Once upon a time in a world before COVID-19, only megachurches and dedicated televangelists could be found in living rooms across the country on any given Sunday. But that all changed as the world found itself in the midst of a pandemic, quarantining ourselves away from friends, family members and fellow congregants. Suddenly, churches of every size faced the same struggle – how do we stay connected as a church family when we can’t physically be together?
The lifeline, of course, was technology and soon everyone was trying to figure out how to get in the livestreaming game.
First Baptist Church of Orange Park Pastor David Tarkington summed it up well – “We all had to become televangelists even if we didn’t want to.”
David said his church was ahead of the game – but just barely. They had been streaming for three or four weeks before the lockdown began. As the world changed and everything seemed to slow down, things like livestreaming were fast tracked.
David said that church leaders are frequently evaluating techniques and strategies for how to engage people and that, with technology growth, comes change. Many thought the ability to livestream services would not be a huge factor to consider for another five years.
“COVID turned five years into eight months and we had to make a 90 degree turn quickly. We are now in whatever new normal this is,” he said.
But what’s the best way to go about livestreaming and what are some of the pitfalls you need to watch out for? David shared some thoughts from his church’s experience.
One of the first things to figure out is where your people are – what platforms are your members utilizing regularly? At FBC Orange Park, most of their members were using Facebook and YouTube so those were the natural places to start. The beauty of sites like these is that they are free to use, allowing churches of every size and situation the opportunity to engage members and lost people in their communities and beyond. As it relates to cost, churches can spend as much or as little as they want – David said cost should not be a prohibitive factor.
“An iPhone and a tripod could pull this off,” David said. “Small churches can do this.”
It’s also important to understand how to know who’s tuning in and staying to listen, as opposed to people who are clicking in but only staying for a few seconds or minutes. David said it’s easy to think you have more followers or viewers than you actually do. Once you know who is listening, you know who you are reaching.
Another key to remember is your ultimate goal – to connect with people and build relationship. While you want your livestream to look as professional as possible, don’t think that is your endgame. Don’t try to compete with the megachurches – remember that production value is important but ultimately you want to connect to your audiences – the one in the room with you and the one online.
Fruit Cove Baptist Church is another church streaming to multiple platforms – Facebook, YouTube, their website and their mobile app. Fruit Cove’s Neal Cordle said it’s important to remember that different platforms attract different audiences and it will take different strategies to connect with each group. Your job is to create connections with all of them.
One way Fruit Cove does this is by having a staff member monitor the service in a type of moderator position. On a rotating basis, a staff member is available online to offer comments, ask for prayer requests and answer any questions that come up. Neal said he usually even provides the outline points of the sermon or emphasizes key phrases or ideas – anything to create engagement. On Facebook, once someone identifies themselves with a like or a comment, Neal said it’s important to find ways to reach out.
“Send them a friend request – find a way to create dialogue,” Neal said.
Both congregations have seen Kingdom advances and people saved as a result of their livestreaming efforts. David told of one individual who watched FBC Orange Park online throughout 2020, only visiting campus a couple of times before coming to be baptized. One family in St. Johns county, after only visiting Fruit Cove once, had to move to another state to care for aging parents. They have stayed connected to Fruit Cove through the livestream and consider it their home church. Both congregations have seen senior adults who just don’t feel ready to come worship in person again keep their connection through the livestream. And in some cases, these are not just passive viewers but giving participants.
While the hope is for all churches to gather together in person, in these uncertain times it is good to know we can use technology to remain connected members of a body of believers. Let the livestream be a bridge you use to make connections to your members and your community, all the while drawing one another to Jesus.
If you’d like to find out more about how to livestream or have questions about making your website the best it can be, we are here for you. We’d love to meet you and find out how we can help.