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To Livestream Or Not To Livestream?

Before Covid and 2020, our church recorded sermons and made them available online. During 2020, we began live streaming our services on Facebook and Youtube. Lately, our leadership has been considering the pros and cons of live streaming. I’m writing this to help those in our church and others think about the pros and cons of live streaming.
Although in extreme circumstances there may be reasons for whole churches or specific individuals to gather virtually for a season, the Biblical norm and encouragement is to gather physically (Matthew 18:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:33; Hebrews 10:25). In the context of discussing physically gathering to sing, pray, take the Lord’s supper, and hear a sermon together, Pastor Jim Davis and Skyler Flowers write, “A faint hint of that experience can be felt in a livestream, but at its best, live streaming is the spiritual equivalent of a deployed soldier having a Zoom relationship with his wife: necessary, but nothing you’d want to get used to.” 1

Furthermore, we are passionate about each member being a contributor and not simply a consumer. I am concerned that regularly live streaming worship services when physical presence is possible will lead to more and more consumerism. You can enjoy the service without leaving home. You can sing along without fear that the people around you will hear how off your pitch is. You can hear the sermon and even rewind it if you want. You can sleep in and start the service a bit late.

But what can’t you do?  

You can’t greet a visitor, ask a new person how long they’ve lived in Middle GA and listen to a bit of their story, smile at someone as you walk by them (emojis don’t count 😊), or put your hand on another person’s shoulder and pray for them. You cannot sing loud for others to hear, so that they are encouraged by the voices of God’s people singing God’s praises. You cannot bow in confession of sin and be a visual encouragement and example to children who may be watching. You cannot meet a new person and invite them to lunch after the service. You may be able to greet people in the comments and pray for the service, which is good and helpful, but it is not comparable to how you can contribute in person.

In my last community group meeting, one of the men in our group shared that his goal is to get to know one new face and name every Sunday. What a goal that is! I hope we will all follow the example of this brother and intentionally connect with others before, during, and after the service. That may be out of your comfort zone and require courage, but it’s still a goal worth having. After all, Jesus did talk quite a bit about denying self, trusting Him, and Him being with us always (even outside our comfort zone).

It would be hard, perhaps impossible, to contribute to and grow deeper in community if the livestream were your main way you “connect” with your church. You may feel that you “get more out of it” when you watch online, but that would assume that getting content is more important than getting relationships, ministry opportunities, and other benefits of church gatherings. And even if you still believe you get more out of the livestream, what do you give? What do you contribute?

With all that said, you may assume I wish every church would shut down the livestream. Well, although I’m sympathetic to that view, I don’t hold it.

Our livestream is not intended for people who could be here in person. For someone who could be here in person to simply watch from home because they would rather is an abuse of the livestream, not a good use of the livestream. The livestream is intended for those who are homebound or hospitalized, dealing with sickness, being consistently Covid cautious, travelling, or otherwise divinely hindered from being present in person.

We want to help those connect via livestream who would otherwise feel more disconnected due to extreme life circumstances. We could record the service and put in online after it’s done, but quite frankly that is less connecting. I’d much rather watch a live sporting event than a recorded one. There is just an intangible and somewhat mysterious feeling of connection when watching a live event.

Also, many have gone to church gatherings on Sunday mornings most of their lives. Our brains have come to associate Sunday mornings with corporate worship. For those who are homebound or hospitalized, Sunday mornings can be a time of intense loneliness and sadness, but the livestream can bring some relief.

The livestream can also help people follow along with a sermon series. For example, if a parent has to stay home from a Sunday gathering due to having a child that is sick, that parent is, in my opinion, more likely to watch or listen to the sermon if it’s live on Sunday morning than if they have to go and search for the recording later in the week. Since we, and many churches, normally preach through books of the Bible or a connected series, it is really helpful for people to not miss a sermon.

I can understand why some churches are discontinuing their livestream, and I don’t think they are wrong for doing it. However, if your church is continuing to livestream as our church plans to do, let’s think well about the livestream. Let’s let it be a lifeline of connection for those that need it and not an avenue towards consumerism. 

For those of you that are utilizing the livestream as a necessary lifeline to your church during an extreme season in your life, I hope it is a huge blessing. Praise God for technology! If you are simply finding the livestream convenient and like the comfort of home, I encourage you and even beg you to recommit to gathering with your church in person. It is good and missional to simply show up with the prayer, “God, use me to encourage someone this morning.”

If you are staying home from church services due to Covid, will you please ask yourself if you are being consistent? What might it mean if you go to work, Disney, concerts, sporting events, the movies, or get-togethers, but do not go to church gatherings because of Covid? What might it communicate to your children, spouse, friends, and fellow church members? Please know I am not directing this to you if you have reasons that you are quarantining at home and are doing so consistently.

Church media teams all over the world, ours included, have worked hard to launch and sustain livestreams, and I am thankful. I just want livestreams to be a blessing and not something that unintentionally impedes spiritual growth and mission by feeding laziness, isolation, and consumerism. When necessary, I am really glad people in so many churches today can connect virtually through a livestream, even if it is less than ideal. When possible, please make being present in person a priority.

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