If you've been meeting as a church virtually for the last few weeks, you know the feeling of trying to put together a service and a sermon and record everything without the key dynamic to our personal ministry: people. We do ministry with people, among people, for people, before people. Everything about our lives is centered around people. Even in our study and preparation, it's always in the dynamic of people.
So when we find ourselves preaching with a limited support crew or ourselves with an iPhone, it can be really difficult to push through. After two Sundays preaching virtually, I can say that it is twice as tiring to preach to an empty room than it is a full room. At least in a full room you have synergy, feedback, a few "Amen!" comments. When it's just you, all you've got is the red dot on your camera or whoever is helping you tape. Then what?
Our reality is that for the next several weeks we'll be doing this virtual thing. It's going to be after Easter at least before things return to any sense of normal. Maybe longer. So what can we do to preach with effectiveness in an empty room?
1. Look at the camera. Easy to say, harder to do. But it's part of training our eyes to look at the camera, not at ourselves on the screen. We want to make eye contact, which is natural. So when the eyes are the selfie camera, that's where we go. But it creates disconnect with the camera. If it helps, put a sticker or something above (not on) your camera on the phone or whatever you're using the record as a visual reminder.
3. Engage and smile. Warm expressions on your face go a long way to show you're connecting with your audience on camera. Watch your local news tonight and see what kind of face they have. They're warm. They're engaging. They use their eyes to communicate empathy, concern, listening, and attention. When we're on a stage or a platform, our facial expressions are less important because there's a physical distance from us and the pews or chairs. But on camera, where we're a foot away from the lens, it's a lot harder to hide our facial expressions!
4. Treat it like a broadcast, not a service. I get it. We want to try to keep everything normal so we try to just do what we'd normally do on a Sunday, throw a camera or two in the room, and pretend like everything is usual. But it's not. Churches that typically share their in-person services may have some people who are used to the experience, but the reality for almost all of us is that we're all in the same boat. So everyone knows we're preaching to an empty or sparse room. And our routines and rhythms are so off kilter anyway that we should treat our virtual services as a broadcast first. So we don't look around the room like a normal service, and I'd even argue we should pull out from taping in our main worship areas.
5. Ask around. Find out what other people are doing and pick their brains for their ideas. Since none of us took the elective in seminary of pastoring through a global pandemic, we need to look at each other as helps and resources. Text, call, email, and ask around of your pastor friends to see what they're doing to connect and how they're preaching in an empty room.
6. Keep trying. The important thing, more than anything else, is to keep trying. Whatever you do is better than nothing. And however you do what you're doing is pushing the plow. Keep it up. Don't get discouraged. Don't compare to the megachurch pastor who's used to being on camera or the church with slick production. And don't demean the little church with poor quality who is trying their best to connect with their congregation. We're all on the same team. And we're all in this together.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.