“It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this?” The immortal words of The Killers were definitely not written about the state of Online Church services, but the sentiment certainly applies. It all feels like the premise to a Romcom. The love affair of the church with online services started in early March. It was a strange meet cute. The Church met online out of necessity, rather than design, but love quickly blossomed. We looked staggeringly at the number of live viewers in the top corner of the Facebook Live video and wondered, is this Revival? We checked out the comments and suddenly saw new people joining that we never thought would check out a church service, even online. But suddenly there they were, albeit for a few fleeting seconds. It was bliss.
But then, things started to get a little stale in the relationship. Church congregation went from watching services on their 50-inch LED TV, singing along to the songs and laughing at the pastor’s jokes, and suddenly they’re now watching it on their phone whilst the kids watch Peppa Pig on the TV, struggling to keep engaged as life swirls around them. Suddenly viewing figures started to fall, little by little the service numbers started to dwindle.
How did it end up like this? And how are we to fix it?
In any great Romcom there’s always a moment where all is lost. The couple break up, or are torn apart in some way, with no hope of return. The main character is then thrown into the ‘dark night of the soul’, where nothing and no-one can console them. Queue the rain montages and Adele music.
The main character in the Romcom always finds the strength to fight for what he believes in. He creates a new plan to win back the girl, bridge the divide and make things right. We too, need to get a new plan for Online Church. We can sit and wallow in thoughts of ‘online church being consumer culture’ and ‘It’s just not the same as live’ or we can get up and fight for it.
Online church was never a substitute for live church, it’s just that we needed to discover where it really belongs. Here’s ways we can help people fall back in love with online church.
The first step to helping people fall back in love with Online Church is to know why you’re doing online services in the first place. What is the goal of your online service this weekend? If you don’t know what you’re aiming to achieve, why would you expect anyone to click a link to watch it? If online services have taught us anything, it’s that people don’t want to watch something where there is no clear goal. Whilst people may be too embarrassed to walk out of a live gathering (even though they probably want to), they’re one click away from walking out of your online service, without anyone noticing.
What makes you watch a video on Facebook or YouTube? It’s probably the title, description and thumbnail image. Imagine that you open the Radio Times and you see a TV programme at 8pm on Saturday night called ‘TV Show’. What’s it all about? You read the description underneath, it reads:
Welcome to this week’s TV Show.
Are you going to tune in? You may tune in out of sheer curiosity, but you won’t stick around for long. Why? You’ve given the viewer nothing to encourage them to make the decision. So why do we do this with our online services? We use lazy titles such as “Online Service” and then give no description on what is coming up in this week’s service. It’s prideful to suggest that people should just watch anyway. We need to adopt the position of a servant, serving the people on whose feed this service will appear.
Instead, a better approach is to let people know before they click to watch the service what it will all be about, in words they can understand. This gives the potential viewer a reason to watch the live service. What is going to interest them? What journey are you going to take people on? Use your Title, Description and Thumbnail to let people know what topic you’re covering today.
Don’t expect people to just show up at your online service, and don’t wait until Sunday morning to invite people to your service. By posting a few days in advance, you can give people the correct link give people the key information that will make them interested in attending. It also means your congregation can start sharing the link days in advance.
The average video watch time on Facebook is 10 seconds. That means you’ve got 10 seconds to give people the information they need to take a next step. Your next step should be one and one thing only and should be easy to access. For instance, why not try a “Find out more about Jesus” link in YouTube Live Video or as a pinned comment on Facebook, which takes them to a page on your church website explaining who Jesus is and how to start following Him today. An alternative could be about reading more on the preaching topic, which could link to a blog giving more detail. Decide on one thing though, you’ve only got 10 seconds.
At the end of every good Romcom the guy gets the girl and they live happily ever after, but they see the world differently. For online church, destiny is truly calling us and we must adapt to help reach more people.