Ian Paul has some helpful thoughts on preaching online during the present corona virus epidemic.
- We’re likely to be in this situation for some while (several months, at least).
- The first few weeks have been something of a novelty period. But the novelty will wear off!
- Online services are being accessed by a number of people who would not normally come to church. We need to communicate well with them, and find ways of connecting with them after the crisis is over.
- Online preaching requires us to develop some new skills, and these will serve us well when we get back to ‘normal’.
Length. Those sitting in church are more of a ‘captive’ audience. Distraction (or even switching off!) is more of a danger for online hearers. We may need to preach for no more than 10 to 15 minutes, or perhaps break the sermon up into two or more parts. With careful preparation, a great deal can be said in just a few minutes.
Structure. The structure may need to be simpler and slimmer; more like a poplar tree than a spreading oak.
Expression. It is easy, under the stress of delivering an online sermon, for us to become over-serious. Also, bodily movements will necessarily be more limited. We need to remember to smile, and to vary both our expression and tone of voice. Imagine that you are talking conversationally to one person, rather than to a nameless, faceless crowd.
Script. The camera is rather unforgiving of ‘ums’ and ‘ers’. These, and other distracting habits and mannerisms, need to be reduced to a minimum. The challenge is that the message needs to be carefully scripted, but also with lots of eye contact through the camera. Reduce your notes to bullet points, and place these just below the camera (rather than to the side).
Rhetoric. Under the conditions of reduced time, increased risk of distraction, presence of unknown ‘visitors’, and so on, good use should be made of the full range of rhetorical devices. These include good use of repetition, groups of three, and alliteration. Learn from the Master Teacher – including the way he summarised his main points using pithy aphorisms. Avoid in house jargon, and keep the appeal of your illustrations are broad as possible.
Appearance. Stand or sit erect (sitting on a sofa messes up the camera angles). Your eyeline should be in the upper half of the screen. Pay attention to lighting. Make sure that you look presentable – people won’t normally being seeing you this close up!
Feedback. We will we building up a catalogue of online sermons. Take the opportunity (uncomfortable as it may feel) to look back at these (alone or with friends) and see what can be learned from them.