NOTE: The following post was submitted by Joel Mooneyhan, Community & Formation Pastor of Atlanta Christian Church. It is the first in a series, so stay tuned!
Like many churches, when the pandemic first emerged our small staff set to recreating a full, one-hour service in the form of a video that we would post to YouTube. We had volunteers send in video segments of music, Scripture reading, liturgy, and so on. The thinking behind this was that it gave people a chance to remain involved and it approximated the order of worship on our regular Sunday morning gatherings. I think we also thought things would return to normal before too long.
What happened was alarming. The analytics from the videos showed a sharp drop of total engagement after only a few weeks. On top of that, the average watch time was something around 11-12 minutes. After pouring a few hours into production each week to cut a 55 minute video, that was more than somewhat disheartening.
We had already baked into our plan a once-a-month live Zoom service (the first one was Easter Sunday), and after 10 YouTube videos and a few by-weeks spread across March-May, we held a virtual townhall to ask our congregation what they wanted from us a staff in the midst of this.
We were a little surprised to hear from almost everyone that they would prefer a Zoom service to a weekly video. Though they appreciated the effort and the thought that went into the videos, there were a few reasons they said they’d rather have an awkward Zoom call than tune into a video each week.
First, people missed the sense of community more than they missed the “programming.” We are made for social interaction, whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert. Watching a video created a strong sense of disconnect from the larger community. Zoom calls, however tired of them people were, at least fostered a sense of being with other people, face to face, and engaging with the same thing at the same time.
Second, people lost accountability when they weren’t expected to show up. We are all guilty of getting a link to a funny video or an interesting podcast from a friend and saying, “I’ll watch/listen to that when I have time.” Rarely do we follow-through on that. Expecting people to sit down and tune in to an hour-long video worship service, no matter how well-produced, is a tall order. By moving to Zoom and doing service live each week, people felt a higher sense of accountability to attend.
Third, doing videos to recreate what we had been doing felt disingenuous. Like everyone else, when it all began, we just wanted it to be over. In the absence of what we had, we tried to recreate it the best way we knew how. In doing so, it also sort of felt like putting our head in the sand. Not that we as a staff weren’t aware of what was happening, but trying to force the old normal onto the new one didn’t ring true to us given the circumstances.
Over the next few days, I’ll share what exactly this looks like for us now, why we think it is the better way, and what we believe it tells us about the state of Christ’s church in 2021.