evaluate our Sunday services by asking 3 questions:
Was it profitable?
Were people edified?
Was the Word of God clearly explained and applied?
Was the teaching memorable?
Was it outsider friendly - no jargon or 'insider talk'
Was it personal?
Were the people up front relatable? Could people connect with them?
Was the application fresh and relevant to the audience?
For someone in the congregation, would it feel like the preacher was speaking directly with them?
Was it pleasurable?
Are people enjoying themselves?
Do they enjoy being with each other?
Was the environment comfortable to be in?
Was the singing uplifting?
(Note: The list of subquestions under each category aren’t exhaustive and there is certainly crossover between the categories.)
Moving across to online-only church, we still use the same criteria when building and evaluating our services:
Our services still “look” much the same. We have kept all the elements from our live service. The songs, kids talk, interview are all connected to the passage of Scripture the preacher will address.
However, rather than trying to recreate the live experience of church with people tuning in at the same time, using the live chat, prayer rooms, having Zoom morning tea rooms etc. our aim has been to decentralise church.
“Church” is now your household. We provide some questions and prayer ideas to help springboard from the 30-40 min online service. We are also equipping and resourcing parents to disciple their kids. We have also been encouraging Growth Groups (or groups of friends) to watch and discuss the service together using Facebook Watch Parties. This is particularly important for our singles or those that are the only Christian in their household to stay connected.
Additionally, our congregational facebook groups have been hives of activity on Sundays as people share throughout the day their highlights and questions, as well as photos of where they are watching from.
While our hope is that our online services will be as profitable as live services, our bigger prayer is that, after all this, households would love Jesus more deeply and that ‘church’ might happen everyday in them.
People are tuning in from their lounge rooms, kitchen tables and easy chairs. Being personal changes radically in this context from our usual large auditorium.
Our service is filmed in a small and styled space in the church building, as well as in lounge rooms and around dining tables. Our thinking is that filming locations should reflect in some way the places where people are tuning in from. We are in the same boat as our members.
People on camera are looking directly into the camera 95% of the time. For the viewer, this means that the speaker is making direct eye contact almost constantly. We've chosen not to use multiple camera angles when someone is directly addressing the viewer. Switching to a side angle of someone, or a wide angle of the room removes the eye contact.
Our preachers have had to work hard to not go into ‘preaching mode’. I get them to imagine they are in the lounge room with viewers. So they don’t need to project their voice, wave their arms and have stage presence etc. To aid them, I often have them seated behind a table so they don’t move around too much or wave their arms around (although our Lead Pastor, who is Maltese, can’t help himself!).
Our preachers are highly relational in their preaching normally but we have stepped this up even more–choosing personal stories over stories from others.
There is no way of editing your speech when you are face to face with someone and we reflect that on screen. For each segment the speaker needs to do it in one take. Sure it might take 5, 10, 20 times to get the right vibe and include all the information. But for the end viewer they are able to be in the moment with the speaker, rather than feeling like is a produced segment.
We are also trialing a text line that is open all Sunday for people to text in their questions that will be answered via text too. This is an easy and familiar method of communication for most.
A warm, comfortable, intimate and inviting space for filming helps people to relax and feel at home when watching onscreen.
Good sound - People will put up with poor video but not poor audio. We spend more time editing/adjusting/processing the audio for the video than the video itself. Additionally, music is incredibly difficult to record or stream live, to that end we used some professional recording of our homegrown music and a lyric video for the first week. This allowed time for our muso's to record, mix and master the songs.
Online has meant that we have shortened everything. Everything has been halved: the number of songs, length of the talk, length of the interview etc. Our service leaders rehearse over and over to make sure the intros and outros are short and sweet and yet filled with pastoral care and personality.
Our live services ran about 70-75 mins. Our online service is 35-40 mins. We would prefer people being ‘disappointed’ that the service has finished rather than reaching for the remote to fast forward. We will continue to evaluate our online service length based on the metrics I describe below.
How do we measure if we are succeeding?
If church is a ‘dud’, people simply won’t return the next week. They may of course stick around for a week or two and ‘see if it gets better’. Chances are they won’t leave during the service – that would seem “impolite”. Online, however, if people aren’t into your video, they will flick to another, and another and another without even thinking. Facebook has trained us to continue to scroll.
Apart from surveying our congregations and keeping our ears to the ground as we hear how people are travelling and responding during this time, we think that “Audience Retention” is the best metric to use. This tells you the average number of numbered watched by each device (a device could be one person on their phone or a family of 6 around their TV)
Week on week we are tracking:
How many devices viewed the service
How many devices watched 50% or more
How many devices watched the full service
So far we have discovered that 30% of devices watch the full service on youtube compared with only 10% of devices on facebook. This has helped us place more attention and focus on Youtube.
A word to small or lower resourced churches
The principles of Profitable, Personal and Pleasurable aren’t reserved for the large, well resourced churches. A small parish with a ‘one-man-band’ pastor can still apply the principles to their setting. Maybe you aren’t able to do music, maybe you don’t have a purpose-built space to film but you can still build an online service that is profitable, personal and pleasurable for the people that God has entrusted to your care.
I think this website is a great model of combining these elements in a very low tech, low resource way.
This is a guest post by Andy Kerr, who is in charge of Communications at MBM Rooty Hill; a large multicultural church in Western Sydney.