Not long ago, I read an article arguing that live streaming doesn’t benefit the Church. But is that true?
A sweet saint in my church recently had not one, but two, strokes. Her daughter cares for her at home. She’d be at church in person if she could, but watching the live stream service every week is how she can still feel a part even from her mother’s bedside.
Who would want her to be deprived of that opportunity?
Some may be thinking “What about those people who could be at an in-person service but choose to live stream instead?”
When you engage with your live stream viewers—when you expect and enable connection—it not only meets a need but can also stir up an appetite for in-person worship.
When you try a sample of something delicious, your mouth waters for more. (Those little spoons of splendid ice cream flavors or the tiny cubes of made-from-scratch, still-warm bread . . .)
And the online to in-person shift often happens.
People build relationships online all the time—they find their “tribe” of local dog lovers, 5K runners, cake decorators—and then they get together “IRL.”
I work remotely, with my team clear across the country. And you know what I’d love to do? Spend time with them in person. Before I got to know them online, that wasn’t true. Since I have, I wouldn’t miss a chance to go see them even if it means missing a night of sleep on a red-eye flight.
Here’s just one more thought about why engaging during live stream can make a monumental difference.
Think of someone in your church whom you recently ministered to through providing meals—say they’d just lost a family member or gone through surgery.
What if you just dropped off meals at their door? No visit, no note, no card, no text, no phone call. You delivered meals day after day, but you never once reached out with one word of encouragement or assurance that prayers were being lifted.
How would that person feel?
Would that reflect your church’s heart for people?
Live streaming church services by itself is like dropping off a meal—delivering spiritual food—but then leaving it at that.
Sure, some people may not respond when you try to engage. But some people will.
Sure, some people may keep watching your live stream and never come to church in person even though they could. But some people will.
As the old saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” Make people want to join you by giving them a taste of the connection they could have in person.
That’s the why of engagement during live stream. The how comes next.
Step 1: Visualize interactions.
Think through how you’d start a conversation with someone visiting in person for the first time, then how you’d follow up with them. Do you invite them out for coffee? Drop off donuts?
What about someone who’s come a few times but hasn’t joined yet? Someone who just joined?
Consider how you can engage during your live stream to “prime the pump” for the rest of your interactions.
If you have a set discipleship journey, refer to it. If not, jot down your ideas and experiences getting to know people in your church.
If you want a head start, take a look at ideas for keeping visitors from falling through the cracks.
Step 2: Prepare.
Set up two things to engage during your live stream: a chat function and an online form function. You can find live stream providers that include both.
How to engage through chat
You can start conversations even before the service begins, then engage throughout. Here are some common methods churches use.
- Put your form or a link to your form in the chat before, during, and after the service so people have multiple opportunities to fill it out. (More on forms below.)
- Ask for viewers’ prayer requests, and invite people to message you if they’d like to share privately.
- Ask for viewers’ answered prayers, and invite people to message you if they’d like to share privately.
- Give an example of how you’ve seen God move this week.
- Ask viewers how they’ve seen God move this week.
- Post song lyrics as you sing—either all lyrics, or especially powerful lines.
- Post quotes from the sermon in real time.
- Post verses from the sermon in real time.
- Repeat questions your pastor asks during the sermon in the chat.
- Invite viewers to a video chat meet-and-greet either a few minutes after the service ends or at another set time during the week.
- If your service includes event announcements, include a link to your church website’s events page.
- At the end of the service, post links to your church website: sermons page, contact page, and visit us page.
Once you get into it, you may come up with even more methods to try. And, of course, you don’t have to use all of these in one service.
How to use your online form(s)
Your online form(s) help you find out who’s joining you—and allow you to follow up. The online “connection card” is the first form you should build, but you can use forms for anything you need to do (for example, allowing parents to sign their kids up for the Awana program starting soon).
If you already have paper forms, these are a great starting point.
Here’s a collection of questions churches often ask. Pick and choose to meet your church’s needs, but definitely include these contact information fields:
Pair these with checkboxes.
• First-time guest
• Out-of-town guest
• Return visitor
• Regular attendee
• Please sign me up for the church newsletter.
• Please add me to the church’s email list.
I would like to know more about:
• becoming a Christian
• talking with a pastor
• small group
• children’s ministries
• teen ministries
• college student ministries
• adult ministries
• how to get involved
• opportunities to grow my faith
Include these with fill-in-the blank/comment boxes.
How did you hear about our church?
Step 3: Think one to one, not one to many.
When you’re staring at a screen during a live stream service, it can be hard to remember that on the other side are real people. You’re not typing a question to a crowd or to the emptiness of cyberspace. You’re typing a question to one person. You’re not asking a crowd for prayer requests. You’re asking one person.
That’s deceptively easy to forget, so help remember it by bringing specific people to mind before and throughout each service.
• First, picture someone from your church who’ll be watching your live stream.
• Second, picture someone in your community who’s never been to your church before.
(It can help to look at viewers’ profile pictures here, too, rather than just glazing over them because we’re used to seeing them.)
Step 4: Give it a whirl!
Begin working to add engagement during your next live stream service. It’s okay to start small! Even if you only include an online form, that’s paving a pathway someone could choose to walk down.
Step 5: Follow up.
In step one, you visualized interactions and thought through the discipleship journey. Now it’s time to use what you came up with.
Read viewers’ responses to your online forms and reach out to them accordingly.
Step 6: Build a volunteer team.
To bring people into your church through connecting with them online, you need to bring people on to your volunteer team. Even if you could do all the engagement and follow-through on your own forever, you shouldn’t! As we all know, things happen (vacations, illness), and burnout is real.
Start by asking publicly for volunteers, including through your church announcements and online bulletins.
When you do, give an idea of how much commitment is involved.
And just as necessary, explain why this area of ministry is so important. Tell a story to get people to see that this matters. For a jump start, you could borrow the analogy about dropping off a meal at someone’s door without showing any other kind of support.
It can also be a great idea to kick off gathering volunteers with a brief informational meeting—no commitment required!—about what kind of help you need. This is a good in-between step for people who aren’t quite ready to say yes. It’s less pressure than coming to you with questions and gets the details out to several people at once. Plus, it can help spark momentum for potential volunteers to see who else they could be serving alongside.
If you’re still lacking volunteers, try a more personal tactic.
Of course, this doesn’t mean a guilt trip or donning your best salesman hat—a volunteer whose heart isn’t in it will be a drawback in the long run. But some people just need a little nudge. They may not be confident enough to realize they have the skills you need, or they may think you already have your volunteer team set.
Are there people you think would be excellent at online connection and follow-up? Perhaps they’re very active on your church’s social media or they’re always the first to go say hello to visitors.
Send those people a quick email or text. Let them know that when you thought about your dream team, they came to mind because of [insert reasons here]. Give a very brief overview of how they’d be serving and ask them to let you know if they’re interested, no pressure.
For more ideas, take a look at this article. The first section includes 13 tips to grow your church’s volunteer program.
Now go set out that honey. Provide the connection to the Church that people need—and help them to crave more.
The tech to support your next steps
You could use all kinds of tech to take the actions above. There’s no one right way or wrong way. There are frustrating and time-consuming ways versus simpler ones, though. There’s tech built for sharing viral videos or running board meetings, and there’s tech built just for the Church. (Hey, we make that! Faithlife’s mission is to equip the Church to grow in the light of the Bible.)
With Faithlife, you can get what you need to live stream. But you can also get what you need to build an online church community, create your church website, and a lot more. We’re here for you, whatever your church is looking for.