One of the most helpful books I’ve read in a while is Bowdle’s Rethink Communication. It’s all specifically about churches and how we communicate. I had my whole staff and several of my elders read it. Much of it has things other than preaching in mind, but there’s at least one area that I believe in a post-pandemic world, we will continue refining significantly.
Specifically, it is that most of our communication means now go in two directions.
Types of Communication
In the church of yesteryear, much of what the church produced was unidirectional, going in just one way.
- Worship services
- Printed bulletin and pamphlets
We produce it. We give it. They receive it.
But nearly all of the newer means of communication are multidirectional. We might send or produce something, but the people engaging can respond immediately using the same conduit.
- Social Media
- Online Videos
- Text Messaging
Rather than group all of the above into “digital”, leaders should thoughtfully navigate which of the above can and should be used for different purposes. You might send an email blast about something that you wouldn’t put on social media, for example.
It has now become the case for us that as we livestream content, we have lots of members and guests writing questions, comments, and plenty of emojis.
The Big Question
A question I’ve been sitting with for the last year is how to be effective at utilizing our two-way means of communication intentionally. Where I’ve landed so far:
- Think of your approach to digital and in-person as hybrid. Your online content should not merely be a recording of what you do in person, as if they can simply be a fly on the wall. Always be thinking that this is for the people here, and also for the people elsewhere. In your comments and contents, act accordingly.
- When you are teaching via livestream, have a way to engage with online viewers and commenters. More about this below.
- Have an invitation to action that includes online response possibilities. We now put on the back of the bulletin and on the screen during the invitation a QR code. When you point the camera on your phone at it, it will pop up with a link.
New Possibilities for Preaching and Teaching
I’m going to share a few ideas that we’ve been either using or considering that can help you engage your audience in more of a two-way format.
When you are recording and uploading video live, you need a pretty solid amount of upload bandwidth to send your video to even one destination. But not all people use all platforms. You have YouTube viewers who don’t have a Facebook account, for example. This is where multistream software can be so useful.
Multistream software receives your video feed and then sends it out simultaneously to numerous platforms which you select. You only have to worry about uploading to one location, and they take it from there.
- We upload our videos directly to Restream where they go out simultaneously to our YouTube, Facebook Fan Page, Facebook Members Group, and Twitch channels. There are tons of possible platforms to which Restream can send the content, but Facebook and YouTube are the two that bring us the most connections.
- Within Restream, you only have to update the Title and Description for your stream in one place, and it adds the details to all of your channels.
- It integrates pretty seamlessly with the OBS streaming software on the computer in our soundbooth. OBS is an open-source (free) software used to set up live streaming. We simply typed in our credentials to OBS and it brings up some control panels that pull from Restream. When we click “Start Livestream” it goes to Restream, which sends it to the world.
- It has a comments panel. This is super useful. We have a little panel that is a chat window. In this window, all comments from all platforms show up together. Whether people are commenting from Facebook or YouTube, we can see what they say and if appropriate, can respond to them immediately, all within the app. One of the people in our sound booth usually does this.
Enhance Your Video Presentations and Interviews
For the video interviews and livestream teaching, I use Ecamm Live. It lets me do several things:
- I have excellent control over all my audio and video settings. I can crop my camera’s view to exactly what I want to see. I can adjust volumes for myself, a guest I’m interviewing, video clips, sound effects, etc.
- I can use a green screen background so that I can superimpose myself on the slides I’m showing onscreen.
- I can interview a person on Skype and pull their video into my livestream where people can see us talk.
- I have tons of tools available like text or image overlays, countdowns, sound effects, etc.
- As people comment, I can pull their comment onscreen and interact with it.
- Ecamm Live integrates perfectly with Restream.io so that I can record from one location and then have it go everywhere. It also pulls in all the comments from all platforms into a single window for me to view as I teach.
Have a look at one of my Wednesday night classes to see me do several of these things.
It has created a bit of a Wednesday night dilemma for us. From almost day one of me teaching a Wednesday night streaming class, we had more people on the stream than had been coming to our in-person Wednesday night gatherings. Even now that we have started back up a couple of our in-person offerings, my weekly streaming numbers remain strong. As we’ve pondered relaunching more in-person classes, the truth is that I don’t want to lose the interactive capabilities that I currently have on Ecamm. My ability to interact on the fly far exceeds an alternative method of, say, streaming the video of class and having a sound booth person try to tell me what people are saying online.
Most weeks, I have regular members, former members, members of other churches where I used to work, friends and family from other places, several international viewers, and a few visitors looking at our content. And not only do they watch it live: the viewing often continues for days and sometimes weeks after a new piece of content is up.
Taking Polls and Live Interactions
I am considering options for a next step to allow me to poll and interact with people on the fly, even mid-sermon. Two companies who produce this kind of software are:
You can create surveys, word clouds, quizzes, Q&A, etc. on the fly. At least with Poll Everywhere, you can have someone moderating so that if you are allowing for comments to be showing up, you can be sure you don’t have vulgarities getting through since they have to be approved.
What I like about this possibility is:
- That both in-person and online viewers could be interacting together on the same questions and polls.
- That you can have instant feedback about some topics or questions you might have about the congregation and what they are thinking
- You could adjust your preaching on the fly based on the response you get. Of 3-4 directions you could go, what would be the one that would help them most?
- Your audience becomes much more active and connected to your content, since they have taken some ownership of it.
Your digital content is your new front porch.
It is a given now that when people find and visit our church, they started with our website, and often watched a video or two before attending in person. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t techy. It doesn’t matter if you like this stuff or not. The younger generations will evaluate you thoroughly based on your online presence. Fail to give attention to this and they’ll fail to give you more than a glance.
Remember: you’re now on a 2-way street.