Why people won’t watch your ‘online church’…

Yes… we all agree this whole COVID-19 lockdown provides a unique opportunity for gospel work. Jesus is supreme, and nothing will hold back his kingdom growing. I deeply believe people will come to faith and grow in their faith during this time.

And many churches (including my own) have significantly changed to become media organisations (whereas before, we were more like event organisations).

But… running an event for 100-300 people sitting in a room is very different to producing media to be viewed in someone’s home / hand-held device. Not just a little different… very, very, very, very different. While our theology might mean the ‘event’ and the ‘video’ have similar elements (like a ‘sermon bit’), they require a completely different mindset to produce.

I think the most significant mindset shift we need to make is how amazingly easy it is for people to opt out.

Imagine someone who walked into your church building last year… How bad a job would you need to do for someone to say to themselves, “This is so boring/silly/lame that I’m going to stand up and leave now”? It would have to be really bad, right? That’s because there’s an unwritten social agreement when we physically sit in a chair in a room with other people which makes it really hard to just get up and leave.

But that social agreement does not exist with online videos.

There is barely a thread of social contract holding them there. There is barely anything stopping them from clicking ‘close’ without a second thought.

(Now, I’m sure you’ve had people say that they really enjoyed church online. You might have even heard of people who’ve tuned in and watched the whole thing who have never been to your church. That’s wonderful, God is good! But it’s also going to play into our confirmation bias. Because we have no idea how many people might have tuned in and tuned out after 60 seconds… without even a second thought.)

Good online videos, even more than TV shows, are amazingly intense… they are always – every second – giving you a reason to keep watching. They know that it’s their responsibility to keep their viewers hooked – because there’s no social contract holding the viewer in place.

How do they do that? Well… that’s the real question. And if it was a simple answer we’d all be doing it. But here’s my “it could possibly be” thoughts…

  • There’s some big reveal that you have to wait for.
    Think Mythbusters, SmarterEveryday, etc. The whole package is a journey to something you really want to see. You get taken along a story that builds tension so that you really want to keep watching. This is how countdown videos (e.g. Top 20…) work too.
  • The subject/host is hard to look away from.
    This is a really subjective thing… it’s very ‘x factor’. Some people just have a certain presence on screen that’s hard to look away from. Their personality just seems to ‘fill-up’ the screen. There are some common elements I think… they have very expressive faces, they’re comfortable being silly/relaxed on camera, they usually talk very fast.
  • The subject/host is someone you care about.
    If you’ve been watching someone for a little bit, you start to care about them, and you’re less likely to switch off when they get a bit boring. This is partly why big names like PewdiePie and the Jimmy’s (Fallon & Kimmel) can keep an audience… people get to a point when they are happy just hearing their voice, even when it’s not that entertaining.
  • The content is so compelling/combative/emotional
    Seeing people cry, laugh, get angry is hard to look away from. It’s why cars slow down when they pass a car crash. We’re very empathetic beings, and we get caught up in other people’s emotions. Even when we don’t agree with them.

I don’t know how these and other elements can be used and integrated into our church online packages. I wish I did. But I do hope these thoughts might help spark our Christian desire to love people where they’re at to keep improving what we’re doing for the sake of the lost, and for the sake of the saints.

One thought on “Why people won’t watch your ‘online church’…

  1. Suellen Milham says:

    You’re comments have made me want to rerecord a video I just made! Oh, well…next time. Great insights…thanks.

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