Online Church Is Different

Just a quick note, an observation, maybe a memo to a few churches out there and that is this; online church is not the same thing as a Sunday morning worship service. I think we better identify that and put a stake in the ground and recognize that moving our services online is not really supposed to be and is not most effective when it’s just a clone of the service- in most cases now. 

Interestingly, I’m currently involved in two different churches. One as a transitional coach doing some preaching and another as a transitional pastor. The one I’m coaching in is a church of about a thousand people with three services. The church I’m actually traditional pastor is a church of about 100 with one service, and last weekend they were both online. I wasn’t involved in both last week, but I will be involved in the the larger one this coming weekend. 

As we moved into online mode with our little church in our small town, we quickly made a decision, based on things we’d already seen online, that we would not try to reproduce our Sunday morning service. We wouldn’t have a worship team, preach from the platform, or do the full meal deal of a service. 

It was much more like much more like a webinar, really. We had a five minute countdown. People log-in and we use the online church platform from Life Church.TV. God bless them for their willingness to share that platform for free with so many people. We use that platform and at five minutes to a countdown started with music and people are already there chatting in the live chat alongside the screen. In the starting time, I gave some announcements. Played a video of a song and then I did a teaching, did a few more announcements and closed it off. The whole thing was about 38 minutes from beginning to end. 

In retrospect, we should have added a song at the end that was relevant to the message and as the sovereignty of God would have it, I was preaching on Philippians 4:4-9, which is in fact a Pathway to Peace. You can check that out if you like. It might be a good passage to look at these days you can find it at lwac.ca. 

Now in the in the larger church I’m involved with, they’ve been live streaming for a long time. They’ve had Facebook lives. They’ve got an outstanding tech crew. They’ve got great equipment, and so for them, they did exactly the same thing the last two Sundays that they would normally do, except there is nobody in the congregation because of restrictions and gathering. They just did it to the video cameras. They did the worship, the teaching, and the announcements. It was like a regular service. Because they’ve got a good tech crew, the quality is outstanding, the video’s outstanding, the audio is outstanding. 

I flip to another church, the same sized church that obviously didn’t have the same level of technical skill and the camera work was nowhere near. The audio, which is really important, the audio was way, way, way down. That second church, even though it’s a large church, needs to revisit what they’re trying to do. 

I’ve been trying to think about the best way to describe what I think is the most effective way on being online. Number one, when it comes to the weekly service, think more like a podcast than a service. Think of a video broadcast or a really good YouTube channel where there is discussion, and interviews, graphics, sound imports and lots going on. There’s some outstanding video podcasts. One of the biggest podcasts in the world is I think Joe Rogan, where he just sits a visits with people for an hour and a half. 

You can do good things. You can interview people, discuss passages of scripture or issues around scripture, topics tying them back to scripture. So there are ways to do that. And I’m still trying to figure out what we’re gonna do. 

In the meantime, we’re just going to be doing these truncated services with a couple of played songs, some teaching, some focus. I think where we can really gain some leverage is by adding some content outside of that time. We can add things like devotionals or Facebook lives. Or as I’m doing this week, hosting different meetings via Zoom, even prayer meetings. This allows people to come in and join together in a group, even though they may be isolated at home and do a Zoom meeting. 

So I just want to flag again the fact that online church service is not the same thing and should not be just a reproduction of Sunday morning, in most cases. Most churches can’t pull it off. In fact in the area we’re in where they’re really battening down the hatches as far as physical/social isolation, you won’t be able have a worship team together in the same place for a meeting like that very much longer. So we’re going to have to get creative. 

Good news is, as the Apostle Paul said from prison, God’s word is not chained. God’s word is not bound to these restrictions. Lots can be done and we just need to pray for wisdom, for creativity. To be like the men of Issachar who knew what was going on, knew what the times called for and take action. 

So wisdom to you whenever you’re listening to this, whether it’s in the middle of a crisis, a recalibration of church or in the regular flow of ministry. Wisdom to you and God will give us what we need. He’s already given us what we need in His Spirit and in His Word. He’ll give us what we need to be disciples who make disciples. 

God bless and press on. Thanks for listening. 

3 thoughts on “Online Church Is Different”

  1. I’m not currently serving a church as a pastor or transition pastor, but I am thinking of, and praying for all of you who are. This is a very unsettling time to serve a church as its pastor. This article hi lights some very good ways to keep the ministry of worship together alive. But digital ministry, we know, has its limits for many reasons.

    However, one of the aspects of pastoral ministry that can really flourish in this time of physical social distancing because of the pandemic, is the fine art of pastoral care. Besides seeking to serve the congregation on the weekend through digital worship services, this is a great time for pastors themselves or teams of pastoral ministries to be in touch with their people, especially by telephone, to offer help and prayer to individuals and families. A weekly telephone call by someone from the church with pastoral gifts would go a long ways to keeping the church intact during this temporary church gathering hiatus. It wouldn’t be that difficult to organize and church members/congregants would feel valued in a different way. When the church can’t come to be ministered to by the pastor, perhaps the pastor can find new ways to go to the church.

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