7 Ways to Overcome Your Church’s Spectator Crisis James Tealy

Posted On: 07.29.2020

As some states head back into a shutdown, we find these words from James Tealy back in March very appropriate for now as well.


For her entire existence, the church has battled against a spectator mentality among congregants. Now that churches across the globe have been forced to fit their worship gatherings into a live-streamed computer screen, what once was a challenge is quickly becoming a crisis. If worship was ever in danger of becoming a show, that danger is now multiplied; your people have now spent a week binging Netflix episodes and you’re asking them to treat your worship live-stream as something more. Simply pointing a camera at the stage in your worship center and live-streaming an hour of “church” might actually harm your people more than it helps.

This week, I have watched over 20 worship streams from churches across the United States and I see now a great opportunity for the church to treat this new paradigm, however brief it may be, as an opportunity. In the US, churches have been asked to cancel large group gatherings for at least the next 7 weeks. SO…here are 7 ways to use this new paradigm of online-only worship to overcome your church’s spectator crisis. Hopefully one or two of these will be helpful for your church.

  1. ENVIRONMENT – Reinvent the look of your gathering to fit the experience of your people. How could you create the same kind of living room intimacy that they are experiencing at home? A full band performance might sound better in your worship center but a simple piano, guitar, vocal presentation might encourage someone to join in from home. Your pastor on a platform behind a pulpit might fit in a large room but sitting on a chair in a kitchen might connect with your people more deeply. If you can’t live stream from a remote location, is there a smaller room near your worship center that you could transform into a warm, inviting, living room space from which to live-stream your weekly worship experience?
  2. OPEN PLATFORM – Invite the church onto your worship team. Live stream a rehearsal every week and encourage a member of each family to join this virtual rehearsal to better prepare to lead their family or neighbors in worship. Make chord charts available for download in advance. Encourage musicians to play along from home. Giving your people chord charts and even tutorial videos to help them prepare for worship will give them a much-needed creative exercise and encourage participation from home. Ask them to dust off that clarinet, that viola in the closet, that guitar they played in college.
  3. LITURGY – Break the normal pattern of your worship and re-assemble it in a way that fits this new-normal. Are you still following the same liturgy of an “opener,” a welcome, some songs, an offering, a 30 minute sermon, a response, some announcements? There are opportunities that the online streaming platform provides: a concert of prayer with participants typing their prayers into the comments as you give unique prompts, or allow teaching moments to happen in bite-sized pieces throughout the live-stream. The need to create a smooth flow of elements is now replaced with the need to maintain attention and engagement. A new rhythm of revelation and response in worship might be born out of this live-streaming paradigm.
  4. CREATE – Invite artistic expression back into worship. Give a creative prompt to your people in advance and ask them submit their interpretations by Friday of each week. You might offer a scripture passage, a theme, or a key point form the coming weekend’s message and ask them to create and submit drawings, paintings, songs, videos. Provide an online “gallery” of their submissions and share some during each week’s online gathering. Quality is not the point, participation and engagement are. Your people (of all ages) need creative outlets right now. Can the church become the great artistic patron it once was during this season of self-isolation?
  5. JUST SAY IT – Recognize that people are probably hesitant to participate from home. Whether it’s singing along or following your normal guided prompts like “say to the person sitting next to you…” Overcoming this challenge might be as simple pointing at it, saying out loud – “I know it might feel awkward to sing along if there are just 2 or 3 of you sitting together in front of the screen right now but remember, God deserves your worship, for the next few moments set your self-consciousness aside and sing like God is really listening…because He is.”
  6. CALL IN – Invite your people into leadership of the gathering over Zoom, GoToMeeting or FaceTime. Could you have different families “call in” from their home and give community reports, lead a prayer time, or read scripture? The goal here is not a polished performance but authentic community. Resist the urge to put on a good TV production and invite your people into worship leadership of the whole body from their home. NBC’s Today Show has been a great model of this format all week with correspondents broadcasting from their basement, their kitchen, their living room.
  7. ONE THING – Now is the perfect time to break the “talking head” stereotype of a 30+ minute sermon and use the power of short, poignant messages and live chat to create dynamic and interactive teaching times. TED Talks’ 18 minute rule and the new Quibi streaming media platform are proving the unique power of smaller bites of content. What if you broke 30 minutes of content into two 15 minute teaching segments or three 10 minute segments. Or, what if you established one idea you want your people to understand, one truth, one verse of scripture and then only take as much time as that one idea requires. This cultural shift your church is facing gives you a chance to explore a powerful new communication paradigm.

Your church CAN overcome this spectator crisis and even thrive with fresh new expressions of worship. What Creative ways has your church adjusted to this new online-only paradigm?

Written by James Tealy – jamestealy.com