I think most of us can relate to the expression “traditional service” from our church experiences. Some of us might even remember the time when singing hymns followed by a 3-point message was no longer keeping people in church. At that time, the idea to add contemporary worship music along with a variety of instruments including drums, electric guitar, bass, and pretty close to a full rhythm section arose. In addition to the instruments, big projection screens were introduced for video illustrations, displaying song lyrics with animated backgrounds and more. Pastors moved away from the suit and tie and some churches slowly replaced the traditional choir with a larger group of vocalists wearing t-shirts and singing with the worship team. Ha, almost forgot, the worship team. Instead of one person leading songs, a group a people singing in harmony led the music portion of the service. With these changes, the weekend experience in churches got better. It was more engaging and as a result the church grew. Hear me when I say this, the traditional service was not a bad thing, but culture determined that we had to change. We did not change the message we shared, but rather just how we shared it.
Fast forward and here we are…again. For years now, churches have been connecting with people both locally and globally via the web. Streaming the weekend services became very popular, and it has been around for a while, I mean years! But with COVID-19, something is rapidly showing and making it more evident that simply streaming your services without engagement could now be the new “Traditional Service.” Culture is once again starting to show that what they want is not to only sit and watch, but they expect a more immersive experience.
By nature, as humans we long for immersive experiences. We want to be part of the things we have an interest in. We want to be the main actors and not only spectators in our experiences. Platforms like Netflix, Apple TV+, Hulu, and more offer us just that as we control the experience. But it doesn’t stop there, the next generation is becoming even more immersive with the digital experiences and gaming has shaped how they interact with each other online. More than ever, people are playing together in a global community and I have to confess that I know this from my experience in playing FIFA ’20 where I am immersed in a global community who has common interests in soccer and gaming.
The church should not fall behind. People want to connect online, engage and have an experience. We have the best content to offer and the best interest at heart to connect with people, but simply streaming the services won’t do it. Engagement is required, and COVID-19 put this on a fast-track. We must be intentional about how we create online content, making sure it will drive the audience into a more immersive experience with God and each other.
Meeting in person is never going to go away, and it will continue to be a very important expression of worship in churches all over the world. Make note though, it is NO LONGER the only way REAL church is happening and remember that online church has the capacity to drive community more than ever during these times. People are no longer attached to a building in order to meet and to have fellowship, so let’s take advantage of the convenience that online church is bringing to keep people connected with each other and God daily.
If you are only streaming your services, maybe it is time to re-think and evaluate new ways to engage with your audience to create a more immersive experience. A place where they not only sit and watch but are actively part of REAL community that will engage kids, youth and adults while making disciples who will make disciples.