Yesterday, Joel Mooneyhan shared some reflections on the train of thought that led the staff at Atlanta Christian Church to ditch pre-recorded worship services in favor of live services over Zoom. Today he’ll share what that has looked like and what the results have been in their faith community.
It’s worth pointing out right at the start that the decision to commit fully to weekly Zoom services was made somewhat reluctantly. The handful of Zoom services that we had done had been glitchy, a little awkward, and it just felt weird staring at a screen full of people. (If you’re reading this, obviously I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.)
And while our pre-recorded videos weren’t done with top-shelf production equipment, they were consistent in quality. We felt a little uneasy with all the ways a live service online could go sideways (for example: one Sunday, Zoom crashed worldwide for the morning and we just didn’t have worship.) Doing pre-recorded videos allowed us to follow the same Order of Worship we had used in person, and we thought that it would take the pressure off of people to do one more thing on Zoom during an already stressful and shifty time.
But, as I said before, our congregation said they preferred the Zoom services we had done, so we circled up as a staff and figured out a blueprint. Here’s a basic rundown of what we did, why, and what the impact has been:
First, we stripped the service to the bones in order to see what we needed, what we didn’t need, and even what had been missing.
- We cut back how many songs we sing in worship from four to two. We did this in part because we didn’t want to stretch people’s ability to sit still staring at a screen when most people are doing that all week anyways. We also did it to take some strain off of our entirely volunteer driven worship team.
- We shortened the average sermon time from around 25 minutes to about 10-12 minutes. This again respects people’s time on Sunday morning and also gives more space in the service for…
- …The addition of Breakout Rooms. We added two spots for Breakout Rooms. One comes at the beginning of the service and tees up the message with a broad discussion topic, the second one comes after the sermon and gives space to discuss the sermon in more practical terms. These are led by a rotating team of church members and are anywhere from 6-8 people per group, sometimes more, sometimes less.
This has had some predictable and not so predictable outcomes for our congregation.
- Research done during the first 3 months of the pandemic (March-May) indicates that nationwide, church engagement in every denomination dropped off by about 30%. We were no exception to that. However, once we switched to weekly Zoom services, our attendance leveled out, and has remained consistent ever since.
- We fought burnout at first, but once we committed to a weekly live service, however glitchy, things began to feel less aimless. Doing videos week to week felt like sending out a message in a bottle, and the analytics of our engagement were frightening. Zoom services have given us a sense of rhythm and a sense of connection to our people.
- Because Zoom puts faces with names, and because we added Breakout Rooms to our services, more people know each other better than ever have. It’s easy to park your car, go into church, say hello to one or two people, and then take off when it’s over, having not spent any meaningful time with anyone. This new format has given people the chance to get to know each other and encourage one another in ways that they may not have done otherwise.
- Because services do not require in-person attendance, we have seen newcomers and returning members visit in from literally all around the world. Some of our guests are people who have been invited to attend from across the country, some are members who long ago moved to other parts of the world and can now reconnect with their old friends from church.
Yes. Online gatherings are glitchy and weird.
Staring at a grid of faces on a computer screen is no substitute for being face to face with people. Then again, neither is watching a Youtube video, and at least on Zoom, we can interact in real-time. It isn’t perfect, and we of course would rather meet in person. The reality is that it isn’t feasible for us at the moment, for a number of reasons.
And that is where we’ll leave this discussion for now to pick up again tomorrow.