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Preaching to an Audience of ‘None’

By Chris Colvin | Church Leadership

Recent events have made it necessary for pastors in America to stream their services online, either live or prerecorded. Thankfully, technological advancements have made this much easier than it was a decade ago. With minimal equipment, most anybody can produce a quality service online.

One major aspect of your service is the sermon. It’s a time to share a message of hope and faith with people who are sitting at home or stuck in quarantine. They may be afraid or confused, and you have the opportunity to preach directly to their condition.

The act of preaching is a public event, but it may not feel that way right now. Maybe you are preaching in your empty worship center, or perhaps you’re able to record from your office or the comfort of your home as you practice social distancing. However you’re preaching, you’re doing it without the immediate feedback of a congregation.

How do you preach to an audience of “none”? We, as preachers, feed off the energy and excitement of the congregation. Without their presence, preaching can feel like an unfamiliar task.

Jesus Christ is not limited by social distancing.

Here are nine tips for making the most of prerecording or live streaming when virtually no one is around to hear you.

1. Bring in family. Wherever you end up recording or streaming from, it may be helpful to have a family member or two standing in for the congregation. Those in charge of video, sound or lighting don’t count. They are working and won’t be able to give you a response. But a listener can encourage you and give you a face to focus on while you preach. (Be sure to follow the CDC guidelines of no more than 10 people present.)

2. Practice, practice, practice. Before you preach, practice your message. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in front a friend or family member. Try different approaches and phrases to see how they sound out loud. Being more comfortable with your message will help with the uncomfortable feeling of preaching to an empty room.

3. FaceTime a friend to rehearse it. Call up a trusted member of your church or fellow pastor, and run your message by him or her. Doing this over FaceTime or another video chat service will give you a feel for what it will be like when you do it through a camera lens for your weekend service.

4. Place pictures in the pews. If you’re preaching in your sanctuary, it may feel strange to look at empty seats. Consider printing out pictures of staff members and congregants and taping them to the chairs. That way, you’ve always got some familiar faces to look at.

5. Imagine the camera lens is a person. Imagine you’re speaking to a specific person, and that camera lens is the individual. What does that person need to hear? What point will be the most impactful? What will bring him or her the most hope and joy?

6. Put yourself in their presence. Mentally transport yourself to where your people are. Imagine you have an opportunity to sit in the living room of a specific family or two from your church. Maybe you’ve visited their home and know the layout. Where would you sit, and how would you speak to them in person? Now, preach from your heart as if you are right there with them.

7. Include a response time. The Holy Spirit will be present even if no one else is. Lean into your own experience and the Spirit’s wisdom about this. What are some ways people can respond to your message right where they are — at their kitchen tables or in their living rooms? How can they let you know about those responses? Some online streaming services provide a chat room that allows people to respond with raised hands or an “amen.” Other ways to respond in these challenging times could be through interactive prayer requests, an email link or an online form to fill out. Check with your most tech-savvy staff or volunteers to find the best fit for your church.

8. Keep an eye on the clock. Preaching in front of an audience and preaching online will be distinct experiences. Think about how you watch sermons from other churches and other pastors. What distractions do you have that don’t exist in a worship center? To minimize those distractions, consider preaching shorter sermons than you normally do. This doesn’t mean you trade depth for convenience. There are other ways to use streaming to your advantage.

9. Leverage the medium. Use the best parts of this new technology to your advantage. There is a uniqueness to streaming a service. How can you use that in ways you wouldn’t be able to in a live, in-person setting? You could incorporate Skype interviews, use multiple angles, prerecord your message and edit it with music. There really are no limits.

Utilize this technology beyond your weekend service. As you become more comfortable with it, think about streaming more often. Offer prayer each morning, noon devotions, or whatever your congregation would find most compelling.

It’s often during times of turmoil that the greatest advancements are made. Jesus Christ is not limited by social distancing. He can move in the hearts of lives of people, no matter where they are when they hear your voice. This may be a time when God throws open the gates and grants you unprecedented access to people all over the world! So get comfortable speaking to your camera lens, and let the Holy Spirit move in new and exciting ways.