Programming a live stream can go in many different directions.  When was the last time you watched an award show or variety show online? Specifically, a show that incorporated music and talking heads? Got it in place? Now process their programming. How long was the song? How many songs did they do in a row? What did they do to break up the programming in segments so that you were interested and provided the ability to have natural breaks? 

These are the sort of discussions we need to have if we are going to be most effective with a live stream model. The conditions that surrounded the pandemic COVID-19, when every church was prohibited to meet during a nationwide quarantine, caused me to realize that we can’t just take what was a live experience a few weeks prior, and choose to place a video camera in the back of the room and still have an effective worship service. 

Worship Online

First let me discuss worship itself. When we watch a live stream of worship, we engage with it in a different manner. It’s not natural to stand in our living room and lift our hands in worship. Because the environment is different, the response is different. Therefore, one thing to consider is avoiding singing songs that are beyond 3-5 minutes in length. Second, ask how many songs in a row is too many without being weird to someone watching online. 

I’m not suggesting that no one sings, but I am suggesting that it’s not natural without the live presence of a sound system, band, and audience to sing along with. Instead, consider what my friend Jason said in response to going online for the first time as part of a globally recognized church in Atlanta, GA during COVID-19: 

 “We’ve started treating our online broadcast much like that of a live stream. We’ve shortened the music sections, been intentional about welcoming people numerous times during a single broadcast and shortened our teaching times. It’s resulted in far better engagement so we can have a greater impact on those participating. ” 

How are we exploring ways to create engaging worship experiences? What do we need to do in order to change our methods of worship when it comes to a live stream? 

Speaking / Teaching

Next, let’s talk about the speaking elements in an online broadcast. Since it’s not as obvious when you start a service online to know how “full” your room is, it’s good to consider Jason’s suggestion above of welcoming people to your live stream a few different times. 

Another suggestion, is to break up the worship with an engaging moment of interactive prayer. Ask the people in the room together to take a second and pray over each other, over the city and/or over the service. By engaging people in their own environment, it will start to feel more like they are involved in something, rather than just watching an event take place. 

When it comes to online streaming, there’s a good chance that the “basics” of a church environment aren’t in place. Think about it, if a family is at their house streaming the service online, they don’t have childcare, nursery or a place for their students. Keep this in mind, because an online-only broadcast can’t take as long without engaging the entire family. 

What does it look like to have shorter sermons, and ways to involve children in the online broadcast? Just because we have the technology to stream, doesn’t mean it will be as effective as a live gathering. We must do the work of understanding how to connect in an online manner. 

A Story Worth Telling

I believe that a large benefit of having an online live stream of your service, you get a chance to reach people that may be hesitant (or unable) to attend a physical service. This means you may have an opportunity online that you don’t have when you’re in person. For example, you may have a window of time with people in a live-stream to tell the stories of life-change or share the mission/vision of your church in a compelling way. 

One thing to consider as you begin planning and programming your online stream, would be to strategize how creativity and storytelling can be used to tell the narrative and purpose of your local expression of the church. What makes you different? What is the impact you’re making in your community? What would you like for people to know about the importance of the message you’re declaring? 

Austin Stone Community Church in Texas has developed a “story team” in order to do this specific idea. They’ve employed specific staff members with the sole intent to create videos, podcasts, blogs, etc that share the transforming change that has happened in their church by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. 

What would it take for your church to use creativity as a tool to tell the story of your church? Do you have a few key volunteers who could lead this initiative? If not, would you have the budget to hire a staff member for this specific purpose? 

You have a story worth telling, and the online platform of live-streaming may be a great way to share that story with people who may be hesitant to participate in an in-person gathering.