Are you preaching, singing , or speaking into a camera this weekend? How do you feel before you press the record button, how do you keep going during those long minutes before you stop? And most importantly how do you feel afterwards?
During recent online meetings, I’ve heard these questions countless times. Is anyone there? Can anybody hear me? Could you let me know if you’re there?
However polished and practised presenters are. However much I as “Tech host” remind them not to say it. They still, without fail ask the question can everyone hear me? Is anyone there? lets stop a second and ask why this happens? , If the tech team are doing their jobs, then no-one needs to ask if anyone can hear them. That is the tech team’s job. Its clear that we are all there, because you can see our faces on the screen. We can’t reply to let them know we’re enjoying it because we’re all on mute.
So, why, does even the most seasoned pastor still ask this question? I know that church online is not ideal, I have nostalgia for church life BCV. But I am already seeing patterns and trends of God at work in new ways. New, younger leaders having opportunities to serve in leadership. Church becoming more accessible to the vulnerable, elderly and single parents. Here are some examples…
“Without internet access here, we listened in to the Sunday service by phone. It was a great way to worship and maintain fellowship together. This was a new experience for Mum and Dad who can’t get out to church. As this crisis develops it is important that we keep these links as a church fellowship. I’m still praying for everyone each day. God bless”. Clive ( my Pastor who has moved to the Isle of Wight to care for his elderly parents).
I’m convinced there are lessons from Church online that we will take into our churches for the long term. But back to my question. Why does the host, worship leader, speaker feel the need to ask the question is anybody there? In some ways its obvious. Church is so different and so alien that we’re all struggling. Church has never been a one directional, live video communication to a large audience. Yet that’s what we’re doing now. Church is and has always been the gathering of Christians. Church has never been about transmitting a message. So its no surprise that this whole experience is unsatisfying. We’re yearning for collective, real time, in person community. But even with Conference apps which can offer collective, real time gatherings. This question still gets asked each week. This shows a problem we have.
Its time to reflect on our church experience so far in COVID-19. Here are some questions to help . Is our expression of church a gathering of Christians? How relational is your church? How could it be more relational? Could technology allow us to have a collective, real time, gathering of believers? what might you need to stop doing? What might you need to continue doing? What might you need to start doing ?
Why do we ask if anyone is listening? In life BCV we’d know the answer to that question without having to even ask it. Studies show that up to 70% of communication is non-verbal. So we’d see the answer to that question as we watched the body language of our audience. There are limits for non verbal communication online.
For the communicators and those listening we need to rethink how we communicate. The audience is ten times more likely to switch off during an online call. So we need to think through creative, engaging and interactive meetings. But we also need to rethink how we express gratitude to those leading services. I guess one of the problems of church online is that it feels dehumanising. It feels subhuman, not just for the listener but for the pastor, the host and the worship leader too. Speaking into a camera is not the same as speaking to a room of people you know. In February I hosted our church service. Afterwards two women came up to me and said, “thank you for your words; they meant so much to me”. And their words meant so much to me. I’d chosen to be vulnerable on that day. And in my vulnerability my friends showed me love and support. Here are some comments from friends that have spoken recently…
“Working on a conference app is super helpful, but it’s also quite draining. I’ve found myself being very aware of what I look like during the lessons due to the camera being on me all the time. I stare at the screen to watch my students play and make sure I don’t miss anything. But this has resulted in headaches. All my social connection and work is being done on my phone or laptop.” Evee a Piano teacher
“As a preacher you get energy from seeing people engage with you as you teach the Bible. You don’t get that online. Even on Zoom, all you can see is a screen of small faces. Even if you can see people, often their posture in their own home doesn’t look as engaged as in church on a Sunday. You have to work so hard. Communicating well and delivering what you’re saying with energy and conviction”. Tim, a Curate
“After speaking at the first session at a conference, I left the room and burst into tears. The whole experience was intense and detached” Adele, online conference speaker
So today when I’m listening I’m intending to express my gratitude to anyone involved in running the meeting. Here are five ways that I can do this.
1. The welcome wave. As someone is starting their section (praying, speaking, hosting, testimonies). I encourage the audience to physically wave or use the thumbs function. By using this we can express by our words and icons what my eyes and body are saying.
2. Throughout the meeting we encourage the use of the chat function. After each new presenter has finished. I encourage the church to thank them and comment about how God has spoken to them through that time. This is being used for guests to write prayers and share stories. You can save the chat afterwards, its a great way to encourage the person speaking.
3. We have a core team of 7 that make our service happen. After the service I leave a voice message on each persons phone. Thanking them and encouraging them for what they did today.
4. I save the entire Zoom group chat onto a word document and then edit it and send it to the core team. I include encouraging comments, prayers, Bible verses and words from God. I then send it to the core team. We also generate a word cloud to see in one picture how the service went.
Here is the Word Cloud taken from the chat function on Easter Sunday at Southampton Lighthouse International Church. We send this to each of the team for their encouragement and use it for feedback as we plan ahead.
5. We have a whataspp group that is only used on a Sunday and only for the core team involved that week. After the service this is where the team say thank you to each other and encourage each other.
We’re trying to apply these principles to the wider church too. At our 7am Wednesday prayer meetings, we pray for our church family. For those that can’t make it (often key workers or families) we encourage those there to take a screen shot of the meeting. We then invite them to send it by WhatsApp to the person we prayed for including a short message. I was delighted to receive this from my friend Emma on Wednesday morning.
So this weekend after the service, please pause. Consider how you will encourage the team running the service. You can’t do it in person, but you can do it in other ways.
As for the pastor, the host, the worship leader: How do you keep going when you’re tired, unsure if anyone is listening or concentrating? Trust that is our Lords job to make things grow, turn the computer off and rest knowing that he neither slumbers or sleeps.
“1 Corinthians 3:5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3
I’d like to inspiration for the title of this blog to Philippa Wilson, who wrote an article called Writing in to the void: the battle for online witness. Philippa blogs at A Certain Brightness, teaches English to Cardiff teenagers and is working on her debut novel.