On a normal Sunday in a sanctuary full of people, I see stories. Lately, I have had to get used to speaking to an empty room before the eye of Sauron– that dark, threatening, all-seeing, pupil. Most people call it a camera.
Here are four challenges of livestream worship services….
Keeping the conversation in it
When you speak to a room full of stories, you’re part of a conversation. Imagine trying to recreate your last heart-to-heart without the other person present, recording it on video. You might remember most of the words, but much of the communication (famously non-verbal) would be lost. The give-and-take of emotion, facial expressions, body language, silence, reactions, and the full presence of a face and a story and a life before you are all part of an exchange. A message can still have purpose on camera, but it’s a challenge to keep it conversational. Without the conversation, a message can become words, words, words.
Keeping humanity in it
When you speak to a room full of stories, the phrase “Nobody’s perfect” comes to mind. A crowd of people in their Sunday best becomes much less intimidating when you know their stories. A gracious pastor identifies with those plot twists through his own personal history. Grace leaks out of preaching when the messenger fails to count himself among the people living somewhere between 0 and 100%. Empathy keeps a speaker from being described like the guy who proudly stopped smoking cigars: “He just lost his last contact with humanity.” Authenticity leads with a limp.
Keeping energy in it
When you speak to a room full of stories, you draw upon the energy in the room. A room of hopeful people is full of feedback. They want to be reminded more than instructed. They need encouragement not just to get it but also to get going . A sermon is not a firecracker shot off for the noise; it’s a hunter’s gun, and at every moment the hunter looks to see his game fall (Beecher). That may seem a bit much, but getting minds and hearts inclined towards an ideal always takes more than mere agreement. We are educated way above our current level of practice.
Keeping the bigger story in it
Helping people live a better story means inviting them into the bigger story. The Sunday sermon draws meaning from an inspired text. It presumes the truths of history are not accidental. A true story resonates across generations and cultures. Few books stay relevant even a decade later. Scripture deserves respect at the very least for its endurance over thousands of years. But getting this inspired text into lives means knowing where to put it. You need to know what happened this week, who is crossed up with whom, who is in the hospital, lost a job, got engaged. Inviting people to be part of a bigger story begins by stepping all the way into theirs.
During this season of social distancing, people appreciate their churches offering content and interaction online. They are also starting to recognize the limits of it. Even self-styled introverts immersed in social media and usually content online are missing some life-on-life. The screen may extend the reach of a community, but you cannot create community through a screen.
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matt. 18:20