Keeping People Engaged Online

One question I keep hearing is “How do we keep people engaged when they’re watching online?” The assumption here is that because we’re all stuck at home—and we’re watching online—we’re more easily distracted. While there is some truth to this, I want to start by asking this question: how do you normally keep people engaged?

If you’re assuming that people are engaged with your service simply because they’re in the same room as you—and therefore, because they’re not in the same room with you, they’re not as involved—you’re sorely mistaken. You have to work to keep people’s attention—at home or in the sanctuary.

It’s true

But enough of that soapbox. I do believe that distractions are easier when we’re at home and watching online. Home is comfortable, kids are crazier, and the kitchen is stocked and just a few steps away. So instead of trying to force our traditional Sunday worship into a new space, why don’t we rethink this time together for this new paradigm?

The new normal

I agree that providing a time on Sunday morning with video of the preacher or worship team provides a sense of normalcy in a world of chaos. We all want that right now.

But let’s be real here—any sense of normal that you’re portraying to a camera is not normal. Preaching to an empty room is unusual. Speaking directly to a camera is not the way things are meant to be. It’s okay to live into the reality that things are not normal, things are not the way they are meant to be—yet God is still at work in the mess. Instead of pretending things are normal, embrace that they’re different.

Time to adapt

Everything in our world is changing (or has changed). So when the church maintains the status quo of meeting for a 75-minute block of time between the hours of 10 am and noon on Sunday morning, is the church creating a sense of normalcy, or is the church refusing to adapt? I’m not sure. But I think it’s time for us to adapt to our changing climate.

More than simply embracing the change and awkwardness of creating a worship service without the people in the same room, it’s okay to adapt your church services to meet the needs of people right now. Shorter is probably better. People are not singing along with 7 worship songs, no matter how awesome your praise band is. Kids are not sitting down for your children’s message 23 minutes into the service just because that’s when you’ve always done the children’s message. Streamline your service to something you know people will engage with.

Take a cue from television

The average television show is 22 minutes long. The average movie length is 96 minutes. And right now, people are watching tons of 22-minute episodes and catching up on all those 96-minute movies they’ve been meaning to watch. So what’s the difference between those forms of entertainment and regular church services? Well, lots, but one thing is that we’re able to watch when we want.

People are cutting the cord from traditional cable at alarming rates. Partly because of prices but also because our watching habits have changed in recent years. Most things we watch on TV are DVR’d or streamed instead of live on TV.

So while we may be binge-watching 22-minute episodes of The Office or watching 7 hours of Lord of the Rings, we’re watching them on our time. Another thing our churches can do to keep people engaged is to allow people to stream the service when it’s convenient for them.

Keep them engaged by engaging with them

Your worship services don’t have to be a preacher preaching for 35 minutes while the congregation remains silent (okay, except for the occasional Amen from Bill in the 3rd to back row). Now that we’re all online together, engage with people! Ask questions in the chat feature. Take a poll. Create avenues for two-way communication. You can keep people engaged when you engage directly with them.

You want your worship services to keep people engaged? Stop pretending everything is normal. Adapt your service to the changing needs of your people. Encourage people to watch when it works best for them. And engage with them.

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