At the Best Practices in Ministry conference in Phoenix I attended this past February, I went to a breakout session led by TJ Winters of Concordia Lutheran in San Antonio,TX, on How to Do Online Church. It was a fascinating session that helped me to see the value of having your church service streaming online for those who are homebound or home with a sick child or just had a baby or those who live in a different area of the country but like the services at your church.
Winters started the session by putting 1 John 5:13 on the screen:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
John was writing this letter from a distance, and Winters said this verse declares that we are called to be online church to those at a distance, Winters said, to let them know that they have eternal life in Christ.
There are many ways to do online church, but one way is through Facebook Live. Other avenues for streaming your worship can be found at churchonlineplatform.com, where watchers can chat and make comments in real-time and where the church can customize how they stream their services and put up sermon notes and schedules. People usually find out about a church’s online services through the church’s regular website, through hashtags, through Facebook pages or through word of mouth.
There are a lot of technical components like lighting and cameras and sound systems that can make a difference in the quality of the streaming. Each church must decide for itself how in-depth it wants to go in this area of ministry and how much to invest in its outreach. For instance some churches only live stream the sermons while others stream the entire service, which can be more complex technically speaking.
For me, the impact of online cam down to two stories. One session participant said that her pastor said that if the only home watching the online service was a family whose child had cancer and could not attend because of the child’s fragile immune system, then it was doing its job. The other story came from Winters himself who said one Sunday a highly tattooed woman visited his church and said, “I’m from Virginia, but I have enjoyed your traditional services so much, I had to see for myself.” God is truly touching the lives of many through online church in unique, interesting and surprising ways.
Trends in sermons are changing fast. The traditional approach of preaching on a biblical text in a lecture format through deductive reasoning is being replaced more and more by what is being called in seminary circles as “the new homiletics.”
New homiletics, broadly speaking, looks at the preaching of a sermon more as an event or an experience. Those in the pews often become part of the conversation through question-and-answer formats or personal stories that are shared.
Much of what is behind this shift in homiletics has to do with the rise of social media and our increased comfort level as a society in engaging in a dialog about any number of topics.
The challenge for pastors and other church workers is how to direct and control that conversation within the context of a sermon in order to achieve the spiritual goals they have in mind for their message and for their audience.
At the Best Practices conference, Joy Hamann and TJ Winters of Concordia-San Antonio in their session Using Video in Ministry, talked about creative ways to incorporate video into your worship and church life. In their particular church they have found that video has been useful in three categories:
Announcements, 2. Testimonials, 3. Sermons. Let’s take a look at each:
You know how every church service either begins or ends with a series of announcements that a pastor reads from a sheet of paper while people fidget in their seats. Haman and Powers have turned that often boring necessity into something that parishioners look forward to. They create 2- to 3-minute videos about an upcoming event or a ministry in the church in which a representative of that event or ministry is filmed talking about how excited they are about the event or the ministry, even sometimes through song or a funny poem. Haman and Powers do not run the same video twice, even if it is for the same event, so that there is variety in the video announcements. Hamann and Winters have seen that people now look forward to the announcements in church and doing the videos ahead of time helps services to move along because they know how exactly how long the announcements will be and they do not have to worry about a speaker running to long or forgetting certain points. People who tape the announcements also are more relaxed when they are asked to do the video because they know that it can be redone, if there are any mistakes or flubs. Here is an a example of a video announcement:
Another way to use video in worship is through testimonials. So often we do not know much about the background and the lives of those in our congregation, but by filming testimonials from people who are willing to share their faith lives on tape, we can get to know each other better. These testimonials can even become part of a sermon on a particular topic or theme or they can be used simply as a way for people to be made aware of a ministry at the church that had or has a significant impact on the life of a brother or sister in Christ. Here is an example of a testimonial video:
Taking videos of the pastor’s sermon each week is a wonderful way in which a church can reach out to the community to those who are sick or homebound or otherwise unable to attend worship in person on Sunday mornings, and sermon videos are also an avenue for spreading the Gospel to those who are seeking the Lord and those who do not have a church home of their own. In many aspects in this technological, internet age, each church has in effect two congregations: the people in the pews on Sundays and those online, and putting sermons on youtube or other media outlets is the perfect start to draw someone into learning more about what a Christian means, Many pastors tell of how people have reached out to them because of something they heard that pastor say on an online sermon and how those pastors were then able to minister to those people. Here is an example of a video sermon by Pastor Bill Tucker at Concordia-San Antonio:
God is truly at work through video to fulfill the Great Commission to go ye, therefore, and preach the Gospel to every nation—even the computer nation!