Making the best of Church from the Couch

So everything has changed. Churches everywhere are going online. The most important thing to remember is that churches are not in competition with each other. Churches are now encroaching upon a sacred time already monopolized by media giants: Couch time.

What do you do when you’re on your couch? I watch a lot of TV. Actually, it’s embarrassing. And now, without the accountability of being seen at church, I’m much more likely to choose quality TV over even the best church worship broadcasts. The church’s biggest competitors are now Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and other content providers that have always dominated couch time.

So how do we build a product that competes?

1. Work ahead.
The first question you have to ask yourself is “what does my audience want?” This question defines your content. The moment you have defined content, you can start answering questions about packaging. The sooner you can answer questions about filming (location, lighting, audio, personnel, budget, live or prerecorded), the sooner you can get started. The major benefit of starting earlier is that you finish earlier, too. I had Easter worship produced, exported, proofed and uploaded two days before Easter weekend. It was my first Easter “off” in 13 years. Before you take another step, get the team together and dream forward.

2. Think Smart.
Hundreds of thousands of churches are moving online. This creates online traffic jams, especially on Sunday morning. Streaming interruptions are terrible for the end user. Prerecording, uploading and scheduling premieres through facebook and youtube early in the week will avoid some of those traffic jams. Diversify and broadcast through multiple platforms so you have somewhere to direct disgruntled worshippers when their experience goes wonky. Export with low variable target bitrate. From Premiere, I export 720p, h264, 1 pass VBR with a target bitrate of 1.5mbps. I sacrifice some quality, but it minimizes streaming interruptions for the user. With these settings, a 45 minute file exports close to 550mb in size. The quality is fine. It’s ok to sacrifice 4k (even full HD) for a more guaranteed performance.

3. Be consistent.
We’re still learning what works and what doesn’t. It’s easy to react to gut-instinct when you have no reliable data. Sometimes that’s fun, because it gives you freedom to take risk. But be careful not to label your subjective opinions as fact. Ultimately, doing the same thing for a little while can bring some sanity and actual measurables with which to weigh the effectiveness of your broadcast.

4. Go simple.
This is for your own sanity. You don’t need to be flashy. Unless you’re super talented. Flash without talent is just American Idol auditions. Do what works, and don’t force it. Work hard, but use what you have. Don’t envy the talent or resources of the church down the street. Lean in to your own gift mix, and trust that God has uniquely equipped you to do what you need to do. Don’t waste energy on out-of-reach expectations. Move risk-taking to your margin, and make the extra work public only when you’re confident. Give yourself grace.

5. Be human.
You don’t work for Netflix. But Netflix is the competition (NOT the church down the street), so the question is “what makes you unique?” Remember, you’re primary function is not to entertain–it’s to connect. Be authentic and honest. Don’t hide. Tell the truth. Quality is important, but you can overproduce. Scale back some of that post-production temptation to finess perfection. Build content not for ingestion but for connection. That’s the church’s unique advantage over existing content conglomerates. See people as people, and most importantly, remember the poor. Please, for the sake of the Kingdom, remember the poor. God became human to connect us to the poor. We gotta watch our ego through all this. Stop trying to be cool. If we lose our identity in the stage lights, then we lose the church. You can’t be superhuman. So just be human.

If you’re curious what Ginghamsburg has been doing, you can catch our pre-precorded broadcasts on our YouTube Channel.