I’m not going to start this article explaining the ‘why’ behind this article. It was an unprecedented global pandemic that suddenly thrust every reader of this fine publication into completely reinventing themselves as digital pastors, virtual leaders of children.
We all know ‘why’.
But I will jump in here and explain ‘what’ we did as a ministry team to react to this situation.
We decided right away to produce a live service for each of the services ‘big church’ was doing. That meant 11 unique experiences across Friday – Sunday. Is it a lot of work? to be completely honest… not so much.
Compared to the team required to make 50+ services happen in various locations around Australia. Our weekend efforts are a fraction of what we have been producing. Sure, we have a significant full time staff across the nation who are involved at some level on a weekend, but it is still a huge reduction in volunteer support compared to business as usual.
As you read this right now, there are approximately 2 million viewers watching a variety of shows mostly produced by individuals on just one streaming platform; Twitch, owned by internet giant Amazon.
By ‘positioning’ ourselves as streamers we level the playing field. We are not competing with Disney+ & Netflix, we are setting the expectation of the audience, the level of production required is attainable. Which is why I was very surprised to see many churches become in essence, deliverers of on demand content.
That’s some stiff competition.
In my own leadership experience I make a point to avoid talking about what we ‘”don’t want”… “tell me what you DO want” is my catchphrase. It’s easy to tell me what you don’t want to see, what you want to avoid, what bugs you, but is also unnecessary.
So I am going to practice what I preach and tell you what I ‘DO’ want.
I want to see EPIC ministry.
It was mid 1999 Christchurch, New Zealand and I somehow ended up at an event at my Church with the author Len Sweet. I vividly remember the feeling of sitting under a firehose of inspiration, it’s a message that in some small part set me on the path I am walking today.
In the book The Gospel According to Starbucks he introduces the reader to an acrostic, an idea I keep coming back to again and again.
When I think about creating something that will reach into the hearts and minds of children this is the question I ask: “Is it EPIC?”
E – Experiential
P – Participatory
I – Image-rich
C – Connected
A quick overview for the curious:
This generation is experiential in nature, prone to learning through experience. The more they experience an issue the greater the absorption of the idea… so give them an environment that is interactive. Help them experience the emotion of a story.
The social media age has pulled our children into having to make decisions too early. No child should be put in the ‘risky click’ scenario. I never had the opportunity to see pornography growing up in the 80’s with two TV channels.
Some of our children today have that opportunity daily.
The Church has the opportunity to involve them in ‘positive participation’, keeping their interest and engagement high. We want our kids to do the work of the ministry… that’s the goal of a discipling Church.
Children are bombarded on every side with researched and well funded imagery aimed to influence their way of seeing the world, hoping them to motivate them by what they see.
So what do we in response to this?
Jesus was history’s greatest master of metaphor, as a teacher he used parables to help every listen understand. In our age we have the technology to super-charge our metaphors.
Stop saying “I’m bad at technology”, stop feeling like it’s passed you by. You’re living in the 21 Century, learn the tools at your disposal to make a connection with the children you lead. Think of our current generation like the Israelites in the desert… they’ll follow pillars of fire and clouds.
Jesus got in a lot of trouble for hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. He conversed with people, he listened to people. You experienced Jesus but just listen to him. I have encountered a couple of ‘interesting’ cultural oddities while exploring online services around the world. Ministers of children refer to themselves and Miss, Mr and Mrs. such-and-such, and they can’t wait to get back to their ‘classrooms’ after COVID-19.
“Sunday school” was relevant in post Dickensian London when children worked as chimney sweeps from the age of 12. In fact, it changed the world and we see the effect of it on society.
But it happenED, it is not happenING. Very few kids are excited about another day of school on Sunday, it’s disconnecting them. #stopthelecture should be your hashtag.
Let me preempt the resistance building in your mind, yes I know there are dangers for each of these ideas taken to the extreme. Eg. Images and idolatry, putting emotions above truth… and because of that… you are needed – point them to truth, show them the narrow path.
“Okay, settle down Dave. I came here for practical tips, not to fundamentally reinvent my calling”.
let’s get practical.
Taking all those philosophical points into consideration. I present to you the very subjective and extra-biblical KJV style 10 commandments of an effective online service:
- Thou shalt create an experience in tune with your Churches vision and mission.
- Thou shalt minister directly to kids.
- Thou shalt build a behind the scenes team.
- Remember you are called to be the Church with your kids.
- Honour your audiences attention span.
- Thou shalt be consistent
- Thou shalt not neglect an opportunity for salvation.
- Thou shalt write a script.
- Thou shalt speak the truth online.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours audience.
Thou shalt create an experience in tune with your Churches vision and mission:
There is really no reason to create an online service without the support of elders/senior leadership. Obviously, in this season everybody has been thrown into a digital ministry, but for the future ongoing ministry, please seek out wisdom. My best bit of advice is perhaps set a time frame. TV shows have ’seasons’, so do a first season online and see if your attempts will be ‘renewed’ as they say in the world of broadcast Television.
Thou shalt minister directly to kids:
I know I just talked about TV seasons, but in your presentation language to children don’t call your services episodes. You are attempting in some way to be the Church with your kids, words matter. Most services we have up to four children on stream helping the preacher in object lessons, reading scripture, praying.
Celebrate birthdays, pray for their situations and circumstance, encourage them directly, make stream heroes, involve kids and communicate with parents.
Thou shalt build a behind the scenes team:
The team putting this together will be a very different team to what you are used to, with different skills needed… make a list of roles required and pray them in.
Remember you are called to be the Church with your kids..
Tuck this thought in the back of your mind, the goal is being the Church with your kids. Choose segments and content that aligns with that goal. “Bells and whistles lead to purpose dismissal.”
Honour your audiences attention span.
One of our Church editors produces a one and half minute #churchinaction segment for our adult services highlighting Hillsong Kids. It took days of work and 6 versions. Think bite-sized segments, our kids news is under 1:30, Say it clearly and say it quickly — but say it again and again in different ways.
Thou shalt be consistent.
Growing up, Saturday morning television was a show called ‘What Now’. I mailed them one picture over the years watching them. (Sidenote: I missed them showing it on TV because I was grounded… it still hurts a little). We get kids to send in pictures and artwork each week… it took weeks of consistently talking about it and rewarding it to get a level of submissions that wasn’t embarrassing.
Thou shalt not neglect an opportunity for salvation.
It became apparent when creating our services we needed a way to give an opportunity for kids to receive salvation and a pathway for them to start that journey of faith. So working with the amazing team at Youversion we released our ‘Discovery’ new Christian content for free on the app as a devotional series.
Although we have our own in-house Hillsong Kids app, sometimes working with a greater platform is not only more effective but also easier… this was the case here.
Thou shalt write a script.
As an intro to our Big Message video I wrote this line, “Let’s find out what the crew at big HQ are up to…” It’s not Shakespeare, but its a simple line that will help me as a host, segue into a video without the audience having to endure my waffle and confusion.
You don’t need a word for word treatise, at the least write down your catch phrases and transition lines, as demonstrated by our resident comedian and host Funny Man Dan he opens our Sunday Night services with: “Welcome to Sunday Night Games, the place where the points are live, the challenges are epic and we try to answer the question… who is the greatest tribe?”
Thou shalt speak the truth online.
“It’s great to see you all today”
“Let me hear you, everyone yell Hallelujah!”
These are are all great live and in person, but unnecessary online. Frame new language for your service.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours audience.
What’s a win for you? What’s a win for your Church? Clarify it. Articulate it and go for it — and when you hit it tell your story.
Nobody’s else’s success or failure should impact what you are called to do.
I leave you with what perhaps you were expecting from this article, a list of equipment needed to produce online content.
- Computer – even though I am a Mac guy, a powerful PC wins from having more software options available.
- OBS – Streaming software (free)
- Camera – Canon Vixia HF R800 ($219.00) or Canon VIXIA HF G21 ($799.00) if in doubt what’s is important check for a clean HDMI feed.
- Video Switcher – Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini ($295)
- Microphone – Rode VideoMic NTG ($249)
- Tripod – as cheap or expensive as you like