By Jesse Campbell
That pagan camera refused to give me even a single “amen.” I was in the cold, dark studio in my second week as an editor and suddenly missed desperately the vivacious and responsive crowds of my church in sunny Florida.
Six years later, after launching an online preaching ministry and becoming more accustomed to online Q&A, that initial awkwardness in preaching to a camera has given way to at least some fluency.
Everything our seminaries taught us about sermon delivery will need to be adapted for an unforeseen number of weeks while we practice “social distancing” in our churches in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The great news is that the Word of God is just as true via video as it is in person, the Spirit of God is not bound by the drywall of your church building, and no generation of preachers has ever been better resourced than we are.
For the pastor uninitiated in the realm of online preaching, here are some lessons learned from extensive live and pre-recorded online preaching followed by some quick production pointers.
1. Church size dynamics are now irrelevant.
Large church pastors and small church pastors are each going to know the other’s pain in the coming weeks.
After preaching our Saturday night service, I can usually make adjustments to my message and then refine it over the course of our three Sunday morning services until the final delivery is crafted in a way that outshines my sometimes-rough Saturday night sermon delivery.
In this new context, however, we’ll all know the pressure of the singular opportunity to aptly deliver and apply the Scripture.
However, pastors of smaller churches need to be prepared for a different kind of pressure: The sermon you preach to the internet is permanent and could be the farthest reaching you’ve ever given.
Even if you preach live online, what you broadcast once could be recorded and preserved online forever.
2. Analytical data isn’t as useful as you might think.
When preaching for my online ministry, I could observe in real-time the analytical data that showed who was watching from where and for how long.
Preaching directly into a social media platform allows names and emotive responses to show up in real-time as you preach. This will give you quantitative data to measure how interested people are in what you are saying as you say it.
Curious, I once tracked the data in a sermon that spoke about grace repeatedly and watched the overall engagement insights climb and climb.
I then began to speak, as the Scripture called for it, about repentance and judgment and saw the numbers utterly plummet.
The measure of an effective sermon is its faithfulness to the biblical text. So, these engagement data are irrelevant to the overall mission of preaching itself.
Don’t be tempted by the desire to forsake the Bible when it’s less interesting to social media passers-by and then speak from Scripture only when it boosts your numbers.
We seek the applause of heaven and must give an account to God for how we handle His Word.
So beware the temptation that will come with newfound analytical data on your sermon. Some data points will bring brutal and God-honoring self-awareness, but other data points will be the devil’s bait.
3. Imagine a crowded and constantly revolving door at the back of the crowd.
In order to constitute a “view” on Facebook, one needs only observe a video for three seconds.
Simultaneously, a family of five in your church will likely gather around their smart TV to watch your sermon, constituting only one “view.” So, take the view counts with a tablespoon of salt.
Consider quickly re-introducing the sermon’s big idea a couple of times to account for the transient nature of your audience. Consider also dispersing application points throughout the body of the message instead of saving them all for the end.
Remember that you are preaching to your congregations’ friends more than you ever have before and that church members who share your sermon online do so in an evangelistic way.
So, avoid in-house language that applies only to people in the room at the time because there is no longer a room at all.
Through this constantly revolving door behind your congregation, the rare interlocutor or “troll” will appear. Unbound by fears of being seen or known, hecklers of internet preaching can disrupt you with anonymity and impunity.
Do not fear this. It is rare, it is actually helpful to the quantitative reach of your sermon, and is often useful as a direct transition to the gospel.
Be unflappable when it comes up, finish your sermon before engaging it, and then view it as an opportunity to give your people a real-time demonstration of evangelism.
4. Extreme delivery styles will meet in the middle.
When I preach in person, our sound technicians use multiple compressors on my microphone because I tend to “redline” the louder end of the preaching dynamic range.
That’s my natural temperament and style, but I learned from my time in online preaching ministry to bring that down significantly when preaching by myself to Facebook Live.
It’s bizarre to shout at someone sitting across the coffee shop bistro table from you and that is how many people will be watching your sermon.
Pre-recorded sermons that are broadcast and sermons recorded in your auditorium will allow for more intensity but shouting into a close-up shot will likely be poorly received.
On the other end of the spectrum, preachers of a more delicate temperament should consider the dulling effect cameras have. What’s charmingly soft spoken live could come across as dreadfully boring online.
So, preaching styles at both ends of the intensity spectrum will likely come closer to the center in this new season.
The easiest way to overcome this challenge will be to preach for a live studio audience, but please be strategic in how you assemble that audience.
Given the rapidly changing nature of the medical counsel we are receiving, last week was years ago.
- Use a simple and uncluttered background.
- Use lots of lighting; preferably natural light.
- Preach without notes; especially when pre-recording your message.
- If you are using your phone, purchase a microphone for it.
- Frame up-close shots with your eyes in the upper third of the screen.
- Let a countdown screen gather viewers before you start to preach.
- Recruit team members to help you start, stop, and embed your videos.
Encourage your congregation to share your sermons and appreciate the trust they place in you by sharing it.
Especially here near Seattle, when a Christian shares a sermon video online, he or she may be “coming out” as a Christian by sharing it! They are inviting the skeptics in their lives to hear the gospel from you.
So, fix your heart on the sweet reunion to follow this long absence and pray that your seats are filled with new faces who came to Christ during this online season.
I genuinely believe that people are going to be reached because of the coronavirus.