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10 Things You Should Do Differently When Preaching Online

John Willison

John Willison

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When our church first starting live-streaming services, we simply took what happened on a normal Sunday and replicated it online. Very quickly, we discovered this wasn’t working! Over the past weeks, we’ve modified our approach. Here’s why.
 
When church happens online, people come prepared differently. For evangelical churches like ours, people are often preparing to focus for anywhere from 1-2 hours. They think about what to wear; they eat beforehand – all so they can focus for an extended period of time on being with other people. It’s completely different online 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.
 
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). 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, 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 my suggestions for things to do differently for preaching online. 

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 more quickly 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 for preaching online. Get your sermon recorded by Thursday so your people have time for post-production – adding words on the screen, improving the sound, and getting it ready to put online.

9. Trust your young people like you never have 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 – particularly as people may be on lockdown and the days can blur.

This blog was originally published on premierchristianity.com and is reposted here with permission from the author. 

Taking Your Church Online

In this episode, John Willison shares about what his church in Shanghai has learned while taking their entire church life online.
Podcast

About the Author

John Willison

John Willison has been active in Christ’s church all his life including years in Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican churches. John attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he received Master of Divinity. John’s formation as a pastor was with Steve Nicholson at the Evanston Vineyard from 1979. He served full-time on staff from 1989-2004. John has also recorded some songs with Vineyard Music including “My Redeemer Lives”. 

Later, he and his wife Carol moved their family to Kenya to experience the world and kingdom of God outside of the United States.  After 12 years in East Africa, Carol accepted a post as a teacher at Concordia International School Shanghai. John now pastors the Abundant Grace International Fellowship in Shanghai, China.

The views expressed on this site or in this media are those of the speaker(s), author(s), or contributor(s), and do not necessarily represent the views of Vineyard USA or any of its Regions, Ministries or Initiatives. For more information, see the
Vineyard USA disclaimer here.

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