With whatever authority I have left as a church communications professional, let me clearly say, “Churches, it is okay to pre-record your online worship service video.”
Since I have been in this business for a while, I know someone will disagree, but I don’t care. This is important.
As churches are forced to come up with innovative ways to lead people in worship during this pandemic, many of us are winging it. Pastors and churches are using the tools they have and relying on whoever will help to get some form of video out to their congregations on Sunday morning. I am in awe of what I am seeing in terms of creativity.
When it comes to leading worship via video, I can think of a hundred reasons you would want it to be live. The biggest one is that it “feels” like a more authentic experience. I agree. I get it. I totally do. But…
It Is Not Working
I can think of one reason not to make “live” the most essential characteristic of your online worship: it isn’t working. Sure, some churches have been successful using their pre-existing live stream infrastructure to broadcast services on Sunday morning. Others have had fantastic success with their first efforts to use platforms like Facebook Live.
But, for every church that has had success, others have had disappointing, frustrating, panic-inducing failures. Whether it was dropped frames causing the video to be jerky, unwatchable, or even a complete failure, many churches seemed to do everything right but were left trying to figure out what went wrong. Even churches that have been doing this for years suddenly found that things weren’t working like they were supposed to.
You want to know why? As a veteran live-streamer, I can tell you that live broadcasting over the internet is still not 100% ready for prime time. That is especially true for churches who don’t likely have the latest equipment, IT infrastructure, and specialized staff. Live streaming video, when it works, seems pretty straightforward. However, it is actually an immensely complicated process. When I try to explain to someone every last little thing that has to happen for a video to get from your phone up to Facebook or YouTube and then back to someone else’s phone, tablet, or computer, their eyes usually glaze over in the first couple of minutes. The number of things that can go wrong is legion.
If your church’s livestream failed on Sunday morning or you received complaints that it was hard to watch, you probably don’t need any more explanation. If everything is going well, we might be having the conversation again on Easter Sunday. Even churches that have been unable to share any kind of video until this point have big plans for Easter. It is entirely possible that churches will see even more catastrophic livestream failures.
What Do We Do?
So, what should you do? Record. Upload. Share.
As a student of the Bible, I can assure you that there is no commandment against this in scripture. I know it may feel less than ideal. But, if you insist on going live, you may be left with nothing.
The Struggle is Real
I was talking with a church last night that had some streaming problems last week. We did our best to troubleshoot and think we may have solved the problem. They asked my recommendation of whether they should try to go live again this Sunday or skip to pre-recorded worship. I told them that if I put on my pastor hat, it would be very tempting to go live. However, I said to them that when I put on my communications professional hat, I clearly had to recommend that they pre-record. And honestly, putting my pastor hat back on, I would really hate to see their congregation witness a complete technical failure on Sunday morning and have no access to their collective worship.
Just because you are pre-recording worship, doesn’t mean you can’t all worship together. The most straightforward solution is to invite everyone to watch the video at the same time. You can enhance the live experience by having the pastor, staff, or other leaders welcome people via comments on Facebook or use some other platform for interaction. You could also take advantage of tools like Facebook Premiere or a watch party.
Since you are pre-recording anyway, I highly recommend also posting the service in another place. So, for instance, if you are inviting your members to watch on Facebook, also upload to YouTube in case something goes wrong.
Have a Backup
If you do decide to go live, either because you feel confident or you simply feel like it is the right thing to do for your congregation, consider having a backup, especially on Easter Sunday. Many churches have worship run-throughs, especially those that are now living streaming. Consider doing the whole thing, recording it, and putting it up on YouTube. You can set it to private if you want. But it will be there just in case.
I don’t write any of this to discourage or panic anyone. I have just lived for a long time in the world of watching technology go wrong and trying to get it fixed in time. Since I am sitting this one out and there is only one of me, I can’t do much to help on Sunday morning. But, with a little planning, you are going to do a fantastic job leading your people in worship during this crazy time.
Thank you. The learning curve is steep.
Another detail of prerecording sermons is the date shown that the sermon was preached. For transparency reasons the sermon site should indicate the actual date of recording and not on a Sunday. It may be understood that it is live when in reality it is prerecorded.