How to Preach to In-Person and Online Audiences at the Same Time

Whether a young married couple is sitting in your pews or watching your live stream, they’re trying to engage with your church and, more importantly, with the gospel. Here are our best tips for preaching to in-person and online audiences at the same time.

The way people consume online content is changing, and it’s changed rapidly after the past year.  Movie production companies are now releasing movies online and in theaters at the same time.  People are used to consuming content in either a digital or in-person manner, whichever suits them best.  So if you’re a pastor, here’s the million-dollar question: 

How do you connect with and reach people in both contexts? 

Because both audiences are important.  Whether a young married couple is sitting in your pews or watching your live stream, they’re trying to engage with your church and, more importantly, with the gospel.

Here are our best tips for doing just that:  

Refine your communication skills

In person, you can get away with a lot more disorganization and rambling.  Being in a room with someone who’s speaking provides momentum that just isn’t present online.  So as you’re speaking to both audiences, you’re going to have to become a better communicator.  You’ll need to work on your intros and your conclusions.  You’ll most likely have to stop any rambling and cut to the main point, and work on the structure and organization of your message.  

Basically, if you’re trying to speak to both audiences at once, you need to be actively trying to grow as a communicator- no matter how long you’ve been preaching.  If you have weaknesses, those weaknesses will be exaggerated on the camera.  In order to spot those areas of weakness, have people review your online messages.

Acknowledge the importance of both audiences

You have to weave your acknowledgment of both audiences throughout the sermon.  The people listening in both venues are equally important, and you’re going to have to treat them as such.  You can’t just say, “For those of you watching at home,” once in your message and preach to the in-person congregation the rest of the time.  You have to weave connection points for both audiences into your sermon.  Preaching to the left side of the stage example.  

When you acknowledge different audiences, when other people feel seen and heard and important, you’re going to notice an increase in connection with both audiences. Justin and Wade have both noticed this phenomenon in their own teaching- once, when Justin made a conscious effort to speak to both sides of the room, the places where people were sitting evened out.  When Wade was in youth ministry, he started using more visual illustrations during his lesson time, and students started sitting closer to the front so that they could be in on the action. 

In order to do this, make sure you’re making eye contact with the camera.  This might mean you need to adjust your camera angle, but it definitely means that you need to address people (or characteristics of people) specifically, like hut-ins, people who aren’t there, who are sick, who can’t make it, and who are at risk.  Don’t make them feel secondary, or like “This is not really for me, this is for the ‘real churchgoers.’”

Pay Attention to Camera Angles

People understand what they hear, but believe what they see.  If people online can see your facial expressions clearly, that’s going to help them connect more clearly with what you’re saying.  So make sure that it’s close enough for people to actually connect with you.  

Make sure you know where the camera is and that you talk to it during the sermon.  In other words, just as you talk to different parts of your in-person congregation throughout the message, address people at home too!

Also- and this is equally important- make sure that you know where to stand for lighting and camera angles.  Don’t let your face be shadowed or out of sight when you could have checked and connected equally with all your people.  Again, people understand what they hear but they believe what they see.

Make Sure Your Illustrations Work in Both Places

If you’re using a whiteboard or other teaching aid, make sure the online audience can see it!  Test this beforehand, because there’s nothing worse than feeling left out of the main point because you missed the illustration.  

If you’re using a whiteboard as a teaching aid, for example, test it out beforehand.  If you can’t see it, draw it out, take photos, and have your team put those in the live stream so that the people at home can keep up with what you’re saying.  

What you don’t want is a super wide-angle camera where they can barely see what you’re doing.  That’s not a way to increase connection- you’ll seem distant. 

Assist Audio-Only Listeners

As you’re preaching, understand that some people are only going to be listening to this on audio.  So make sure that you’re not losing the people who are listening to your sermon in the format.  For example, if you’re drawing something, describe what you’re doing in simple terms so that people can follow along without watching the screen.  

Recreate the Edges of the Service Digitally

Hanging out and talking and praying together. Make sure you have people who can pray with others in the chat.  While the in-person congregation is singing a couple of closing songs, do a live stream to answer people’s questions or encourage people to email their questions at the end of your message.

Help People Get the Right Mindset for Digital Service

This doesn’t necessarily have to be during your service.  In fact, it’s probably better if you create a separate video where you encourage people to get some quiet, and to separate from the chaos of everyday noise. If you want to mention that briefly at the beginning of your sermon, that’s fine too.  

Make Sure People Don’t Get Lost

Don’t leave your online audience wondering if you forgot about them.  Do your best to start on time, or at least have a countdown video going, so that people know they’re in the right place.  

While we’re talking about making sure people don’t get lost, let’s circle back to becoming a better communicator: one area to work on in your sermons is your conclusions!  That way, people get what you’re trying to say.  Remember, too, that people have habits of watching shorter videos, so the more concise and focused you can be, the better.  While this may sound picky, the foundation is improving as a communicator of the gospel- and there is nothing more worthy of our highest attention to important details.  

Did you enjoy this episode of Hello Church?  We’d love to hear your thoughts!  Leave a comment on our Youtube channel, or tag #hellochurchpod on Twitter.  

If you need a place to connect with fellow pastors, we have a Facebook Group just for you!  It’s called The Pastor’s Circle and you can request to join it here.

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