One question I hear all the time from other Church Communications Ministers — as well as pastors who are juggling their church's media — is "How can I keep people engaged online?" This question was huge during the height of the pandemic when many churches were scrambling to either enhance or, in most cases, establish their digital presence. But now the vast majority of churches have regathered across the country and some churches still have a certain demographic of folks who simply won't return to the physical building at all. For whatever reasons, these individuals are content to merely watch the worship service online via Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or the church website. Sure it helps to keep things as "normal" as possible, but if your church is still mostly empty, then you need to accept that is NOT normal and be willing to admit that God is still at work in the midst of the craziness, then embrace the reality that digital engagement is part of the new normal in this post-COVID environment.
Things were heading this way before the pandemic — and many churches were already active in the livestream world — but COVID exacerbated the situation all the more for every church no matter their size, demographic, or location. Even many small town churches, country churches, and rural churches began entering the digital world for the first time. And regardless of whether you have a healthy attendance or not, live-streaming your service always allows people who miss the service the chance to catch up later that day or week at their own convenience.
So let's look at a few simple ways that you can enhance your livestream engagement. Here they are, in no particular order:
#1. Ask meaningful questions in the chat feature.
Pro Tip: Don't go crazy with questions in the livestream thread. Ask ONE question and then sit back and wait for a reply to that question. Do not ask a million questions that elicit no engagement. Then there's no point. Plus, people tend to get pretty annoyed with that and you'll end up driving them away. If you're just mindlessly rambling as the church account, it looks really goofy, silly, and unprofessional.
#2. Use lower thirds to point them to external links, places, resources, etc. (prayer request forms, podcast and audio platforms, calendar of events, etc.)
In the video world, a lower third is a graphic overlay that is placed in the "title-safe" lower area of the screen, but not necessarily in the entire lower third of the screen as you might deduce from the name. In its most basic form, it's really just text and/or graphics on top of the video. For your church's livestream video, use lower third graphic to promo your website, your prayer request forms, your calendar, your podcast, and other valuable resources that the viewer may want to access.
#3. Ask questions that specifically relate to the Scripture/passage/content/theme of the message that is being preached during the livestream.
This still ties into number one a little bit, but involves more interactivity on the part of the livestream manager. While the pastor is speaking, fire off a question or two about the content of his message to spark healthy spiritual dialogue in the chat thread. This may also mean you'll have to monitor the comments that people leave, but you have to do that anyway as a Page administrator. It's great to know that people are watching your livestream, but it's even better to know that they're actually paying attention to the sermon and getting something out of it.
#4. Insert a poll into the live chat or onto the Page.
Facebook has a poll feature and it's a great way for people to "vote" on something and feel like they're a part of the online experience of the church. Whether it's voting on their favorite message from the pastor's current series or something fun like the best summertime activity, it will almost always boost engagement. Give it a shot and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised.
#5. Keep your service livestream available on each platform permanently.
People want to be able to watch the service on THEIR time. If they couldn't make it to the service or if they've been out for a while, they need to be able to watch and engage with the livestream conveniently. So don't go back and delete the livestream video later that week just because the service is over. Just let the archive build up and folks can rewatch them at their own leisure.
The ultimate goal with your livestream engagement is not to entertain people — although that may be an occasional byproduct — but to minister to people. When you share a Bible verse with a person through the live chat, or respond directly to their prayer request with a realtime prayer response, it means something to that individual. Yes, it's a two-dimensional form of communication, but seeds of ministry, encouragement, help, and hope are being planted. You have no idea how one verse, quote, or prayer request interaction might impact a person or change their life and alter their destiny for eternity. And ultimately, that's what Church Communications is all about.
How Can I Help You?
Need help overhauling your church website? Stuck on how to design or develop better social media graphics? Need help establishing your social media presence? Managing your livestream? Want some effective strategies on church marketing? Community relations? Book me for a coaching session or request me to come speak at your church about these issues.
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